Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

Christianity by osmosis.

Expecting your kids to turn out Christian because they’re surrounded by Christians: It’s not gonna cut it.

Yet you’d be surprised how many parents do precisely this. They take the kids to church, take ’em to youth groups and children’s functions, say grace before every meal, remind ’em how Jesus wouldn’t approve whenever the kids disobey, won’t let ’em swear or watch R-rated movies, and play K-LOVE in the car. How much more Christian can you be around ’em?

But as I said, that’s just the Christian culture. The kids see you acting like a Christian would. But do they see you worship?

Have they seen you pray?—and I mean really pray, not just before meals. Have they seen you hear from God? Have they seen you act on what you heard from God? Have they seen you repent, apologize to God, apologize to them? Or have you been so intent on keeping this private—and understandably so—you haven’t entrusted any of it with your children?

Have you studied the bible with them? Do they know how to study the bible in depth? (Do you?) Have you taught ’em to meditate on it? To make a regular habit of reading it? To follow Jesus’s instructions, no matter where they lead? Have they ever seen you correct yourself when it turns out you were wrong?

Do your actions reflect your Christianity? Or have you simply adapted your Christianity so you can continue doing as you’re doing, and are you unwittingly teaching your kids what a hypocrite looks like? Are they growing proud of you, or more and more ashamed of you? Or worse: Are they also becoming a giant hypocrite, because they figure that’s just how the game is played?

I’m not trying to be harsh. Just give you a little wake-up call. Because I grew up Christian. These are the things I saw. I saw Christians whose religion was entirely private, so their kids saw nothing, knew nothing, believed nothing, and became nothing.

And in contrast, I saw my mother worship.

Not that seeing this would’ve infallibly steered me in the right direction. I was a selfish little kid. It’s way easier for kids to reject their parents’ belief system than embrace it. More immediately gratifying to not control ourselves, and be pagan. But when our parents give us nothing to go on, it’s all the easier to reject their beliefs. ’Cause hey, if they never bothered to take their Christianity out from behind closed doors, it must not mean all that much to ’em. This is why kids assume Christianity is a low priority, an optional lifestyle, a public embarrassment, one they can take or leave. Shouldn’t be so surprised when they leave, and adopt their friends’ religion.

Get intentional with your kids!

There’s a popular myth that little kids have an “age of accountability”: They’re too young to comprehend a personal relationship with God, so God doesn’t require ’em to have one. If they die in this “state of innocence” (obviously the folks who invented this idea has never experienced the “innocence” of a toddler who just learned the word “no”) they’ll go directly to heaven. Didn’t need any sinner’s prayer. But after that cut-off point, wherever it lies, they’d better have a relationship with God.

I mock it ’cause the age of accountability isn’t found in the bible. At all. It was invented by Christians who don’t understand grace, and don’t realize God dispenses it to everyone who doesn’t know any better. Belief in it also has a really lousy side effect: If parents believe their kids are too young to have a real relationship with God, they won’t point them towards one. Yikes.

So don’t wait till they’re “old enough.” Start as early as you can. Yeah, when they can barely put sentences together, God’s a little harder to explain at an age-appropriate level. That’s okay. Fellow Christians have written stuff for every age level. Look up “children’s evangelism” in your favorite search engine. Read the resources. Buy a few books. Learn how to explain God as simply as possible. Then share Jesus with your kids.

Anyone who works with children, knows kids know when they’ve done wrong. They figure out the difference between right and wrong at very early ages. It’s not at all hard to teach kids they’ve done wrong, deserve to suffer consequences, need forgiveness, and need Jesus. We all do bad things. All need forgiving. All need God’s grace. And thanks to Jesus, we all receive it. Any child can understand this. Every parent oughta teach it.

We need to demonstrate how we pay God’s grace forward: We need to forgive. We need to be charitable and generous. We need to love our neighbors. We need to let grudges, hangups, and prejudices go. We need to admit we’re screw-ups too. Which isn’t an easy thing to do if you yourself were raised by ungracious people; or if your idea of child-rearing involves wielding power and control over them. If so, you have a lot to unlearn. Start treating your kids like God treats you. Be honest with them. Be humble.

Control-freak parents have been greatly misled by fellow control freaks, who like to disguise their graceless, fruitless behavior under the guise of “biblical principles” and “Christian discipline.” Those who try to mold their kids this way, rather than teach ’em to listen to the Holy Spirit directly, wind up with little legalists. Or, if the kids prefer the easier route, little hypocrites. We must go out of our way to demonstrate how to follow Jesus, to be good examples for kids to follow, and to point to our example. That’s way harder than “Do as I say, ’cause I’m the parent.” But those who don’t lead by example, don’t truly lead.

Nope, it’s never enough to stick the kids in a Christian-looking and Christian-sounding environment. It’s about following Jesus together. You had to be shown what to do; now show them. If you don’t know how to follow him, you can’t show ’em, but there’s a simple solution: Learn. Go to church and ask a million questions. Straighten yourself out, then go home and demonstrate to your kids. Don’t pass down your mistakes; don’t hide ’em, for they’ll always get found out. Learn, then show.

Otherwise your kids will become one of the many who say, “My parents only say they’re Christian.”