I grew up in Christian tradition terrified of the world and culture. We dare not touch, taste, or see lest we become defiled as well. “We are not of the world,” I heard often. We should never ignore the sin and darkness in the world, but we certainly shouldn’t live in fear. Our King reigns eternal in light.
Often I see this fear in my own parenting and in parents I mingle with in different settings. I had an irrational fear of my child going to school because “What if she learns bad stuff from other children?”
A trending news story on many Christian news outlets is the loss of faith of young adults. Why is it happening? (Is it really happening?) How can we stem the tide? (Can we stem it?) What’s the silver bullet so our children don’t lose their faith? (Can we make them internalize it?)
We are so wrapped up in methods, ministries, and silver bullets that we stop discipling and parenting with promise and only react as the next cultural wave hits the shore of the church and our homes. I want to make three points that grow out of what God has already done and what he promises to accomplish.
First, parenting in reaction to culture and in fear of being defiled by the world ignores that sin is within our homes. Our focus is outward. Our focus is on other people. Our focus is on outside institutions. We never take the time to proactively examine our own heart. Our own homes. Our own churches. We never regularly engage our children’s affections with the gospel.
Sin is real. And it lives in our homes. Instead of focusing outward, let’s daily root out sin in our lives. As parents, that means regularly repenting and humbling yourselves in-front of, not only your spouse, but your children.
The other day in a moment of self-righteous anger I snapped at my wife in the car for a wrong she did me. My oldest daughter piped up, “Dad let her think about what happened and give her time to respond.” My first thought was Where does this stuff come from? I have this fun loving, smart, and rambunctious daughter who regularly goes Yoda-wise on me. Then I remember the Spirit is working in her heart, growing her faith, and turning her heart towards Jesus. Not that I’m not concerned with her friends, but I’m concerned as much with all the sin I’m teaching her. I must strive to make sure every sin is followed promptly by repentance.
Second, we must plant seeds of love for Jesus in their hearts, instead of primarily fear for what’s out there. In M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, people grieving the loss of loved ones meet and decide to create a village completely secluded from the evil of the outside world. These founding members do this by fostering fear of evil creatures who inhabite the woods around this nineteenth century styled village. There’s a fictitious truce with these creatures as long as the villagers stay within the confines of the walls. This farce is created to keep the children inside the village and separated from the evil of the world around. What we learn in this film is that fear cannot win the affections and evil cannot be walled out when humans live within those walls.
An accessible example of this failure in the church and its families is our approach to sex. Churches regularly teach on sex out of fear—fear of unwanted pregnancies, fear of disease, fear of shame. We typically don’t spend as much time teaching on the awesomeness of sex in marriage and the ecstasy God created man and woman for in sexual unity. Ideally, before the topic of sex is broached we should have years of discipleship in place with our children centered on the love of Jesus, his goodness, and the unlimited joy found in fellowship with the Trinity. That foundation should be our launchpad for discussing sex. “Jesus loves us and wants us to enjoy his creation. Here’s how to best enjoy sex.”
Last, we must parent with promise. Pushing our children towards a one-time decision for Jesus can be harmful. It sends the message that being a disciple is a one time moment and that their faith is something that they must produce. Instead, we must parent with promise. From the time our children our young, we must teach them that God is faithful to his promises, that God has called them holy, and that God will never cast them out when the come to Jesus.
As a Presbyterian, I would also include a reminder about the sign they received at baptism. “Here is a picture of what God has promised to do for you. He will wash you. He will give you his Spirit. Just like you did nothing when you received your baptism, so you do nothing when Jesus Christ changes your heart.” My aim when discipling my children is to flame their love of God—tightly gripping the promises of God along the way. “Isn’t he awesome?” “Look how he has provided!” “Daddy sinned. Will you forgive me? I’m so thankful God forgives us when we sin.” “What God offers is so much better. There’s infinte joy in him.” We do not tremble in fear wondering if God will do what he says in our children’s heart. We humbly expect him to accomplish all his promises and use all the means he provides to disciple them along the way.
So parents stop teaching your children to fear the world. Our King has conquered it. Every square inch is his. Teach them to love him and delight in the world. Teach them about repentance. Teach them about God’s unfailing promises. And don’t forget to read them good stories along the way. Stories that compliment the one true story.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.