Most Christian parent already know that they are the ones who are responsible for their children’s spiritual development. The Bible makes it crystal clear that it is the role and responsibility of the parents (literally the father) to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The Old Testament makes it clear that it is incumbent, primarily upon every father of a family, to impart instruction to his young children.[i]
“Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9
Time and again Scripture makes it clear that fathers are to teach their children, and furthermore, to their children’s children (grandchildren).
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 cf. Deuteronomy 11:18-21).
This was the Shema, the central statement of the Jewish faith. It is as familiar today to Jewish people as John 3:16 is to Christians. Parents were to be “diligent” about forming the character of their children, using every teachable opportunity possible to share God’s Word with them.
“Diligently” this is a Hebrew word that means “repeat,” or “say again and again.” Other translations say, “Recite them … and talk about them”; “repeat them … and speak of them,” “tell them … and keep on telling them.”[ii]
This could happen at planned times (e.g., mealtimes), impromptu times (e.g., walking, driving), bedtime (reflection at the end of the day) and mornings (preparing for a new day). They were to wear the instructions on their hands and bodies (like wearing a cross or a bracelet), and post it on the doorposts of their homes (the last thing you see when leaving and first when arriving), as a visible testimony to neighbors.
The entire family living in a tent together in Old Testament times would certainly have made those time more opportune than our over-scheduled lives today, but regardless, the command still stands. Scripture did not tell them to bring their children to the temple or tabernacle (or church). It was the family’s responsibility. Homes were and still are, the perfect place to take advantage of those teachable moments. Parents are the perfect people to do so – no one knows and loves a child like a parent. And while churches can and should be a valuable partner, the primary responsibility remains with the parent. It is the parents who will be held primarily accountable for the spiritual growth of their children, not the church.
However, many believing families confess to their own struggles, operating from depleted faith resources and feeling inadequate and untrained to fulfill their biblical calling. Their lives are overcommitted and the parents feel overwhelmed. Parents feel enormous pressure to prepare their children for their future, resulting in participating in all manner of distractions which compete with church and home life.
Furthermore, not every parent is prepared or capable of leading their children. The Biblical command assumes that marriages are also functioning the way that God intended, and that parents are engaged and available. The reality however is that absent fathers and single mothers are the new norm, and many parents will not partner with the church no matter what we do. Barna says,
“Gone is the idea of a “normal” family. Nearly half of our kids will see their parents’ marriage dissolve. Many will grow up in a fatherless home.”[iii]
With divorced, blended and single parent homes now rampant in our society, consistency in Children’s Ministry becomes exceedingly difficult when many children who are in joint custody situations are only able to attend every other week, or less. Partnering with parents is impossible when unbelieving parents have no interest or others have no capability of spiritually training their children. And the reality is that some families must depend on the church or they will have no spiritual input. So, parents have willingly abdicated their discipleship responsibilities to the church. It’s easy for parents to relinquish their responsibility and it’s easy for the church to assume it.
Parents are happy because their children are receiving some Bible teaching, the kids are happy because the churches are providing another source of entertainment, and the church is happy because it is serving people. “This sounds like a wonderful win-win situation except for one issue: The approach is completely unbiblical!”[iv]
While the church is neither equipped nor called to circumvent the parents’ God given call to disciple their children, it is her responsibility to encourage and train them. We can no longer assume that the parents are engaged and involved in the lives of their kids, let alone being actively involved in their spiritual discipleship.
If the church had been successful at discipling parents, then kids’ ministry would be helpful, but not necessary. But because we don’t have discipled adults who are in turn discipling their kids, kids’ ministry is necessary.[v] This generation of children needs the church to step in. Desperate parents, frustrated and fearful, ill-equipped and unprepared, are all looking for help from a Church that is also waning and evolving, and not always for the better. We have definitely become more aware of this need to partner with parents, but research suggests that we are not doing well.
We must remember that our children’s ministry exists to partner with, to support, and to come alongside children’s true faith-developers — the parents! We must return to the blueprint.
[i] Exodus 10:2: 12:26-27. [ii] New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New Jewish Publication Society Version. [iii] “GenZ: Your Questions Answered,” Barna Group, https://barna.com>research.genzquestionsanswered.
[iv] Barna, George. Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003, 81. [v] Sam Luce, Barna, George. Children’s Ministry in a New Reality Building Church Communities That Cultivate Lasting Faith, 2022, 30.