All Christians know Christ’s parting command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Hearing this brings to mind far flung and exotic locations—it is easy to imagine preaching to inhabitants of remote islands that have never heard the Gospel. But we need not travel to the far reaches of the earth to find ignorant pagans, they are all around us. I am not here referring to the wiccan down the road or the atheist in his ivory tower, but rather to people far more closely related to us—our children.
As every parent knows, children don’t naturally discover the Gospel. No young child learning his multiplication tables ever says “Dad as I was studying I came to realize that the universe is ordered, which means there must be a Creator. I don’t think I’ve lived up to His expectations, but I imagine that He somehow made a way for me to be redeemed from my errors and reconciled to Him.” Knowledge of the Gospel is not innate—it must be proclaimed, it must be taught.
Parents bear the primary responsibility of training up children. Parents are told to “bring up [their children] in the training and instruction of the LORD” (Ephesians 6:4). At a minimum this instruction requires parents to tell their children about God’s plan for salvation. But it requires far more than that. One can simply “tell” something to someone and be done, but to instruct requires much work over an extended period of time. The same is true of training. Every athlete and musician knows that proficiency, not to mention mastery, requires long hours of hard work and dedication over a span of years.
This is what God calls us to with our children! Not a mere telling of the truth and how to live, but instruction and training, day in and day out, over years. A lot of parents hesitate to embrace this role thinking it should be left to pastors and elders, i.e. to the “experts”. This is a false belief.
First off, if you as a parent wish you were more mature in Christ, you can be! “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (II Peter 1). If you aren’t the type of role model you wish you were, you can become more like Christ—in fact, this is His desire for you! And showing your children that Christ and His Holiness are worth pursuing is one of the best things you can ever model to your children!
Second, your failures and your successes alike can be models to your children. I would love to consistently model patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control to my children, but I don’t. But when I fail to model these things I have the opportunity to model humble repentance and the asking of forgiveness and they get the opportunity to practice forgiving others. The wisdom and power of God was demonstrated most clearly on the cross when God took the evil actions of men, the unjust killing of their Creator, and used this great sin as a means of bringing about His redemption of the world. In the same way God can and does use even our sins for good if we repent of them and trust in Him. Obviously we should strive to avoid and overcome sin, but we must also remember that God’s grace is greater than our greatest sins. Our moral failures should not prevent us from carrying out God’s call on our lives to disciple our children.
Finally, many of us parents don’t think we have enough wisdom to guide our children well. This too should motivate us to grow in wisdom, but most of us have more wisdom than we realize.
I have studied and taught history for a number of years. The future is unknown as are the particular problems that our children and grandchildren will face. However, one thing I firmly believe is that the best way to face the unknown problems of the future is to see how others have faced and either overcome or failed to overcome the problems of the past. One great way to do this is through the study of history. But when it comes to instructing our children a more practical way is to reflect deeply on our lives.
Your young children don’t know what it is like to start school, but you do. They don’t know how cliques in middle school feel, but you do. They can’t understand the peer pressure and the desire to fit in that high school students go through, but you do. They can’t anticipate the anxiety of being in over their heads at a new job, but you know what that is like. Whether your younger years were good or bad, full of success or full of failure, you have years of experience that your children lack and as a result you have the wisdom that they need. What is more, you know them better and love them more than anyone else. Not only are you commanded to disciple them, but no one is better positioned to do so.
The alternative to seriously embracing the call to disciple our children is bleak. Our children are not naturally good and they won’t naturally become mature and godly men and women. If we as parents fail to disciple them there are a number of other people and forces eager to form them—athletes, entertainers, pop music, Netflix, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc. Our children aren’t going to remain as they are; they are all becoming something different. The question is: who do you want to form them, what do you want them to become like?
Discipling our children is the heaviest and often scariest task that many of us will ever face. But it is a task that God has placed on us. The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place. Our children will be tossed about in the winds and waves of its stormy seas. To fail to disciple them is to send them forth into the world’s storms without first teaching them how to swim and sail. They are not going to naturally pick up what they need; they need us to instruct and train them.
Monte grew up in the Madison area. He is acting Headmaster of Charis Classical Academy, a Christian University-Model school that meets on Madison’s east side. He lives with his wife and five children in Sun Prairie. They enjoy reading, playing board games, and hiking.