Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Christian Parenting As Ministry and Teaching Children

Above the droning of the rubber on the tarmac of an expressway, on the way home from the celebration of a child's first month of existence outside the womb, someone who'd always been fond of babies admitted that the recent rash of new mothers and their unique set of problems caused reality to bite down rather hard.
Collage-babystuff
Many a frustrated new mother bemoans her sudden lack of time for the ministries she used to be so involved in because she becomes invariably "busy with the baby".

Christian Parenting as Ministry
But is there necessarily a distinction between bringing up a child and ministry?

Caring for one's children and raising them to know Jesus is a form of ministry in itself.

From the New Testament documents, we know that Timothy's granny and mum (2 Timothy 1:15) were significant in instructing and nurturing the Christian faith in him since his infancy (2 Timothy 3:15), and that he would later go on to to teach and equip churches for their own salvation and service of others.

Most people know DA (or Don) Carson, currently a New Testament Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a prolific author of books. His mother was apparently a highly educated career missionary when she became a mother of three. When she was challenged about what she was doing with her life, she said very quietly and firmly "I am building character". We can assume that she did indeed build Christian character in her children who continue to be concerned for the salvation of others: Don's sister is a missionary in Papua New Guinea, his brother is in the pastorate in North America and there is now a grandchild is going onto the mission field. Is that sort of mothering then not ministry?

And if it means anything in these days of being able to find results of "studies" to suit one's views, whatever they may be, a study has found that mothers are a major influence on the faith of people.

But of course, we do not see parenthood as ministry merely because it appears to have produced good results for some high-profile people, or because of the positive results of some study, but because God ordained this as the primary way in which children are to be brought up to know and love him.

Christian Parenting as a God-ordained Ministry
The way God intended children to know him and what he had done for them and to have relationship with him, is through the parental instruction, not just once a week or once a year but constantly, throughout the day, throughout their lives:
...only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children (Deuteronomy 4:9)

"Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so" (Deuteronomy 4:10)

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:7)

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 11:19)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29)

...and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:13)

he said to them, "Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law.(Deuteronomy 32:46)

And he said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground'" (Joshua 4:21-22)

No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, 'What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? (Joshua 22:24)
And those children are, in turn, to pass the same truths on to their children:
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children... (Psalm 78:4-6)
Teaching Children
Right then. Now to get on with some parenting.

But good as our intentions may be, squidges, unfortunately, don't come accompanied with detailed instruction manuals in 10 international languages. The government does not require that we pass some tests and get a licence before we have a kid. We might be able to go for parenting courses, but from feeding to disciplining to teaching them to walk and read, there are as many contentious and contradictory views as there are parents and grandparents (and kay poh onlookers and ivory tower academics). Just look at the tip of the Christian parenting book ice-berg:
So there is no set parenting formula that guarantees Christian children. If there were, I am sure every Christian parent would sell everything they owned just to lay their trembling hands on it. I know I would. But like the salvation of any one of us, the salvation of our children is ultimately not the work of any man but the work of God through his Spirit. And his Spirit blows where he wills. If our children do not, in the end, submit to God, it does not necessarily mean we have failed as parents. There are many Christian parents who have faithfully taught their children from infancy and modelled godly Christian living who not to see any fruit for their labours.

But God's sovereignty aside, we must ourselves fulfil our responsibilities as parents. While the responsibility also rests with the child (Ephesians 6:1), a significant responsibility resting upon the parents of those to whom God has entrusted his children.

So while there are no detailed instructions on Christian parenting, since any itemised laws on how one must live Christianly (including living as a Christian parent) is pharisaism, the Bible gives some general guidelines. Some apply to positions of leadership (which also figures in the parent-child relationship):
  • as above, teaching them about God, what we are before God, what he has done for us and how to have a relationship with him by teaching them his word, how God speaks to us;
  • this teaching should take place all the time, not just at Offical Family Bible Study Time. God's word should be infused in our whole family life, whether in the traffic jam on the way to school, at the beach, in the queue for places in an "enrichment class" or at the rides in Disneyland;
  • living out our faith and modelling godly behaviour (including real humility and forgiveness) in our own lives;
  • teaching them to talk to God in prayer and praying with them; and
  • disciplining and correcting them (Hebrews 12:7-11)
The Bible also gives warning of some potential parental impediments to this progress:
  • being slow to discipline and correct children who set themselves against God (1 Samuel 3:13); and
  • provoking our children to anger (Ephesians 6:4).
Being neither a seasoned Christian parent, nor the child of Christian parents, it is difficult to imagine, as a "first generation Christian", what the practical progress of a Christian child would look like from infancy to freshman year at college. Of these, Glenn Davis says:
The expected covenant pattern is for children of believers to grow up strong and faithful in the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). There is no reason to expect a "conversion" in such children – as they grow in knowledge, so they grow in grace. We don't expect our children to come to a crisis of faith in recognising that we are their parents, though there will clearly be stages of growth in the knowledge of what a parent is, sociologically and biologically (and ultimately when they become parents themselves!). In the same way, children of the Lord grow in their knowledge of God, in such a way that there was never a time when they did not know Jesus to be their Saviour. Yet we continue to hold before them the challenge of living as disciples of Christ (John 8:31).
Probably exhausting and personally costly, ministry to our offspring can be especially heartbreaking. We may joyfully see all our children accept Christ and go on to live their lives under him, working to save others in the process. Or we may lie on our deathbeds knowing that our children continue to reject God and spend our last breath persuading them to change, like we have tried to get them to do all their lives.

But ultimately, our trust lies not in our own works and powers of persuasion (or even skills at manipulation and emotional blackmail (who can resist the pitiful deathbed request?)), nor the reason, agreeability or personality of our children, but in the power and justice of the God who rules over all and who can bring dry bones to life (Ezekiel 37).

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I. BabyChristian Parenting and Viewing Children
II. BoyChristian Parenting and the Salvation of Children
III. Collage-babystuffChristian Parenting as Ministry, and Teaching Children

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