What lies at the heart of longing to see faith in Christ passed on from one generation to the next? I have two compelling reasons to busy myself with figuring out the answer to this question. First, I have two young sons. Second, I serve as a Pastor of Family Ministry, and my job is to labor alongside church elders and Children’s and Youth Ministry staff as they partner with parents towards this end.
A Very Real Challenge
From conversations with many of these parents, I know the topic of raising one’s children in the knowledge of Christ weighs heavily on their hearts and minds. Parenting in a world of social media and swiftly shifting societal norms often leaves our heads spinning and our hands grasping for anything that might help.
I often see how our default solution seems to involve attempts to make what happens on Sunday mornings more engaging and exciting (or some other fancy programmatic change). And while I whole-heartedly agree that Sunday morning worship services and Sunday school classes need to speak to younger generations in an accessible and engaging manner, I believe there is a deeper, more foundational issue at play.
More important than whether or not my kids find church engaging or exciting, is whether or not they are convinced that I find the gospel astonishing. My boys must see and believe that their mom and dad find the grace that has been shown to them radical, extravagant, life-changing…outright astonishing.
A Very Clear Instruction
To be clear: You are regularly communicating to your kids how you feel about the gospel whether you are aware of it or not. Silence speaks. What are kids left to assume if they hear from mom and dad daily on the topics of homework, sports performance, and behavior issues but rarely about the gospel? Sure, their middle school Sunday school teacher taught them that ‘euangelion’ is the Greek word for gospel and that it means “good news.” But if the only matters that make headlines in the Smith home the other 167 hours a week pertain to the things of this world, then it is hard to blame their children for being disinterested in the things of God.
When God gave the Israelite’s his word, he instructed them to “teach them diligently to your children and…talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Lessons about God and his salvation were never intended to be quarantined to a particular building, during a particular hour of the week. Instruction in God’s word was intended to take place at all times and in all places.
Let’s move from the Old Testament to the New. In Christ, we have the Word made flesh. His perfect obedience and sacrifice have ushered us into the family of God, making us his sons and daughters. How much more should we be speaking of him while sitting on our sectionals, driving to lacrosse practice, on the walk to the bus stop, and before telling them goodnight?
A Very Freeing Way Forward
So is every interaction with your child then supposed to be turned into one long bible-study? Are there to be dinner table sermons preached?
I would commend two simple practices for moving towards gospel-astonished parenting: remind yourself daily how astonishing the gospel is, and then speak of the gospel daily to your children.
The most important thing you can do when it comes to parenting does not actually involve your child. It involves drinking deeply from the well of God’s mercy and grace. Speaking of the gospel in Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, John Calvin points out that it, “…is not a doctrine of tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory alone, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.”
Dad and Mom, are you regularly reminding yourself of who you are in Christ? Are you consistently in the scriptures – not to earn brownie points with God, but to remember that he is just as likely to redeem and use prostitutes and liars, as he is choirboys and goody two-shoes? If the news of God’s free gift of grace to unworthy sinners is not astonishing to you, why would it be to your children?
Things we all talk about every day with our kids: food, behavior, school, people, North Carolina Tarheel basketball (or is that just me?). Add to this list: the gospel.
You can talk about it in any number of ways. Some days my boys hear about the gospel because they’ve heard me speak to my wife in a way that is harsh or unkind – they learn their father has no illusions of moral perfection and often needs forgiveness from their mom and from his God. Other days we look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or hundreds of other examples from the Bible, that teach us that the love of God is so profound, so counter-intuitive, so unlike all that we experience in almost every other area of life. To use Tim Keller-language: there are car rides when we speak to our boys about the gospel, that their successes might not go to their head; and bed-time conversations when we speak about it, that their failures might not go to their hearts.
Gospel-astonished parenting frees us from obsessing over mere behavior modification. It teaches our kids that obedience will never merit God’s acceptance, but rather when the gospel penetrates our soul and the inner recesses of our hearts, we find ourselves wanting to obey. It lifts the burden of having all the right answers and doing all the right things, by focusing on the only answer and only thing mighty enough that it has the power to transform – the gospel of Jesus Christ.