There’s perhaps no greater source of anxiety for Christian parents than how their children will fare in the faith. Parenting isn’t like most projects, which require us to engage in a certain type of work for a certain amount of time to achieve the desired results. Instead, it’s an all-consuming work with little ones who share our fallen nature. There’s no formula. Our greatest heroes in the faith had wayward children, while those same heroes were themselves the products of broken homes.
One mistake we make right off the bat is assuming there is a formula. A distraught parent once told me “We spanked, took them to church, put them in Christian school, and still…” We assume that we can indeed achieve the desired results. But I would suggest that Scripture presumes that parents will constantly fail. The psalmist writes, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in” (Ps. 27:10). Shouldn’t we expect sin to accompany us in parenting just as it does everywhere else?
In that vein, I would like to provide a formula of my own—not one that will guarantee your kids will walk with the Lord, mind you, but one that can hopefully help you rest in the goodness of your God.
1. Invest in your own spiritual life and that of your marriage.
When you talk about following the Lord but aren’t doing so yourself, you’re simply faking it. And children detect insincerity from a mile away. Are you spending time in the word and in prayer? Are you doing the same with your spouse?
2. Worship the Lord at home as well as church.
I assume that most of you are taking your family to church, but if you’re not also worshipping the Lord as a family at home, then you’re modeling a religion of external righteousness. Let’s contrast two examples: Many of my formerly Christian soldiers speak of parents who cared more about protecting unborn babies and making spiritual babies than caring for their babies at home. By comparison, two of my mentors in the faith just died, and they each had kids who testified that their dads loved Jesus at home as much as in public. If you’re not the same in private as you are in public, you will raise your kids to believe that Christianity is just a show.
3. Encourage questions and show weakness.
When your kids express doubts and are struggling, instead of seeing this as a lack of faith, view it as how a profession of faith is internalized. They’re asking you to help them own the faith once delivered to the saints. Do so. It’s important to remember that we do so most effectively when we’re willing to display our own weakness. “Son, I also struggle with how God could allow babies to die, but here’s how he has given me a measure of comfort…”
4. Repent early and often.
I have become increasingly convinced that our repentance—not our righteousness—bears the greater witness to the righteousness of Christ. We should expect failure in parenting, but repentance is a surprising fruit of the grace of God. My wife has modeled this for me. If she sins against our children, she will get down on her knees, look them in the eyes, confess her sin, and ask for forgiveness. Do they not see Christ in this?
Ultimately, we must recognize that these our God’s children and not our own. They’re on loan. And he loves them more than we could possibly know or imagine. After saying “Let the little children come unto me,” Jesus gathered them up in his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:14–16). Does not our Savior know what it is to love the kids who were created in his image? When we develop recipes or present ourselves as saviors in his place, we’re robbing our God of his glory and our children of his love. Even our failures point to the Father in Heaven who does not fail. So we can lift up the filthy rags of our failures before our kids and tell them of the Christ who clothes them.