EVANGELIZE YOUR CHILDREN
Written by Doug Ponder on November 2, 2014
Let the Little Children Come to Me
Christianity is not something you are born into; it is something that you must be born again into. This means many things, but the implication that concerns us here is that parents must evangelize their children—by which I mean that parents must embrace God’s command to declare and display, to ‘show and tell’ the gospel to their children. There are two reasons why this is true.
First, parents must evangelize their children because they will not “grow into” salvation the way they grow into adulthood. Every generation must hear the good news and believe it, turning from sin in repentance as they turn to Christ in faith. ‘Every generation’ includes our children’s generation.
Second, parents must evangelize their children because God has entrusted children to them, and calls parents to instruct, correct, and disciple their children in the faith. Immediately following what Jesus called the “greatest commandment” of the Bible—you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5)—God says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and 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. 6:6-7).
God explains the point of that command in the context of instructing children, too. “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut. 6:20-21). In other words, God calls parents to teach their children of his love for them as seen in many his saving acts, from the exodus to the resurrection.
This necessity for parents to evangelize their children is repeated throughout the Scriptures. “God established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments…” (Psalm 78:5-7).
This task is further assumed in Jesus’ parting words to his followers, what we often call the “Great Commission.” Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).
And just so we don’t miss the point, Paul explicitly says: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Why This Matters: Brainwashed Babies?
Sometimes people who want to sound smart can be heard saying things like, “I’m not going to tell my children what to think; I’m going to teach them how to think.”
That line is smart in the way that most bumper stickers are smart, which is to say, not actually smart at all. Parents are doing an extreme disservice to their children if they don’t tell them that the liquids under the sink are poison, that 2+2 = 4, that mom and dad love them, and that Jesus died and rose to save them from sin and death.
For if God is real, and if he is the God who revealed himself to us in Jesus (as his resurrection most certainly shows), then you are not “brainwashing” your children when you tell them about him. In fact, you would be brainwashing your children if you didn’t tell them about Jesus. For in that case, you would be withholding from them the single most important aspect of reality: that there is a Creator, that we are accountable to him, and that he has made a way for us to be reconciled to him despite our persistent rebellion and repeated failures.
So, evangelizing your children is not brainwashing them. Rather, it is one of the key ways that you can show real and lasting love to your children.
Why This Matters: Atheism Starts at Home
Another implication of Jesus’ call for parents to evangelize children is that moms and dads must own this as their task. It is first and foremost their responsibility, not someone else’s. Parents will not be excused for failing to disciple their children.
On the last day, when every generation stands before the King to give an account of how they fulfilled his commands to train and instruct their children, no one will be able to say, “Well, I never really thought the nursery curriculum was up to snuff. So, you see, it’s not really my fault.” Nor will anyone be able to say, “There was no youth pastor in my church, so I can’t be blamed.”
Speaking of which, youth pastors were an invention of the mid-twentieth century. Before then (and still today, in many circles) it was understood that the primary job of making disciples fell to mom and dad. Sure, the church’s pastors helped out. But the main way that pastors help—then and now—is by equipping parents to be the ones who disciple their children.
A failure to grasp this point is why one of my favorite authors likes to say, “Atheism starts at home.” Sometimes a child’s budding atheism is the product of parents whose spineless liberalism won’t allow them to “indoctrinate” their child. So the child, left to itself, grows further into sin, with a heart that hardens more each year. But many times atheism flourishes in the homes of hypocritical parents who talk to their children about Jesus while virtually ignoring all that he commanded. In that house there is no confession or repentance, no brokenness over sin or joy in Christ. There is only a trading of sins for others that are easier to hide. Mom and dad look polished on the outside, but the children can smell their decaying hearts (cf. Matt. 23:27).
They Are Weak But He Is Strong
Jesus’ plan to save the world gives a glorious role to parents, who are the providers, protectors, and instructors of society’s most vulnerable and most needy citizens. And though children have been entrusted to moms and dads, we should never forget that they ultimately belong to God. The “little ones to Him belong,” as the children’s song puts it. They are weak, but so are mom and dad. In light of our own weakness, the call to introduce our children to Jesus is eternally solemn. The weight of this task is enough to make every sober-minded parent stagger. But if, as you stagger, you cry out for the gracious help of God, then he will enable you to ‘train them up in the way they should go.’ It is all grace, from first to last—and your children ought to know that too.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.