New Horizons

Faith and Child Rearing

Mark S. Melton

Raising our children in the Christian faith is important to us, isn't it? We talk about it a good deal in our churches, don't we? Dads and moms are regularly seeking out advice and counsel from others. Why? Because we want to make sure that we do it right! We want to do the best we can to raise children who trust Christ, who love God, who are led by the Spirit, who serve the kingdom of God.

Our desire is to raise godly children, not merely good kids. We've all heard the refrain "Oh, he was such a good kid" bandied about when someone gets into trouble. But our longing is to raise godly offspring who will bring glory to our God.

The Fear of Failure

Sadly, not a few of you are concerned that you are not doing the best you can, that you are not doing it right! In fact, it is likely that an underlying spirit of fear afflicts some—fear of failure, fear of not getting it right, fear of doing an inadequate job with our children—not too unlike the fear that afflicted the fathers in Mark 9:24 and Luke 9:50.

Such fear can have one of two effects. It can virtually paralyze us, so that we throw up our hands in despair, or it can lead to prodigious efforts to do, do, do—all for the sake of our children. Most of us follow the latter route. We want to do the best job we can—and, in principle, that is a good desire.

And so we look for gurus and experts who can help us, who can give us the answers. We look for a program or a system or a methodology that will give us the desired results. Because at the end of the day—or at the end of many years—none of us wants to be in a position where, looking back, we might be constrained to say, "Oh, if only I had known that! If only I had done that!"

The Quest for a Surefire Method

My dear brothers and sisters, may I offer a word of caution? May I challenge your thinking in this area that is so important to each of us? And please hear my heart on this. My concern is that some of our families may unwittingly have placed unwarranted confidence in a particular methodology, in a particular approach to child rearing. An unhealthy emphasis on doing what is prescribed by a given system can result in faith being ignored.

If I have misread this and am in error, please forgive me. But that being said, it is crucial for us to understand that there is no system, that there is no program, that there is no child-rearing philosophy that can guarantee results.

There is one and only one source, there is one and only one person, who can guarantee results—and he is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith must be in King Jesus and what he will do in the lives of our children. Our faith cannot be—it must not be—in a system, in a program, in a method.

I've been around long enough now to have seen a number of such programs arise. They promised nearly miraculous results. Oh, not in so many words, but that was clearly implied. That is what many of us heard.

When Patti and I were first beginning to raise children, the hot program in the conservative wing of the evangelical world was Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. Next came a flurry of child-rearing books by the founder of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, in which he touted his own system of sorts. Then, in the late 1980s into the mid-1990s, the program of choice for many was Growing Kids God's Way. And now, for a good number of people, Doug Philips, Doug Wilson, and R. C. Sproul, Jr., are the luminaries du jour. Please understand. I do not mean that in any disparaging way. There is wisdom and godliness to be gleaned from each of these sources.

My purpose in writing is not to be against this, that, or anything else. What I seek to be is pro-Jesus. So my caution is this: do not place your confidence in some system. Don't trust in some program. As God's Word pointedly reminds us, we need to be especially cautious about placing our confidence in men (Ps. 118:8-9).

Trust Our Faithful Savior

Instead, we are to have faith in King Jesus. It is he whom you can trust with your children, as did the father in Mark 9:24, who said to him, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" Trust Jesus to raise your children to life. Have faith that he will bring vibrant, spiritual vitality to your children.

Am I suggesting that you do away with every program, system, or approach? Am I suggesting that you take a completely hands-off approach and adopt a fatalistic que sera, sera attitude, so that you do nothing? Absolutely not!

Our faithful Savior does use means. So work hard! Exercise great diligence in this most crucial undertaking. Pour your life into your children. But always recognize that no matter which methodology you use, it is only a means. It can never replace the Lord and Giver of life. Be sure to make Jesus your hope. Put your faith in him and him alone. Trust him for the results.

And if I can add one more warning: be careful not to make faith an end in itself, either. It is not your faith that will lead to godly, Christ-serving children. It is not faith that will bring success to your methodology. It is not your faith that will bring the desired results.

It is only the Lord Jesus Christ, working in the hearts and lives of your children, who will accomplish this. It is Jesus who alone can cleanse your children from their sin, who alone can give them life, who alone can place within their bosoms a passion for spiritual things, rather than a love for the things of this world. Do you believe that you and your children are utterly dependent on him and his grace?

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

I know two sets of brothers who grew up with no Christian system, with no Christian program, with no Christian methodology to bring them to spiritual vitality. I met the first set of brothers while I was serving in Youth for Christ. They were raised Roman Catholic in a troubled home and came to saving faith in their teens. Both became foreign missionaries—Matt and his wife to Hungary, Chris and his wife to Egypt.

The other set of brothers? My brother and I. We were raised in a non-Christian home until I was nine and my brother was eight, and then we were sent to an orphanage, where we remained into our teens. I came to faith as a senior in high school, and my brother did so in his early forties.

My point is that neither set of brothers was raised in an avowedly Christian home with a strong methodology in place that might have been used by our sovereign God to cause all of us to love our Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And yet we all do love him, though feebly at times.

What made the difference? The kindness, mercy, and grace of our heavenly Father mediated through King Jesus. It was his faithfulness, his work, that produced these godly results—not a system, not a program, not a methodology. It was all of grace—the sovereign, gracious work of King Jesus. And in him lies our hope for each of our children.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

The author is the pastor of Christ Covenant OPC in Sheridan, Ind. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2010.

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