In honour of Father’s Day last Sunday, all this week we’ve been looking at Christian parenting. But not just for parents – for everyone. Our text is Psalm 78:1-8, which is the introduction to a very long Psalm that recites the great deeds of God in Israel’s history. But the introduction itself tells us a lot about teaching future generations about God. We’re using John Piper’s six key ideas as our “window” into the Psalm:
(1) God, the central reality in our lives, (2) has given us a fixed deposit of his truth (3) which we are to teach (4) so that our children might know that truth (5) and therefore put their trust in God (6) enabling them to live lives of loyal obedience.
Teach, enabling children to live lives of loyal obedience
The end result of raising children who are confident in God is obedience:7-8 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.
Trusting in God, rejecting the idols of the world, rejecting the underlying assumptions of our society – that is what produces obedience. If we just read God’s commandments and try to obey them without a fundamental shift in our worldview, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Our heads will point us in one direction, but our emotions and desires will pull us in another. Only a confidence in God that comes from a deep knowledge of him and from being surrounded by godly examples – only that will produce an obedient heart. Only that will raise a generation who are loyal to God and his values; who can resist the pressure of society to chase the values of the world.
Ministry to the next generation is vitally important. Humanly and statistically speaking, there’s a window we have to make a positive impact for Christ: around two-thirds of Christians come to faith before the age of 18. As churches, we have a great opportunity in our ministry to children and teens.
And on the negative side, a study of Southern Baptists in America revealed something rather disturbing. They found that 88% of children of evangelical parents leave the church after they finish high-school. Now I think it would be a smaller percentage in Australia, simply because in Southern America it’s more of a cultural thing to call yourself an evangelical Christian. But still – a significant number of our children are leaving the church.
From what I’ve seen, the end of high school is a danger period. For many, they get so consumed by their final exams they take a break from regular church-going… and find it hard to come back. Because when they do come back, everything’s changed. They’re no longer part of a teenage youth group on Friday night, but they’re adults – forming new social groups. They have greater freedom and other influences either at work or in further education. There’s a “re-entry” problem.
Think about how you can be part of the process that counterbalances this. If you’re a year or two out of high school yourself, befriend someone who’s approaching the end-of-high-school phase, and walk with them as they go through it. (And maybe invite them out with your own circle of friends for a quick study break.) If you’re older, pray for them – and let them know you are keeping them in prayer. Give them a sense of connection to the “adult” church as they begin to find their identity outside of the youth group.
And if you’re reading this in Australia, now, it’s a good time to start doing this (exams kick off at the start of next term). Do it as part of your response to this challenge from Psalm 78.
(1) God, the central reality in our lives, (2) has given us a fixed deposit of his truth (3) which we are to teach (4) so that our children might know that truth (5) and therefore put their trust in God (6) enabling them to live lives of loyal obedience. This is primarily the responsibility of parents, but each of us has a part to play in supporting them.
That’s why at my church we encourage parents to have infant dedications as part of our regular church services. Because the parents are dedicating themselves to the task of Christian parenthood, asking not only for God’s help, but the help of the whole church community. The help of their village. Each time we give thanks for the life of a new baby in this way, each time parents dedicate themselves to their new role as parents, we as a church are re-dedicating ourselves to our own role in the process. Because it takes a “church village” to raise a child confident in and obedient to God.