By Brian Jennings
Most scholars agree that Hannah brought Samuel, her son, to the temple around the age of 3 or 4. Even though Samuel was a boy, 1 Samuel 1:28 says, “He worshiped.” Even children can worship, but is the church equipping parents to lead their children to worship?
If you are a parent, the sacred responsibility of spiritually leading your children rests primarily on your shoulders. However, life wars against your ability to lead your family well. Busyness wars against you. Frustration wars against you. Stress wars against you. Self-doubt wars against you. Laziness wars against you. Past failure wars against you.
Yet the scriptural edict remains: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7).
I love that God answers our question before it can escape our lips: “When am I supposed to teach my kids about you?” God’s reply, “All the time!”
My friend Stacie Donaldson taught me an illustration I use when teaching parents. I take a 168-foot rope (each foot representing one hour), and mark sections of it relative to the amount of time children spend in a normal week. For our kids . . .
• About 60 feet of the rope represents sleep.
• 38 feet represents school and school activities.
• About 5 feet represents church activities.
• The remaining 65 feet represents the time they spend under our care.
Sure, these measurements aren’t exact, and they change from family to family, week to week, but the point gets across. Parents can’t abdicate their spiritual responsibilities to the church, expecting that the minimal time spent with her will be sufficient.
Beyond just the amount of time, God built in children a deep-seated longing to learn from and emulate their parents. I know, this longing doesn’t always surface in the teenage years. Fear not, it’s still rippling.
Bad News, Good News
Mark Moore writes, “The disintegration of the family continues to be our culture’s greatest challenge. . . . The only hope for our culture is the family and the only hope for the family is the spiritual leadership of parents committed to biblical principles.”1
Most parents give themselves high ratings (24 percent say they are doing an excellent job, 45 percent say they are doing a very good job, and only 6 percent rate their parenting as fair or poor).2 But I don’t know many leaders who would say that only 6 percent of the kids in their community are coming from fair or poor-parented homes. So what’s the deal?
If someone asked me if I’d been a good parent this week, I’d probably say yes, even if I didn’t believe my answer. It’s self-protection. But what I’ve found with parents is that the more I drill down on specifics, the more vulnerable they become. When I ask, “Are you helping your kids learn to read the Bible?” or “When’s the last time your family prayed about the spiritual need of a friend?” their eyes go to the ground. This is the bad news.
But experience tells me that hope is often nearby. Many parents, in their moments of clearest thought, desire to spiritually lead their families. The first time I blogged about a parenting idea Beth and I tried, with the intentional goal of helping our kids grow spiritually, I was blown away by the response. Parents commented about it, shared it, and best yet, told me how it had benefitted their families. Subsequent posts with related ideas netted similar responses. I learned that lots of parents want to spiritually lead their families, but they need confidence, inspiration, and practical ideas.
Some of the parents in your church may need just one nudge to spring them into family leadership: an encouraging word, an intentional extra few paragraphs in a sermon, or one practical thing they can try tomorrow. Tragically, many parents walk in rebellion to God. We must pray for their hearts. But for those who do follow Christ, the church bears great responsibility to equip and encourage them.
Our church leadership is admitting the reality that it’s possible for us to unintentionally discourage parents from taking the spiritual leadership role in the lives of their children. No churches determine to undercut parents, but we believe we’re capable of unintentionally falling prey to this cultural current. Lots of parents feel overwhelmed and are glad to unload the daunting task of spiritual leadership to their church. If the church accepts, we’ve become enablers, and even disablers.
The most probable culprit is church programming. Our church leaders have been asking, “Does the structure of our programming encourage and equip parents to be the primary spiritual leaders in their family?” We committed to taking steps to help us better encourage and equip parents. We’re bringing children, first grade and up, into our main worship service once a month (this used to be once a quarter). We’re setting aside 60 seconds every Sunday morning to encourage parents to lead their families through the discussion questions included in the sermon page. We’re hosting a month of parenting workshops. We’re increasing our commitment to provide service opportunities for the whole family. And we’re also asking ministries to consider how their efforts can promote spiritual leadership in the home.
Parents need to receive doses of encouragement and equipping. God commissioned them to lead their family. Yes, their church will help their children grow. Yes, camps and retreats will help. But parents are the primary influencers, and if God has commanded this, he’ll provide parents with all they need.
So let’s commit to encouraging, challenging, and equipping our parents, while we still stand in the gap for kids without healthy families.
1 Mark Moore, writing about Brian Jennings’s Lead Your Family (Joplin: College Press, 2015).
Brian Jennings lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife, Beth, and their four children. Brian preaches at Highland Park Christian Church, serves on the board of trustees for Blackbox International, and writes at brianjenningsblog.com.
For more information about his book, Lead Your Family: 12 Ready-to-Use Steps For Spiritually Leading Your Family, visit leadyourfamily.net.