When parents seek to follow Jesus by being the church in their communities (rather than by simply attending church), one of the questions that often comes up is “What about our children? How will they learn about the Bible? How will they discover Jesus? How will they learn to worship God?”
First of all, here is what it DOES NOT look like. Ever. At least, not in any family I have ever seen:
So how do we raise children if we don’t “attend church”?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but note, first of all, that the prevalence of such questions reveals how broken “church” has become. I mean, according to Scripture, it is the parent’s responsibility to raise up their children and teach them about God, but our modern way of doing church relinquishes these things to 45 minutes on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, in a building with a (generally) controlled environment, and to a person we don’t really know.
Isn’t that crazy?
How did we go from “Train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov 22:6) and “Teach these things to your children … ” (Deut 6:7; 11:19) to asking, “So what did you learn in Sunday school today?” on the drive home from church?
I sometimes think that the simple act of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning gives our children a terrible misconception about what it means to worship God and follow Jesus. The activity of “attending church” rather than being the church in our day-to-day lives can give the impression to our children that loving God and following Jesus is a “Sunday morning in the pew” activity, rather than a minute-by-minute awareness throughout the day.
Anyway, again, I don’t have all the answers … in fact, I don’t have ANY answers.
But here is my basic approach: We teach and train our children by loving them. Your children will not learn about God if you “go to church” but then treat them like crap the rest of the week.
Children learn to imitate what we do; not by what we say or what we tell them to do.
Remember that raising children to follow Jesus “outside the institutional church” is not at all the same thing as raising them to follow “outside the church.” If you are seeking to follow Jesus with your life, you are still raising your children within the church, and may be doing a better job of it than if you sat in a pew on Sunday morning and hoped that your children were learning something downstairs.
Over at the “All About Eve” blog which I am writing for, Eve asked these questions about parenting, and I proposed a bit of an answer. Here is an excerpt from what I said:
So while parenting might be the “good” you focus on right now, this does not mean you cannot get a job, write a book, care for the needy in your community, or do any of the other “good” things available for you to do right now. You might do any or all of them. But if you do, and if you have chosen to focus on loving your children, then these other things can be done in light of loving and training them. Take a job, for instance. You could show your children love through a part-time job by showing up for work on time, not bad-mouthing your boss or coworkers at home, and wisely using the money that you earn. This is just an example, but you probably get the point.
Recently, I also heard a pretty good podcast about this. It was called “The Wild Ones.” You can listen to it here: The Wild Ones by Darrin Hufford.
Certainly, as we follow Jesus into the world, other people speak into the lives of our children, but raising and loving our children in the ways of God is not something we pass off to the youth pastor or the Sunday school teacher. It is a day-in and day-out way of living life before our children with Jesus by our side.
Do you have children? Are you seeking to teach them to follow Jesus outside of the “four walls” of institutional Christianity, and into a moment-by-moment relationship with God and others? If so, what ideas can you share? What challenges have you faced? What are your fears and how have you dealt with them?