Why Parents Are the Primary Spiritual Caregivers of Their Children
I was 20 years old when I became a father. I was young, dumb, and woefully unprepared. When my wife and I took our son home, we sat down and looked at each other. A wave of mixed emotions passed over us: joy, bewilderment, and panic. We were overjoyed at God’s gift of a healthy baby boy. We were a little surprised that they would send two twenty-year-olds home with a baby and no instruction manual. And we were panicking because it was starting to dawn on us that we were now responsible for a tiny human, a little image-bearer. As I’ve talked with parents over the years, most have admitted to having had similar experiences.
I once heard someone say that parents have been given the job of “shepherding their children toward eternity.” I can’t remember who said it, but I’ve never forgotten the words. So, how can the church prepare parents to care for their children’s souls?
Let me suggest four ideas.
1. Rejoice in new life and growing families.
The Psalmist writes, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps. 127:3–5). Unfortunately, fewer people today understand the value of children. Couples have fewer kids, often because they see them as an inconvenience, not a gift. This should not be the case in our churches. We should rejoice in the gift of children. If parents feel like they’re not welcome at church because of their family’s size or their children’s behavior, then a church will have a hard time equipping their parents with the tools they need to raise their kids. Our Lord said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them” (Mt. 19:14); that should also characterize our church’s attitude toward kids.
2. Teach parents what they’ve been called to.
In Deuteronomy 6, the Lord calls parents to pass down the instructions of the Torah to their children: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall 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” (Deut. 6:7). Similarly, in Ephesians 6:4, Paul exhorts fathers to not “stir up anger in your children but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Bible is clear; parents must instruct their children in the Lord.
So how can churches help parents understand this responsibility? Well, it starts in the pulpit. Pastors, as you preach the Word, take opportunities to apply your text directly to parents. Suggest questions they can discuss around the dinner table with their children. Encourage them as they evangelize their children. In addition to your pulpit work, ensure that your church’s programs are structured so families can engage in worship together.
Many churches unintentionally hinder parental involvement by over-programming. A family may roll up to church on a Sunday, walk in the door, and not see each other again until they leave. They don’t sing together. They don’t pray together. They don’t hear God’s Word read together. They don’t observe the ordinances together. And they don’t listen to the sermon together. As pastors, we should avoid this when possible.
Children benefit from singing and praying with their parents. They benefit from seeing baptism and people taking the Lord’s Supper. Eventually, they need to hear the same sermons as their parents—and probably earlier than you think.
We must do all we can to help parents care for their kids’ souls. This means encouraging them to worship together and giving parents accessible avenues to engage.
3. Teach parents how to do what they’ve been called to do.
After teaching them what to do, churches should equip parents on how to actually do it. Historically, catechisms have been used to teach children the things of God. Perhaps your church can suggest different catechisms to use at home. Perhaps you may provide outlines for parents to use for family devotions so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by having to devise their own system.
If your church has a bookstall, don’t forget to stock the shelves with books for both parents and kids. During children’s Sunday School or even in the nursery, teach the children in your church songs they can easily sing at home.
4. Support parents in their calling.
Most parents know that sometimes our kids listen to others better than they listen to us. This is why a culture of discipling is so crucial for a healthy church. It should be normal for young people to be discipled by people other than their parents.
A straightforward way to foster these sorts of relationships is to encourage single members in your church to attach themselves to a family or two. When this happens, a family gains an extra set of hands, and the single members benefit from seeing the parents love their kids well—not to mention all the hugs, high-fives, and personalized crafts!
Ultimately, the best support we can offer is prayer. Parents can’t guarantee their child’s salvation. They simply point to the cross and pray. Fellow members can join parents in pointing and praying. So, pray for the children in your church. Pray for the children in your church’s staff and elders’ meetings. Pray for them in your quiet time. Pastors, you must help the parents in your church grow in their care for their children’s souls. Don’t depend primarily on programs. Instead, equip the saints for the work of the ministry by helping parents disciple their children toward maturity.