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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

When I Think About How To Disciple Children

All of the stats about Christian young people, especially from Christian homes, are depressing. A short research shows percentages ranging anywhere from 60-80% who are gone from the church, maybe faith (?) by the time they are 20 or so.

The reasons for this are multiple, and probably we don’t really know all that contributes to this depressing reality.

I want to take a moment and focus on a solution rather than the challenge. My assumption is that if we can be much more intentional, start younger, and not depend upon churches and Christian organizations as our primary go to choice, maybe we can see a change.

Of all of the reasons we could cite as causes, two stand out. One, we have not done enough to catechize our children in the most important tenets of our faith. Two, we have not rooted them in the Bible as the source of reliable truth.

youth sitting on pier reading

Let me start with number two first, for it is, I think, the core of the issue. Out of our sight, our children grow up in a world that teaches nothing that would start or end with the God we follow.

Therefore, we have the challenge of helping them to discover two huge, what I could call ontological facts. Ontological meaning that they deal with first things, fundamental things, things without which we have no life.

First, that God talks, or as we adults might say, He has revealed Himself. I would add as well, that He has revealed as much as He thought we needed to know to trust Him. There are a multiple of ways in which our patriarchs have recognized that He reveals Himself.

He reveals Himself to ALL of us on earth through what He has made. And, since He made everything, everything that He has made reveals Him. Paul recaps in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

His ultimate revelation of Himself is in His Son, Jesus Christ. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Hebrews 1:1-2

The revelation most accessible to us, and most definitive in helping us understand our salvation and to live in it, is the Bible. Time in the Bible is non-negotiable for a follower of Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses it to deepen our relationship with God, and to daily learn how to steward all of the things that God has placed in our hands. All of them!

Children need to learn this, long before they are surrounded by an onslaught of other antagonistic voices. Quite simply, they learn from us that God talks, and He talks from His revelation in the Bible.

Stories, videos, books can all help, maybe. But, the earlier they can learn that God can and does talk in His Bible, the sooner they can develop for themselves a listening ear. The Holy Spirit will use this listening ear to grow a decision about Jesus, and they too, will inherit His righteousness. As they grow in their listening to God in His word, the Holy Spirit, will grow the inherited righteousness into righteous acts that show the life of Jesus in them.

Slowly, the tenets of our faith are presented, and they have the opportunity to embrace them. Most importantly, they can grow a vibrant relationship with God, our Creator, Father, that forms the deepest foundation of their life experience. From that, their understanding grows, their confidence in God grows, and then their ability to resist the god of the world, grows.

As Paul summarizes, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:13-16

Our challenge is to embrace that young ones can capture more than we have presumed in too many church children’s Sunday schools. That we can actually expose them to learning how to think from God’s point of view, learning to navigate life with the Holy Spirit as their daily guide, rooted in Scripture.

They can learn to think and the thinking discipline can mature over the whole of their lives. And, this discipline can begin much earlier in life.

I am convinced that younger people can learn the role of spiritual discipline in their lives earlier than we anticipate or plan for. I am convinced that as they build these spiritual disciplines, they will grow “early onset” obedience to what God says to them through His word.

They will make better decisions about the outcomes of their lives. As a result, they will put God, His calling and His assets at the top of their lives. They will make better decisions about education, vocation, marriage, and spending their assets. They will stand stronger against the overwhelming tides that conspire against them. They will learn to think, from God’s point of view.

My daughter is a 2nd grade teacher working with 7 year olds. She spends her days helping these young ones learn how to read. More importantly, how to understand what they are reading!! How many churches, or parents for that matter, believe that 7 year olds can understand that God talks, and that He talks from the sure foundation and parameters of His Bible?

What might happen if seven year olds learned that God did indeed talk, that they could understand Him, believe that the Bible was His reliable source for His talking, and, that they could understand enough about all of this to trust God and His word?

My colleague Wes Slough has challenged us to the same end in a post entitled, Teens Who Changed an Empire: (How to Raise Children Who Change the World)

“Daniel and the Three Hebrew lads, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego were steeped in Babylonian philosophy when deported to Babylon; their names were changed from Hebrew to Babylonian names; they were indoctrinated with a Babylonian worldview. Still they resisted. Somehow, they had been inoculated in their youth from the virus of all pagan cultures. They were only teens when they came to Babylon. What had been the key to raising such stalwart faith in these young men? In the end, they changed how the king looked at their God, rather than he being able to convert them to his god. How can we raise teens like this? How can we ourselves stand against the tide of foolishness that comes from the philosophy of our culture?”

The conclusions that Wes highlights out of Daniel 1-3 and the lives of these very young men are:

  1. Don’t quickly compromise with the pagan culture at any level! Not even on dietary matters!

  2. Daniel first resolved (placed in his mind or heart; the inner decision making) not to defile himself. So, we train our children how to make decisions on sources of defilement of our souls. (1:8)

  3. Note: he asked; he did not demand. He knew how to present the issue without creating defiance quickly. Train children how to resist without starting a war too soon.

  4. He proposed a reasonable test that had limited timeframe which showed his willingness to not insist if the test was not effective. Teach children to be reasonable in their opposition!

  5. The three Hebrews must have known God’s Law, even the part talking about food. Teach your children all God’s Word. Teach them not only content but why the Word advocates certain things and forbids others.

  6. They knew the difference between issues which are negotiable and those that are not. Teach children to have the wisdom is to know the difference between those things that you go to the “wall” for and those you do not.

  7. It’s always easier to take the path of least resistance. The fact that 1:6 indicates that there were others who came to Babylon but did not decide to resist becoming Babyloniaized. Train children as to what happens when they take the easy road.

  8. God gave favor. Note that the Favor of God (1:9) is directly related to the resolve to not defile themselves. As result, the favor was ten times more wisdom, vision, learning of literature and all subjects for the Hebrews. Note the abilities came from the Hebrew boys’ resolve which brought the favor of God.

  9. In 2:26-29 Daniel used the gifting of God to do things only God can do. The gifts will always point to God and in so doing, the pagan King sees God. Then, in 3:26-30, God gives favor in that the fire does not burn them, and this causes the King to glorify God and make it punishable for anyone to dishonor their God.

  10. God positioned them in greater and greater places of influence, so they could impact the culture and entire kingdom. Teach children to look for the reasons that God has put them where they are!

  11. Understanding what God can do may not be what He does. He is God, and either way, you worship Him.

The goal of parenting is to teach content of God’s truth, what He wants in a life and why He wants those things. It is ultimately the only life that will give peace and purpose and true happiness. The goal is to raise kids who know not just about God but to know Him in a personal way and to love Christ who died and rose for them; to focus on obedience to God from which will come all the by-products that really matter in life – true joy and peace. Then when children are sent off to university, to the military, to marriage, to adulthood, they will have all they need to face the future and make an impact for Christ and escape from the pagan culture which tries to squeeze them into its mold.


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