JR Ryle (1816-1900) wrote a short book during his Pastoral years entitled The Duties of Parents. In this book he lays out seventeen simple and yet vital responsibilities that every Christian parent ought to attend to. The opening chapter includes the following paragraph.
We live in days when there is a mighty zeal for education in every quarter. We hear of new schools rising on all sides. We are told of new systems, and new books for the young, of every sort and description. And still for all this, the vast majority of children are manifestly not trained in the way they should go, for when they grow up to man’s estate, they do not walk with God.JC Ryle. Duties of Christian Parents.
Those words, written nearly 150 years ago, ring as true today as the day they were written. Our children are one of God’s most precious gifts bestowed on Christian families. The responsibility of Christian parenting is far more than making sure our children go to school and become nice model citizens. Author Ted Tripp says it well, “You shepherd your child in God’s behalf. The task God has given you is not one that can be conveniently scheduled. It is a pervasive task. Training and shepherding are going on whenever you are with your children. Whether waking, walking, talking or resting, you must be involved in helping your child to understand life, himself, and his needs from a biblical perspective.” Parents are shepherds, assigned by God with the tremendous responsibility of discipling our children to live with Biblical wisdom, to know and love God, and to become disciple-makers themselves.
The reality is that our children are under attack from a well-schemed multi-faceted Satanic ploy to gain control of their hearts and minds and to hinder them from every truly confessing Jesus as their Lord. If Satan cannot get your child to deny Jesus as Lord, then he will settle for convincing your child that authentic Christianity is passive and weak, lifeless and dull, and nothing worth truly fighting for. It is a lamentable reality that many of our youth have walked away from the Church for some of these exact reasons.
Some may believe that my description of Satan’s attack on our children is extreme. But consider what the last few years has revealed. Social Media and internet access have become tools that Satan is using to permanently distract our children and place them in a state of constant comparison with each other. Child depression rates and suicide rates have sky rocketed. Pornography usage among youth is expected and often celebrated. Our public schools have force fed our children transgender ideology, and have even promoted it with children as young as kindergarten. Our libraries and media have pushed the same LGBTQ+ agenda overtly through children’s Drag Queen Story Hour and children’s toys. We’ve targeted children with demonic online horror games which have caused many children to become literally addicted to being scared. To numb the confusion, we have legalized new forms of marijuana so potent that it is causing long term physical and mental issues on its users. (See this episode of my Podcast for more on this topic).
Christian parents—there is an all out war for the hearts and minds of your children. There is no neutral. If you don’t counter these attacks, your children will pay a tremendous cost. The only way forward is to take the offensive and disciple your children boldly and intentionally. The only way forward is nothing short of holistic Biblical disciple-making and shepherding, the very thing you were called to in the first place.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.Proverbs 22:6
What follows are a few very simple measures parents can take. As a Dad of three young girls, I can say that these are simple things I aim to do each and every day. I confess to my own imperfection in these areas. At times God grants me great grace to do each of these well. At other times I find the work of shepherding is far more difficult than I care to admit, and if I’m not carefully prayed up, my children can bring out the worst of my sinful impatience. The goal is not perfection, but progress (1 Timothy 4:15). But this short list is a way to fight back against the darkness with the light of Christ.
Live Passionately For Christ In Front of Your Children
Our children need to see us living passionately for Jesus in front of them, all the time. They need to see Mom and Dad delighting in studying the Scriptures and praying together. They need to know that yours is a household that filters everything through the Word of God and prayer. Children are excellent hypocrite-sniffers. If your faith extends as far as the Sunday sermon, they will see the inconsistency. You cannot truly form in somebody else what you yourself don’t have. Let your children see you take a stand for Christ publicly. If you are a parent and don’t have a passion for Jesus, your first step is to get discipled yourself. Learn to love Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). Then allow your parenting to flow from that starting point. Your children want to be like you, so give them something to aim for.
Pray Powerfully For Your Children
As Christians we ought to be committing every part of our life to prayer, but especially our parenting. Your children are not born into God’s family. In fact, they are born as sinners in the hands of a God who is justly and rightly full of wrath towards sin. You cannot win your child to Christ, but your God can. Pray for them daily. Let them know you are praying for them daily. I have three daughters and a prayer I pray over them very regularly is that they would grow up to know and love Jesus, that their faith would surpass my own, that they might marry Godly men who also know and love Jesus, and that they might raise children that know and love Jesus. Oh Lord—may it be so!
Boldly Engage Your Church
The Lord has called every Christian to be engaged deeply in their local Church, not just on Sundays but throughout the week. A Church is a community of believers knit together for the purpose of honoring Christ by doing life together. We must not attempt to live this Christian life only partially connected to a local Church. Be engaged. Be a culture maker. If your kids are bored at Church, it could be because you have not fully taught them about the war we are in and the place that your Church family has in sustaining each other in the battle. Perhaps you have not explained that you have been enlisted into the Lord’s army (2 Timothy 2:3), and that every other person in that Church are your bunker mates. Perhaps you have not had the old scarred heroes from the Church to your home for dinner to tell the stories of their own battles and how the Lord led them through faithfully. Perhaps their vision of God is far too small, and they need to have Scripture read over them that will help their little hearts blossom into worshipers of God as He truly is. Call your children up to something more!
Maintain Daily Family Devotions
Beyond maintaining your own personal devotion life of Bible Study and prayer, every family needs family devotions. This is a time set aside every day to read scripture and to learn how to pray powerfully together. For our family, our normal rhythm is to do our family devotions in the last 15 minutes before walking out the door each morning on our way to work and school. Dads—this is where you can step up to the plate. As the Biblical head of your household, lead this time in Bible reading and prayer. Teach your children the lesson of the passage, and then invite them to pray with you over their days and their concerns. As a family, aim to make this time so regular that your children know something strange must have happened if it is missed.
Catechize Your Children
Catechisms are an ancient tool, and unfortunately one that is forgotten by most Christian parents. But I believe they are vital. A Catechism is a series of short questions and answers aimed at teaching your children the core doctrines and beliefs of the Christian faith. I have been using the New City Catechism with my children for over a year now. This particular one comes with a very helpful app that is useful for using it in the car. As an example of how this works, the first question of this catechism is “What is our only hope in life and death.” My children have memorized the answer, “That we are not our own but belong to God.” Each day we review a handful of the questions and answers they have already memorized, and work on a new one together. I like the New City Catechism because it is put to music for the children which helps them with memorization. Whenever they memorize an answer, it is then our job to explain it to them so that catechism is not simply rote memorization, but heart formation. Find a way to fit this into the regular rhythms of your day. For our family, we do it on the 12 minute drive to school most mornings.
Defend Your Children From Every Enemy
The enemy is coming for your children. As a parent, guard your home and what your children have access to. Take full control of all media. At every turn, look for opportunities to process life with your children. Take time to answer their questions. The goal is not to create children that are afraid to engage with the ideas of the world, far from it. Rather, what you want to do is help them navigate the foolish ideas of the world Biblically. When a false idea is presented, discuss it with your children appropriately for their age. Open your Bible and show them the truth from Scriptures. Help them to see false ideology for what it is, foolish and incoherent. Guard media especially. Sitting your child down in front of a television or an ipad and giving them full control is about as safe as dropping your children off at a mall filled with sexual predators. At nearly every corner of the internet there are perverts posing as children attempting to lull your kids into dark corners where their hearts and minds might be corrupted or worse. Technology is not the enemy, in fact it can be a great tool. But as the parent—guard it with your life. My children recently asked if they could watch a new children’s movie. My wife and I watched it first to determine if it was safe for them. We determined it was okay, but we would need to skip two particular scenes. This should be normal practice. Lead your children through the cultural minefield faithfully and patiently. Guard your home. Don’t be afraid to be the parent that raises your kids by different rules. You are Christians, it would be strange if you weren’t raising them differently!
Be Tender, Grace-filled, and Full of Forgiveness & Joy
Lastly, be tender, grace filled, and full of joy. Parenting is a great joy. In the midst of it, there are incredible challenges because believe it or not, both you and your children are sinners. They, like us, get cranky and irritated. They, like us, have moments of weakness. As a parent, God has given you great tools Biblically for both correction and discipline, use them. I highly recommend Ted Tripp’s excellent book Shepherding A Child’s Heart for advice on this. The Bible actually instructs us that no good parent would neglect to discipline their children. Yes—we are aiming to raise joyfully obedient children, children that respect proper authority, just as we are joyfully obedient to Christ. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:7-9)”
But our children need far more than just a disciplinarian as a parent. Consider how tender and gracious our Heavenly Father has been with us. Consider his long-suffering. Our children need to learn both discipline and forgiveness from us. They need to see the fulness of Christian joy lived out in their home daily. They need to know that Mom and Dad ask for forgiveness when they are wrong, and grant it to one another and to others when needed. May our houses be houses of joy in the Lord. And may are children be the fruit of such a home!