Just as we care for our children physically and emotionally, we must care for them spiritually.
Often, parents hope that the church will do this for them, that the responsibility for raising up Children who love and respect God rests somehow on the shoulders of those more well-versed than they. But that’s just not true.
At no time in life does a human being absorb information faster than when they are a child. By age 4, a child’s brain is more than twice as active as an adult’s—this doesn’t slow until around age 16. In all of a person’s life, there is no better window of learning opportunity.
And who does a child spend the most time with during this window? That’s right—their parents.
Making disciples of your children is incredibly important. Not only will your children be taught the value of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness—increasingly rare attributes—but they’ll also learn to have a personal relationship with an unconditionally loving God.
But where to start? It can sometimes seem an impossible task to introduce children to something that they cannot see, feel, or hear, especially when their peers may not embrace those same beliefs. And even if you do succeed, there are no guarantees that your children will choose the path of Christ—God gives us all free will, after all.
But there are important steps that you can take to give your children the greatest opportunity to come to know God. Here’s how you can fulfill Matthew 28:19 within your own family and make disciples of your children.
The first step is to establish habitual prayer. Your children will model their behavior on yours—at least, for a time. Pray as a family, and when your children are able, allow them to participate.
Jesus gave us the basic model of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, when He taught the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples. Rather than being something to simply memorize and repeat, the Lord’s Prayer gives us all of the ingredients that should go into a good prayer, and is an excellent example from which to begin teaching your children how to pray.
But don’t let it be limited to that. Explain everything. Engage their intellect. Tell them why you pray. Reason it out—this is how the strongest faith is built. When you help your children work out their own faith, rather than simply establishing a rote set of rules, you’ll lay the foundation they’ll later use to truly choose to follow God.
Next, it is important to read scripture—to really delve into the Bible. Start with the basics—the creation story, followed by the Gospels.
Children love stories, and they’re one of the best ways to help them understand the world. The fantasy and mythology that we tend to read our children can sometimes teach them more about real life than any encyclopedia. What better tale to tell them, then, than that of Jesus Christ—the One True Myth, as author J.R.R. Tolkien put it, a story with all of the beauty and meaning of myth, but unlike other mythologies, is one that has actually happened.
Jesus is God made flesh, the ultimate example of how humankind should live. Tell His story, and tell it often. Show your children, through the life of Christ, how they should treat the poor, the outcasts, and their enemies. Show them what it means—and what it costs—to truly live a Christlike life. This, too, will aid them in working out their own faith, coming to God on their own terms as they mature.
Next, be the Christian mentor that your children need. Live out your faith, and allow your children to see the fruits of it—not that God showers fame or riches down on his followers, but that by living by God’s word, we help others, alleviate suffering, and heal the hearts of the broken.
Don’t limit yourself to bringing your children to church. Let them see God in you through action. Bring them when you volunteer your time for others. Let them see you giving back to the church through tithes, and let them see where these tithes go and how they’re used to help people—they’ll connect this with Christianity, and will be able to see God as more than some nebulous being in the sky. They’ll see His love. They’ll see how He affects the world through His followers.
To do this, you may need your own mentor—seek out someone you trust from your church’s leadership who is an experienced parent. If you’re feeling unsure of yourself, ask their advice. Begin a chain of discipleship mentoring that will be passed down through your children and onto theirs.
Also important is seeking out a church community. A child’s peers exert a strong influence over them, so why not expose them to a Christian community? While it’s important not to shelter your child in Christian-only environments, maintaining a link to a church family is vital to their—and your—spiritual growth.
And speaking of spiritual growth, the culmination of a child’s faith-based learning results in their ability to tell others about God. Train your children to not only share the story of God, but to discern when and where it is appropriate to do so, and to always do so from a place of love, not judgment or anger.
It’s important that a child be able to explain their faith. After all, they’re going to be questioned, refuted, and even derided, at times, for believing in that which they cannot prove. Authors like C.S. Lewis lay out ways to explain faith in books like “Mere Christianity,” which can not only help a child explain their beliefs, but also strengthen them within themselves.
This is the hardest part of raising Christian children, who will want to know all of the “why”s and the “how”s. You won’t always have answers because God is, quite literally, unfathomable in some ways. But don’t despair if those questions come, and you have no good answer. That’s part of the fun! Work these things out with your children, and admit when you’ve reached the edges of your knowledge—this can make for some wonderful bonding time that leads to beautiful revelations.
Realize, though, that God has gifted us all with free will. Your children may not choose your particular view of Christianity, and may not choose it at all. If this is the case, don’t punish them—this will only push them farther away. Few things work to destroy Christianity like angry Christians.
Rather, accept and love them without condoning unbelief. Above all, continue to be a Christian, to help others, to serve the needy and protect the weak. Be a shining example of the goodness of God. This is alluring. It’s fascinating and beautiful. And it draws people in, including your children.
And don’t punish yourself for your children’s choices. You will not be judged by them, nor they by you. Each of us is responsible for our own path.
Take heed of these steps, though, and your children will have the best opportunity they can get to come to know God’s true character, and to truly grow to love Him. Remember, parents—God is with you. He’s by your side, helping you as your raise your children.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.