Raising Disciples

This morning, Facebook gave me one of its reminders of a previous post in case I wanted to share it again. I won’t share it there, but I think it merits repeating here, even after six years have passed. It is a mantra of mine, and what I plan on continuing to stress for many years to come.

When I think of the students I have worked with over the years, students of whom the vast majority has been raised in the church by Christian parents, very few enter college with much understanding of what it truly means to follow Jesus or with much applicable knowledge of the Scriptures. And here is why: Parents typically rely on the church to provide the spiritual instruction and nurture of their children. They make sure they go to church and count on the children’s programs and youth ministries to raise them spiritually. From my 35+ years of experience working with college students, this is a failure of monumental proportions, but sadly continues to be perpetuated generation after generation. Children are taught morals and Bible stories, but it is rare they are taught over time how to be a disciple of Jesus and given the Scriptural instruction that will help them remain solid in their faith as they begin the process of living on their own and making their own decisions. 

Study after study has shown that the majority of young people, after they graduate from high school, reject active participation in their proclaimed faith or reject it out of hand. Most of the rest enter their adult lives having little working knowledge of the Scriptures, cannot explain adequately what they believe and why, are uncomfortable talking about their faith outside of formal Christian gatherings, are reluctant to pray, and have little grasp of how their faith is to intersect with their lives.

The reason for this, I believe, is that the vast majority of parents who claim to be Christians are not confident in their own ability to disciple their children; thus, they turn the responsibility over to their local church, which is clamoring to take it because it means greater growth and outreach. Unfortunately, this is not a model found in the Scriptures.

The Bible clearly lays out the role of parents as the spiritual instructors and guides of their children (Deuteronomy 11:18-20; Ephesians 6:4, among many). This makes perfect sense when you consider how much children desire to imitate mom and dad at an early age. Parents serve as models in so many aspects of life for their children, including what it means to follow Jesus. So if you as a parent want your children to grow up to follow Jesus, the first place to start is to make sure you are following him as well; not just going to church and having decent morals, but truly having him as Lord of your life and submitting all aspects of your life to him. And then passing down to them what you know of the Lord and how to live for him.

Yes, children’s programs and youth ministries can act as supplements, but they cannot replace your teaching and example. If the Lord had meant for the church to spiritually raise your children, he would have made that clear. Instead, what is clear from the Scriptures is that it is your responsibility. And if you feel inadequate, look for those who can properly train you. 

I believe fully that to raise a generation of true Jesus-followers, the American church must relinquish the role of training up children and teens. Rather, the emphasis needs to be on training parents on how to train up their children to love and follow the Lord. And the parents need to be willing partners in this, accepting that it is their responsibility to provide spiritual training for their kids.

Let me say that there are no guarantees with the human heart. You as a parent can do everything right, but your child may still choose to rebel. And let me also emphasize that the Lord continues his work in emerging adults through various means, including campus ministry. Over my years pastoring students, I have seen amazing transformations; yet, I can only imagine how much more impactful these students could have been if they had come to campus as more mature disciples. 

It is my hope and prayer that parents and the local church have the courage and dedication to reclaim their mutual responsibilities: for the churches to train adults to be disciples so that parents can raise them.

© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.

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