Discipling Children (part 3)

Dear Reader,

So in part 1 I outlined the problem as I see it. In part 2  I talked about my view of children as members  of God’s covenant community (i.e. the church). So this is part 3, and we get to practical applications.

If children of believers are to be considered as part of God’s people, how should be treat them? Well, I would argue that we should treat them like any new believer. Obviously they start out with very little concrete knowledge of their Creator. So we should cover the basics. We would do this with any new believers, make sure they have their basic theology right. In some ways, kids may have more to learn because they start from zero. On the other hand, many adults have learned things wrong and to they really start from negative numbers.

If we are treating children as believers, then we do not need to be giving them constant altar-calls. They may not have a point of decision in their lives that they can point to as the moment they were saved, but neither do many adults. A point of decision isn’t  necessary. Sometimes I think we grown-ups keep pushing for this because we want assurance that our kids are safe eternally. We want  a dramatic change for them. But dramatic changes are no assurance for anybody. Drama often means emotion and not substance anyway. A long, boring life lived in faith is better than one teary moment if it is not built upon.

What we do need to do for our children, as for any new or younger believer, if to disciple them. To teach them more and more of their Savior, His Word, and our own position before Him. I am big on teaching theology to kids. I think they can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. The only good theology curriculum for kids I have found is James Beeke’s series. I wish there were more out there. But there is also just the Bible. Nothing can be more edifying than studying God’s Word directly. And delve into it. Go beyond Genesis. So often it seems like my kids hear the same stories again and again in any Christian Sunday school or group they go to. Let’s give them more meat! Romans for all!!

Sorry  . . . where was I?

Oh, yes, then comes all the virtue stuff. Curricula for kids seems to be just full of instructions on how to behave. It makes one think that what we really want is well-behaved kids who won’t embarrass us in public rather than saved kids. Now obviously there two categories shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, my whole point is that they are not. Want good kids? Teach them theology.

I am indebted to the Common Room for pointing me to this quote from Charlotte Mason:

“Character is not the outcome of a formative educational process; but inherent tendencies are played upon, more or less incidentally, and the outcome is character.

I should like to urge that this incidental play of education and circumstances upon personality is our only legitimate course. We may not make character our conscious objective. Provide a child with what he needs in the way of instruction, opportunity, and wholesome occupation, and his character will take care of itself.”

We spend so much time and energy urging good values upon our children. But we  cannot change another’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. All we can do is lay before them the Word of God and pray they He will apply it to their hearts. Good behavior will hopefully follow, but it should not be our primary target.

I am not saying that we should ignore glaring problems if they are present. We would do this with an adult we were discipling. If anything we have responsibility to do it for our children.  But if no glaring problems are present, I would just continue to study God’s Word. And along the way behavior related topics would come up, but I can’t see making them my focus. Why do we try and behave well anyway? It is not to earn our salvation. That is impossible. It is not to satisfy some legal standard even after we are saved. We “behave well” (or at least we should) out of thankfulness to the one who has saved us. So if we want our kids to behave (meaning obey God first and only us their parents secondarily), then I think we need to teach them thankfulness to God. What will produce thankfulness? How about learning more about what God has done for them? More of His character. More of our own fallen state even. More THEOLOGY!

So what do you think? Have I made my case? The argument I can come up for to counter my argument (that’s a mouthful) is that the parent-child relationship is not identical to any other. Parents are called to guide and shape their children in a way that no other relationship duplicates. So perhaps we are justified in being more concerned with our child’s behavior than that of any new believer who comes to us for discipling. To which I would respond that that is true, but I still think the best way to guide and shape our children’s behavior is by pointing them to their Creator. If we don’t understand the reasons why we obey God (thankfulness, not to make mom or dad look good or to earn our salvation), then the lessons are not likely to adhere long-term.


One response to this post.

  1. […] blogged a lot on this in the past as I have tried to sort through the issues (see here, here, here, and here). On the one hand, we expect our children to behave like God’s people. This […]


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