Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6)
Over the last few weeks, we’ve featured a series of posts on family discipleship. (If you want to catch up, start here, then here, and then here.) The long and short of this is pretty simple: it is the family, not the church, that God intended to be the primary context for disciple-making influence in the life of a child. The church (the broader family of God) has a role to play, but that role is secondary to the parent’s role.
Over the years, as I have discussed this reality with parents and families, many have understood and agreed with this principle. Many Christian parents that I know take quite seriously the task of discipling their children. Many others know they have this responsibility, and they intend to take it seriously, but they don’t really know how to do it. I hope that, by outlining a simple strategy for family discipleship, I’m able to nudge you from knowing you’re expected to disciple your children toward actually equipping you to do it. If so, then praise God.
Before we move on, however, I need to add one caveat: While a strategy for family discipleship can be (and should be) simple, and while the imperative for family discipleship in the Bible is clear, the results of family discipleship are neither simple nor clear. The verse quoted above – Proverbs 22:6 – may be one of the most-commonly misunderstood verses in the Bible. It is commonly misunderstood because many people assume that it is a promise. They assume that if they train up their children in the way they should go (i.e., disciple them intentionally and faithfully) then they will not depart from that “way” when they are grown. They assume that good results are promised to those who make good effort.
But proverbs – even biblical proverbs like those found in the book of Proverbs – aren’t promises. They are wise sayings, statements that are true much of the time, even most of the time. But they aren’t guarantees. Take, for example, the common English proverb: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. This statement is generally true – but it is not a guarantee. There are many ways a man could neglect his physical health, his fortune, and learning, all while going to bed early and rising early. Those things aren’t simply promised to those with good sleep habits. However, generally speaking, those who have the discipline to rise early and rest early will prosper in many areas of life – including health, wealth, and wisdom. This is a general truth.
So, too, Proverbs 22:6 is a general truth. Children who are “trained up” by their parents are less likely to depart from the “way” they are trained in as they grow older. Conversely, those whose parents don’t make any effort to train them are more likely to depart from the “way” their parents have walked. But this verse doesn’t guarantee anything. And that’s important to note, because when it comes to the results of family discipleship, there are no guarantees.
One of the most well-traveled myths of parenting is the idea that parenting creates the child. Parents everywhere have succumbed to the notion that our children are neither more nor less than the sum total of our parenting. We’re convinced that our successes as people and as parents will lead our kids to flourish, while our failures will ruin them.
One of the most well-traveled myths of parenting is the idea that parenting creates the child. Parents everywhere have succumbed to the notion that our children are neither more nor less than the sum total of our parenting. We’re convinced that our successes as people and as parents will lead our kids to flourish, while our failures will ruin them. The result is fear, anxiety, and stress – in our lives, and by extension in our children’s lives. This myth needs to be debunked. Parenting does not create the child; the Creator does. The Creator is a good and loving Father who knows and tenderly loves each of his children. If we think that the hearts and souls of our kids’ belong exclusively to us to shape and mold, we’re ignoring the greatest asset and greatest comfort that we have as parents. God the Father is always at work to shape our children, through our efforts and despite them, and he knows far better than we do how best to shape them.
There are no promises when it comes to parenting or family discipleship. Faithfulness sometimes produces fruitfulness, and sometimes it doesn’t. That is for the Lord to determine, not us. We might disciple our children faithfully for years and see nothing, or we might do nothing and see the Lord reap a bountiful harvest. All that we can do is point our children to Jesus, pray, and trust him for the result.
This is what the psalmist was after: Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Psa 127:1). Christian, labor at your house, discipling your children faithfully and well. But know that it is the Lord who uses your labor to build that house. Trust in him, and not in your efforts, for the results.