Recently I have taken to calling Julia ‘little Tobey.’ Though I mean it as a compliment, she hasn’t taken to kindly to it – so I guess I’d better lay off. But it almost can’t be helped! Julia reminds me, in so many (good) ways, of her mom! Her retort, though, is to call me ‘Teeny grandpa.’ And, the older I get, the more she is right. I see more and more of my father in myself! Don’t we all?!
All of this reminds me of the great influence that parents have on their children. Whether we (or our kids!) like it or not … the apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? Our kids imitate our facial expressions, our eating habits, our passions, our speech-patterns, and a whole host of other idiosyncrasies that they see every day in mom and dad. They also, in many ways, imitate our spiritual habits. That is not to say that Christian parents guarantee Christian children. They don’t. Nor is it to deny the fact that Jesus has come to redeem us from “the futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers” (1 Peter 1.18). He has! – such that many wonderful Christian people come from many of the most un-Christian backgrounds! That is part of the glory of the gospel! But, within Christian families especially (where children learn to respect and look up to mom and dad), the kids often do grow up to imitate many of the spiritual habits of their parents – for better, and sometimes for worse. Kids who grow up in church every Sunday have a lot easier time continuing that habit with their own families. Kids whose dads lead in family worship each evening will have a much easier time carving out such time in their own adulthood. Children whose parents sing heartily during Sunday worship learn that it’s OK for them to do the same. Children from homes where Christianity is practiced seven days a week, not four days a month, tend to make such faith their own. And the list could go on!
What am I trying to say? That the mamas and the papas are vitally important in the church! Perhaps more than Christians at any other stage or station in life, parents with children in the home are intense disciple-makers. Moms and dads have evangelistic and discipleship opportunities like almost no other Christian can have – including full-time pastors and even missionaries – such is the close contact with their young tutors! And we will make disciples out of our kids, for better or for worse!
So this is a plea – first of all to those who are not (or are no longer) in the day-to-day topsy-turvy mission field of child-rearing: Pray for those who are! It is a more difficult task than we knew when we got ourselves into this business; and a more weighty responsibility than almost any other in the world. So please, pray for the parents in your church! They need it!
Second, this is a plea to parents … to realize and accept the responsibility you have undertaken. Don’t abdicate your spiritual responsibility by just ‘getting by’ as a parent. Your kids need more out of the 18 years they spend in your home than a high school diploma, a college scholarship, and a few good manners and morals. They need a daily example of what real, humble, joyful, consistent, grace-filled Christianity really looks like, lived out live and in person. They need to see the Sunday sermons fleshed out in the example of their parents. They need someone to teach the Bible to them seven days a week, and to show them how delightful is a Christian home filled with songs of praise. They need to be taught, by 18 years’ worth of habit, that Sunday is the best and most important day of the week … and that the other six days should be built around this one day of feasting for the soul. They need to hear you admit your own sins and seek forgiveness (from them, and from the Lord) so that they understand that Christianity is not, first of all, about being a good person, but about receiving the good news of forgiveness and fresh starts for not-so-good persons! They don’t need perfection. But they do need consistency, and the absence of hypocrisy. They need to grow up and say: ‘I want to be like my mom and dad. I want to have faith like theirs, and joy like theirs, and a church family like theirs. And most of all, I want their Jesus.’
Yes, ultimately, our children need Jesus, not just mom and dad. And while no parent can give them Jesus (a role reserved only for the Holy Spirit) – every parent ought, by their own speaking of Jesus, and reading the words of Jesus aloud to the family, and singing to Jesus, and trusting in Jesus, and confessing to Jesus, and loving Jesus, and becoming a little more like Jesus all the time … every parent ought, I say, to be about making little disciples of Jesus in their home. Let’s give it everything we’ve got!