Discipleship in Community
What we see in the Scriptures is a both/and picture of family discipleship. In passages like Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, we see that parents (primarily dads) are given the responsibility to disciple their children. And yet, that takes place in the context of a covenant community. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed the law in Israel. It happens in the context of the whole nation.
And the same is true in the New Testament. We have the responsibility to train our children in the faith, and yet, the whole church has this responsibility to hold parents accountable. Children are addressed in the epistles in the context of the church as a whole. We hold this responsibility together.
So, throughout the history of family ministry, there have been people who've kind of fallen on one side or the other. Some have emphasized the primacy of parents and passing down their faith to the next generation. Others have been more skeptical about whether or not parents will actually do that. And so they've emphasized the importance of Sunday schools and children's ministries and even institutional education for kids as well. We need a balance.
The False Gospel of Deterministic Parenting
We need both things, but for those who emphasize the primary importance of parents, there's a particular danger. It’s what my friend, Dave Harvey, calls the false gospel of deterministic parenting: if we do well in our educational choices for our kids—our decisions about their screen time, or even just how well and consistent we are with family worship—that's going to determine whether or not they persevere in the faith or come to Christ.
The truth is that our kids only come to faith because of the work of the Holy Spirit within them.
The truth is that our kids only come to faith because of the work of the Holy Spirit within them. These are important things that we do, but God uses the whole church and lots of relationships in their lives. It's the gospel message being spoken again and again, both within the home and within the larger church community that will bring the next generation to faith in him. And this is good news, right? Ultimately, the faith of the next generation is in the Lord's hands and not in our hands.
Jared Kennedy is the author of Keeping Your Children's Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation.
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