One Question Every Christian Parent Needs to Answer
What car seat or diaper brand should we buy? What sports or activities will we sign up for? What school will my kids go to? As parents, we’re bombarded with big and small questions at every stage of our kids’ lives. It can be pretty overwhelming at times, can’t it?
The One Question
As Christian parents, though, there’s one incredibly important question we have to ask before any others.
We need to know the answer to this crucial question because it will consciously or subconsciously steer the direction of our parenting. And, if we don’t know the answer or get it wrong, the effect can be slowly (or quickly) moving away from God’s wonderful, long-term plan for our children.
The one question is this: What is my end goal as a Christian parent?
Our End Goal of Parenting
Let’s start with what our ultimate parenting goal is NOT. Our end goal is not to make sure our kids learn to share, participate in the right sports, eat healthy food, or excel in school. It’s not even to make sure they are happy, for that matter. While all of those are good desires for our kids’ lives, they aren’t the end goal of our parenting.
Our greatest calling as parents is far bigger than those ends. God has given us the task of teaching our children to know, love, and follow him for a lifetime. That's because Jesus alone is where they will find a deep, abiding joy for all eternity!
While our children’s salvation is not ultimately in our hands, God has given us a big role to play in passing on our faith. So, what are some practical parenting steps toward this end?
4 Ways to Parent with the End in Mind
No matter the age of your children, here are four important rhythms to begin in your home...
1. Work on growing closer to Jesus yourself.
In the book of Deuteronomy, God gives his people specific instructions about “passing on the baton of faith” before entering the promised land. Pay careful attention to the order of these commands…
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.Deuteronomy 6:5-7
Did you catch the order of how God's people are to pass on their faith?
- Love and follow God yourself.
- Teach your kids to do the same.
Not surprisingly, the National Study of Youth and Religion supports this. Their research found that by far the most important factor for determining whether children will retain their faith as adults is if a parent models genuine faith in Jesus.
“Parents are huge, absolutely huge, nearly a necessary condition… Without question, the most important pastor a child will ever have in their life is a parent.”Professor Christian Smith, Notre Dame
If you're like me, you feel a twinge of guilt when you think about "being the most important pastor" your child will have because we all fall short in this area. But let's not let that stop us!
Instead, let's make an intentional effort to grow closer to Jesus ourselves by taking steps to:
- Attend church regularly.
- Read God's word and pray regularly. (An app I've found helpful during busy stretches is Lectio 365.)
- Join a small group or Bible study with other Christians.
- Find a place to serve in church.
- Demonstrate a humble heart when you mess up. And extend grace to your kids when they do too.
Let your kids see you doing these things and talk to them about what you're learning.
2. Read the Bible with your kids regularly or encourage them to on their own.
It’s never too early and it’s never too late to start reading the Bible to your kids.
By spending just a few minutes a day reading the Bible with them (or encouraging them to do it on their own), we can help our children learn how important it is to meet with God regularly. The Bible is where they learn that they're loved more than they could ever imagine. That they are part of the greatest story of all time. And that they can depend on him with their entire lives.
It’s super helpful to invest in a Bible that’s age-appropriate for your child. I’ve written an extensive review of my favorite children’s Bibles here and some of the best Bibles for tweens and teens here.
If you’re wondering where to start tonight, one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) is always a good bet. Last year, I read the books of Luke and then Acts with my 5th grader. We got through less than a chapter each night, but both books were engaging, exciting, and taught us so much about Jesus and his Church.
3. Incorporate prayer into your daily routine.
Praying to God together as a family demonstrates our dependence on him and shows our children how to connect relationally with our Father in heaven.
First, invite the Holy Spirit into your parenting efforts. Pray that God would be at work in your kids’ hearts and minds, helping them to know and follow him. Start by praying Psalm 25:4-5 or Psalm 86:11 for your children.
Second, pray with your kids often. Your prayers can be short and sweet (in fact, that’s often better with kids). They don’t have to be “perfect”...just from the heart. My husband and pastor, Nathan, wrote an article with some great tips for praying with kids here.
Here are some ideas for natural times in the day to pray together:
- Before or after you read the Bible together.
- Before meals.
- In the car on the way to school.
- Before bedtime. (I’ve noticed this can be a time when our children are more open to sharing their fears, worries, and prayer requests.)
4. Make Christian community a priority as a family.
All of us (kids and parents alike) need other Christians in our lives to help us grow closer to God. Jesus established the church for this very reason!
As Glen Stanton notes, “Our kids need to have the faith they learn at home supported and encouraged by the larger ring of admired adults around them.”
Connecting with our church community takes concerted effort, though. If you haven’t yet, make attending the worship service on Sunday mornings a priority. For our family, this sometimes means skipping sports games (the youth sports pressure is real!) or going to an earlier or later service to work around other things.
Parents, as you work towards putting these practices in place, there will be fits and starts. You will feel like a failure at times-- I know my husband and I have! But, let’s remember Paul’s words:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9-10
Let’s never give up on tilling the soil of our kids’ hearts and asking God to be at work in their lives.
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