Pastoral Perspectives

Children – Disciple In Training

  Grace and I are married for 25 years and have four children of our own. Our journey of parenthood began when we were expecting our first child 23 years ago. Being a first generation Christian, we have no role model to follow in child rearing. My first lesson was basically to accompany my wife for prenatal classes in the hospital and that’s where we learn the skills to help a smooth delivery and some knowledge of baby care. That’s about all the formal classes we have had as first time parents. Both of us served in the children ministry before we got married and surely this laid the foundation for our spiritual training in bringing up kids from diapers to disciples.

            Like many first time parents, the work entrusted to us is more serious than we thought. Our children should not be seen as disciples for training but disciples in training. This is a fulltime task; you’ll not get this training in any Bible schools or universities. Our “school of hard knocks” is the home. We all know that we are to raise our children in the ways of the Lord.  We are to love, nurture and train them the way God has called us to and yet many of us get bogged down in the constant paradoxes of parenthood …rejoicing over finding a lost toy one moment to yelling over spilled milk in the dining room, cheering them in the morning for taking their first step and then spanking their butt later for snatching toys. Could there possibly be more joy anywhere than in parenting these kids?

            A San Diego Union Tribune columnist wrote about a change in how parents approach child rearing.  He says “Today’s moms orbit around their children, dedicated to trying to make them happy… [while] yesterday’s moms were dedicated to teaching them to stand on their own two feet.”  Discipling has become a cliché of the church today. Too often, however, discipling is done at the price of neglecting those who need it most: our children!Discipling must begin with our children if it is ever to affect the rest of our culture. Before we go looking for people to disciple, we should start with our own families. God has entrusted our children to our care for only a few short years. Whether for good or bad, we will influence them for eternity.

         The words of the Lord to his people Israel as they began life in the Promised Land is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Looking at the context of this teaching, every area of our lives is supposed to come under the truth. When we sit down to relax at the end of the day, when we go for a walk, when we go to bed and when we wakeup in the morning, God’s word is supposed to be so much a part of who we are that it just comes out of us. When it says that the commands of the Lord are bound on our hands and our heads, this refers to all that we do and all that we think. There must be no compartments where God is not allowed to reign over us. For the word of God to be on the doorposts of our homes means that everything we do at home is filtered through the Bible. And our “gates” are probably our jobs, since early Israelite culture was primarily sustained by agriculture and animal husbandry. The diligent instruction of our children involves set times of instruction like family devotions, but the main emphasis of this set of commands is to make sure that our entire existence tells of the glory of God—on purpose. If we are honest with the main impact of the wording of this command, we must hear God’s direct command to families among the people of God. No one is responsible to disciple your children except you! In fact, no one is able to do so. The effectiveness of any such teaching arises from the indissoluble bond between the teaching and the authority to teach. Parents have that authority in the home; elders have it in the church. The key is to reach the heart of your child. Proper behavior is required, but it must come from the heart so that the child is thinking rightly, motivated by a love of God and of virtue, not by the fear of punishment.  If we teach our children to exercise spiritual wisdom over and over from God’s Word, it will become second nature to them. We should not be bribing, threatening or reasoning with our kids to get obedience.  We should not be repeating ourselves unnecessarily, raising our voices, or overlooking all the small disobediences.  Sound familiar? If we want our children to obey completely, immediately and joyfully, we as parents have to be consistent, persistent, effective, and righteous in our dealings. We must be able to ask the right questions that force our child to slow down and think through what just happened and have a ready Bible verse to turn to in such moments but only God can truly reach their hearts. Try asking them what would have been better, showing them the better way or even walking them through it.

            Some of you might be trying to recover the lost years when you have children who are in the tween and have offered you an up-sized versions of the same disobedience you saw when they were younger.  More wisdom on dealing with these times would certainly be valuable. Our children know if what we are saying and how we ourselves are behaving do not match up.  Seek with all your heart to live out these principles from God’s Word in your own life. The days and years of parenthood will always be marked with ups and downs.  And nearly every parent who has ridden life out to the closing chapters will testify that the sweet moments of closeness and success cover over the spanking and arguments and heartaches.  You who are yet to know parenthood, you’ll be surprised at how much you must do with little or no sleep.  But you will be even more amazed at how beautiful a baby’s first smile is. Parenthood is one of the highest and most challenging callings you’ll ever know, and one you wouldn’t trade it for the world.

            A story is told of Winston Churchill that everyone saw him as a horrible rascal in his younger years. His teachers dumped him as a failure, relatives saw him as a pesky nuisance and his father despised him but his mother perceived his uniqueness and special needs, and rather than making him fit into a prescribed mould, she nurtured his personal interests and surrounded her son with unconditional, patient love.  In doing so, she helped save the civilized world from being destroyed during the Second World War. Yes, unconditional love is indeed the best place to start when trying to gain back-lost ground with our children.

Pastor Cheng Huat

November 6, 2011