A Little Child Shall Lead Them (Guest Post)
In a recent staff meeting, the children’s ministries director told us that a family was “leaving our church for another place where their children could connect.” The presenting complaint was that the pre-teen and teenaged children could not understand the Sunday sermons. Therefore, they had a find a church where the preaching on Sunday suited their teen children.
Being the elder who does the majority of preaching, I’ll leave the quality of my sermons and preaching, especially where teens are concerned, for another discussion. What I want to discuss here is a God-dishonoring misconception made by many evangelical parents that evidently presumes that the choice of a church rests in the preferences of their children.
It does not and never has.
More and more, I hear stories of parents leaving one church for another based on the wants, likes and dislikes, or entertainment values for their children. These become the criteria by which parents choose ministries in which the family participates. To be sure, some churches do a better job than others with ministry to children. I believe our church, while not perfect, still does a good job because we are purposely God-centered and intentionally gospel-driven in curriculum and ministry structures.
But we swim against a strong current in our church because we are also purposeful in our approach to children’s and youth ministries: our teams do not see themselves as the “religious professionals” whose are to raise other parents’ children for God. We are dedicated to the idea that it is a parent’s calling and duty to raise a child in the faith. Parents are the primary disciplers of their children. God gave that calling to parents, not primarily to the church.
I concluded long ago that God will neither bless the church for taking the role of the parent nor the parent for abdicating the role given in Deuteronomy 6.
Now, to the parents who believe it is the proper thing to do to let your children or teens choose the church with which your family will worship. I have four questions for you to consider. Fathers, especially pay attention to the questions.
1. Fathers, is your child wise enough in the Lord to determine the health of a church?
It should be the primary question in every believer’s mind: where can we find a biblically sound ministry? Is the Bible being faithfully and systematically expounded, week in and week out? Are the Scriptures the source of authority for Christian living, for faith and for ministry?
Can your child discern a biblically sound ministry at the age of thirteen?
The majority of the thirteen year olds (or eighteen year olds) I know rarely read their Bibles on their own or give it serious study. Not that they cannot; they just have other interests: video games, boys, ski trips, sports, and sometimes school. At age thirteen, too many of our young people sulk on their way to worship or Sunday school on Sunday morning.
Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” Sulking is an act that reveals a heart that has not caught the vision of a glorious God worthy of following. That vision is caught from parents.
2. Fathers, is it your intention to delegate to your child the primary role of spiritual leadership in the home?
Fathers are God’s delegated authority in the home. They are to represent Christ as they love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25) and they are train their children in the ways of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
There are too many poor examples of fathers in the Bible, but from the beginning God set forth the pattern of fathers as the spiritual leader of the home in the life of Abraham. God said of his friend, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen 18:19).
To turn over to teens such important spiritual decisions as which church to attend is to turn God’s commands on its head! Charles Spurgeon bluntly addressed the role of parents and of fathers especially:
First, let us begin by emphatically declaring it is parents (fathers in particular) and not the church who are given the primary responsibility for calling the next generation to hope in God. The church serves a supplementary role, reinforcing the biblical nurture that is occurring in the home. It is not the job of “professionals” at the church to rear the children of believers in the faith.
Dads: read through the first three or four chapters of the Proverbs in order to see the direction of instruction: it goes from father to son (or daughter):
- My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you . . . then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God (2:1-5)
- My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments (3:1)
- Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching (4:1-2).
Fathers, if you love your children and want to bring down the blessing of heaven on your families, then you must take up your God-given role as the spiritual head of your home. You are the one charged with the spiritual formation of your children. You are the one mature enough to understand how to fight the good fight of faith. The only qualification you need is to be a father!
3. Will your child have enough maturity to deal with the sin nature of other family members?
The choice of a church for the family is much more than about the quality of the sermons. Not all preachers are like John Piper or Alistair Begg. Indeed, some may be terrible public speakers; but if they are faithful expositors of God’s word, then your family will be edified.
The spiritual role of choosing a church must include the idea that our family will be equipped to fight sin and kill it before it kills you (Rom 8:13). We need the church family for the fight (Heb 3:13). It’s a fight to the death – literally! Is your child wise enough, strong enough in the Lord to shepherd your family in the fight?
Think about this carefully. Here’s what the Bible wants you to know about the condition of your child’s heart: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov 22:15).
You might be thinking: “Yeah, but mine too!” I say, “Amen!” But you have something your child does not: you have had some time and experience in the Lord not only to spot your sin but to fight against your sin. Your “win/loss” record does not matter as much as that you fight. Honestly, your child is probably not even aware of the motives of sin that course through his heart or that there is a battlefield that she enters everyday. To them, it’s just middle school. But for you, it should be the Roman Coliseum where faith is won or lost.
4. Can your child discern solid food from milk?
Finally, are you absolutely certain that your child can discern solid food from milk? Can your child feed you and your family sufficiently? Can your child discern between good and evil? Can your child help you with that ethical problem at work? Or a disagreement between you and her mom over the credit card?
If you don’t think so, pay attention to Hebrews 5:12-14 because it is addressed to you, dad:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Parents, especially fathers, it is way past time for you to embrace your greatest privilege and calling: the spiritual formation of your children for the glory of God’s name. As a pastor, let me help you think of this in a way that, I hope, will encourage as much as it exhorts. When you stand before the Lord to give him an account of your work to train your children, Jesus will not put the question this way: “Jim, how well did your pastor do in raising your children?”