-Many years ago, as a young twenty-something about to have his first child, I spent a lot of time considering what God’s word had to say to parents about how to raise their children. No other text in holy writ influenced me more than the Shema Yisrael in the book of Deuteronomy, “Hear [O] Israel, the Lord Our God is one” declares the teacher, and what follows is a very concise command given to parents about our responsibility in teaching our children about our God;
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”.
Just as in the Great Commission where the church has been commanded to go out into the whole world and make disciples of all men, parents are also given a great commission in the discipleship of their children. The type of discipleship involved with children is not something that merely occurs by taking them to church meetings on Sunday and Wednesday, nor does it merely occur by watching them play forward on a soccer team or across the table for five minutes at dinner time.
The Shema Yisrael, an instruction manual for all Christians grafted into the seed of Abraham through Jesus Christ, instructs parents to teach our children at all times and in all ways about our righteous God. When we are sitting in our house, when we walk along the way, when we lie down, and when we rise; we are to be teaching our children of God’s invisible attributes at all times.
This is surely a weighty responsibility. For many generations in American culture, Christians have redirected the responsibility of the discipleship of their children to, at best secular (at worst pagan) public schools. Nearly eight hours a day, five days a week of a child’s life has been given to a pagan religious system that rejects belief in God, contradicts the Shema Yisrael, and teaches an entirely different religion to the covenant children.
While a great crisis has been going on in the church for decades, where we’ve seen a mass exodus of covenant children who grow up to abandon the faith, there is no other people more responsible for this rejection of the Christian religion than the very Christian parents who handed their children over to secularists and pagans to be made disciples by an evil religion.
The discipleship of children by their parents is a serious responsibility. Being a parent of the new covenant is not an easy task, as it comes with it the weighty duty of rearing our children according to the Shema Yisrael; teaching our children about God in the morning, at the breakfast table, during arithmetic, during history lessons, during lunch, during recesses outside, while we take them on walks in the woods or in the neighborhood; at all times throughout the day, a mother and father is to be with their child rearing them in the words of the Shema Yisrael.
This level of parenting responsibility cannot occur by handing our children over to the godless pagans. Neither can it merely occur by dropping them off at Sunday School or Youth Group. Perhaps one of the more sad twists of irony is that the Sunday School Movement, which was started in Great Britain, originally was entirely directed at the non-Christian youth who roamed the streets of London. Sunday school was never intended for the children of the new covenant, as it went without saying that the children of Christian parents were being involved in such active, constant discipleship.
The failure of the modern church is an utter refusal to acknowledge the full implications of practicing the Shema Yisrael within our families.
As a child, I attended both a pagan public school and a later a Christian Lutheran school. However, through discipleship relationships my father experienced via other more mature Christians whom he was under; he began to become more aware of how much responsibility he bore according to God’s design of the family.
Before I entered middle-school, my father pulled me out of the Lutheran school (which wasn’t the worst school by any means, and I wouldn’t have minded graduating from it at all), and my education and discipleship was entirely redesigned; some of the days I stayed home with my mother and she taught me grammar, mathematics, and other basic subjects and the other days my father took me with him to work, where I worked alongside him and his fellow Christian men.
By the age of 13, I was working with my father and his coworkers forty hours a week throughout the spring and summer. And while later in life I would go on to earn numerous undergraduate and graduate degrees at university, it was the decade of my youth spent interacting with mature Christian men via my father’s work that impacted my life more than any of the traditional “school education” I ever received.
My father took serious the concept of teaching his children throughout the day, from when they rise up to when they go to sleep. Discipleship for my father was a 24/7 endeavor. It was not something he could pass off to the pagans, nor was it something he reserved only for my mother. Discipleship for my father involved practicing the Shema Yisrael to the fullest extent.
One of the results of this type of radical discipleship, is that parents must take seriously the Proverb, “Train up a child in the way he should go, that when he is not old he will not depart from it”. In his wisdom, the writer understood that parents are not supposed to train up children in the way they think the child should go, but according to the way God intends the child to go. A parent who is making disciples of their children, realizes that God has given each child their own personality and bents (talents); the task of the parent is to discern the personality of each child, and to help direct their path in life according to the path God intends.
This means the parent must truly know each of their children. They must invest massive amounts of time and energy with their child, until the parent’s particular whim’s and fancies dissipate, and the parent’s utmost regard becomes synonymous with the Holy Spirit’s regard for that child’s life.
The child seeks to treat the family with honor (honor thy mother and father), and the parent seeks to honor the child by not demanding anything of them that God does not intend. Of course, sometimes that means allowing the child to make choices the parents don’t necessarily like and having to bite one’s tongue regarding those choices.
Surprisingly, this type of radical discipleship does not seek to shelter children according to the common definition of the word. In a real discipleship relationship, the parent realizes that part of God’s plan for the child is for them to make choices the parent does not agree with; and in many of these instances the parent is to remain silent. This becomes more applicable as the child emerges into young adulthood. It is impossible for a young adult to properly grow in their relationship with God, unless the parent realizes when to back off, bite their tongue, and properly allow the child to make choices for themselves in many different areas of life. The father of the prodigal son understood this concept all too well, and we’ll further delve into that in the next chapter.
*Stock image Nikola Saliba unsplash.com