A Plea to Parents: Bring Your Children to Jesus
Deuteronomy 6:5-7; Luke 18:15-17
Preached at Main Street Church on September 9th, 2018
I want to examine these two passages today—one from the Old Testament and one from the New—and present to you what is ultimately a plea to parents. And my plea to parents this morning is this: bring your children to Jesus.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Luke 18:15-17: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”
The sermon that I hope to preach to you today has been forming in my mind for the last 9 years. I served as a youth pastor for three years, ministering to middle and high school students in the city of St. Louis, many of whom had absent parents, and I have been ministering to college students for the last 5 years. My undergraduate degree from Missouri Baptist University was in Religious Education with an emphasis in youth ministry. While I was in seminary I studied youth ministry for elective credits. In addition to my ministry at Main Street Church I currently serve as a part time campus minister at Missouri Baptist University where I interact with college students on a daily basis. All this has plunged me into study of how to minister to and reach the emerging generation, as well as it has given me opportunity to observe Christianity, or lack thereof, in the life of youth and college students. According to Barna survey data, three out of four kids end up leaving the church after high school.
What I submit to you this morning that the single greatest failure of the Western Church in the last 100 years is the failure to pass along the faith to the next generation. I recognize the magnitude of that indictment. And as I preach my sermon, I leave it to you to test it, and see, based on Scripture, whether or not it is true.
We’ve just read Deuteronomy 6:5-7. I don’t know what you think the book of Deuteronomy is about, but the book of Deuteronomy warns against two threats to the people of God. They are: 1) idolatry and 2) failure to pass along the faith to the next generation.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Never has there been a more explicit command found in Scripture that has been so flagrantly ignored by people who call themselves the church. And the church is to blame for this sin of omission, due to taking it’s cues from the culture more than from God—but we’ll talk about that next week.
The western church has blatantly disregarded God’s command for parents to pass the faith on to their kids, and then we have the gall to wonder why our children are leaving the church in droves! We have abandoned God’s mandate to pass the faith on to our children. We have outsourced our duties as Christian parents to an hour once, or maybe twice a week, and that is being generous. We cannot blindly ignore one of God’s greatest commandments and expect it to go well with us.
I see these books and blogs and articles that attempt to tell us why so many young people are leaving the church. They blame atheistic professors in universities, they blame the public school system, they blame the church itself and say that the church doesn’t have the right music, doesn’t speak the right language in its preaching, sermons are too long, they’re too short, the church has become too political, the youth ministries aren’t gospel centered enough, the children’s ministries don’t have enough training and on and on and on. Enough with all that! Now is the time to face the cutting truth: the primary reason so many of our young people are leaving and have left the church is because their parents did not diligently pass the faith on to them. They did not diligently “teach these things” to their children.
Now, I want to make something very clear. There is no ‘magic formula’ for raising godly children. I’m sure you’ve observed this. In a family with five children four of them can pursue Christ, while another lives a wayward life. They all had the same parents and were raised in the same home. There is no magic formula that guarantees the salvation of our children. But the Bible gives us very clear commands about teaching God’s word to our children, and it is only by God’s infinite grace that any of our children have been saved and persevered in the church considering what a poor job the church has done in equipping parents to train up their children in the way of the Lord.
The best resources I could find were a few that had an option (again, that is unacceptable) for parents to reinforce what their kids were learning in church on a weekly or on a monthly or quarterly basis. Parents are not meant to reinforce what the church teaches their kids. The church should reinforce what the kids are already learning at home. This is why in the NT there is no such thing as a ‘children’s pastor’ or ‘youth pastor.’ Not that those things are bad, but parents are the ones responsible to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
The primary pattern for the transmission of the gospel that we see in Scripture and in church history is from parents to their children. We have literally got it backwards. All the teaching materials I found for teaching kids God’s word focus on Sunday or Wednesday meetings and then maybe offer parents something to supplement at home. It should be the reverse. And let me ask this: if you are not faithfully evangelizing your own children, how can you be expected to faithfully evangelize anyone else?
Parents evangelizing their children is plan A. A youth ministry or Sunday school reaching your child is plan B. So many books and classes and conferences and curriculums talk about plan B as if it is plan A, while no one is talking about plan A.
So, now that the problem has been made clear, and now that you can see the direness of the situation I want to take the remainder of our time to talk about plan A.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7 – Intentionally Instructing Our Children
I want to draw seven principles from our texts today and in so doing present to you “7 Pleas to Parents.” I recognize that what I am saying to you this morning cuts deep. But I beg you, let the Word cut you so that your scar might serve as a warning for the next generation. Allow God to redeem what has been broken in your life as a testimony to his grace for generations to come. Mourn your loss, ask God to forgive you if you have neglected any of his commands, and if your children are grown and gone be reminded that what is impossible with man is possible with God. No sinner is too wicked, no sin is too great, and no salvation is out God’s reach.
Perhaps you are here today and you are not a parent, or you are a grandparent. These principles also apply to you, just in a different way. First of all, you can support parents as they seek to obey God’s word, and you can join in the discipleship process of their children. But secondly, and more than that, so many kids come to church without Christian fathers and mothers. As a member of God’s family, you be the Christian mom or dad that they need in this body of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” So as you listen today, remember that in the body of Christ, you are commanded to serve those who need a brother, a sister, a father, or a mother.
I know that some of what I have said today has been hard, but I want you to know that I am willing to take that risk because the time for playing games and beating around the bush has come to an end. It’s time to put your foot down, parents, and say “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The Bible says that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and your children are on his list. If you love your children then this is not something to take lightly as you sip a latte and figure out what to do for lunch. Let us lay aside our pride, let us admit where we have gone wrong so that today might be that day where we begin to do all that is in our power to lovingly snatch our children from the fires of Hell.
1. A Plea to Treasure Christ Above All Else
My first plea is for parents to treasure Christ above all else. It is no coincidence that immediately before the command for parents to teach their children in Deuteronomy 6 it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Parents, treasure Christ above everything else for your children. Give yourself this quick assessment: what do you hope most for your kids? What is your ultimate hope for their life? Is it that they will be a success in business or academia? Is it that they will find the love of their life? Is it for them to enjoy physical safety and financial security? If your greatest hope for your children is not that they would treasure Christ above all else, then you hope too little for them! But this desire for your children is only modeled when you yourself treasure Jesus more than anything in the world.
Your kids know what you treasure. They know if you treasure sports more than Jesus. They know if you treasure corporate success or comfort more than Jesus. One of the most impactful moments of my life was when I watched my parents bring everything out of our house in the suburbs of California onto the driveway and then sell them for unreasonably low prices. I stood there and watched as my dad sold the Acura that the company had just given him for an amazing quarter. And they had told us at dinner one evening that we were moving to another country to tell people there about Jesus, and then they demonstrated to us how much he was worth by showing us how little all of their earthly possessions were worth in comparison.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Parents, treasure Christ above everything else for children. Bring your children to Jesus.
2. A Plea to Worship as a Family
Parents, lead your family in worship. Do your children see you worshipping Christ outside of the four walls of the church? Do they even see you worshipping Christ in the four walls of the church? Dads, do your kids know what your voice sounds like as you sing praises to God for ransoming your soul from the flames for all eternity, or are you too embarrassed to let them hear you? If so, don’t be surprised then when your child abandons the faith because he is embarrassed of it. He learned it somewhere.
In my estimation, nothing will have as big of an impact on your children as worshipping as a family. In the Bible and in history family worship was typically assumed. Cain and Abel seemed to learn about worshipping God from their father Adam. Isaac apparently learned about sacrifices from his father Abraham. In the New Testament we see that upon someone’s conversion they evangelize their whole household. Less than two hundred years ago if a father was not leading his family in regular worship activities he was subject to come under church discipline because of an abdication of his role as the spiritual head of his own household. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
This passage gives us explicit instruction as to how parents are to pass the faith on to their children. I recognize that just the thought for some parents of leading their families in worship is terrifying to them. I think that’s actually a good place to start—you should be terrified. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You are going to lead your family in holy and sacred things. You are going to participate in something of eternal significance.
Now I want to draw on the text here and suggest some practical ways for doing this. Three primary components of worship are singing, reading Scripture, and praying. It could be for five minutes, it could be for an hour and a half, it could be weekly, it could be daily, as long as you make it a priority. Verse 7 says, “You shall teach [God’s word] diligently to your children.” That means you can’t expect for your kids just to sort of catch the drift of who God is and hope that is sufficient. You have to teach it diligently. That means you prioritize it. You teach it clearly, penetratingly, directly, and regularly. You are intentional about teaching your kids who God is and the joy of knowing Him. Here are some suggestions of ways you can do that:
1) “You shall talk of them when you sit in your house.” First of all, when was the last time you talked about God’s word in your house? Here is a clear command to do just that. As I mentioned, three core components to include in family worship are singing, reading, and praying. So gather everyone in the living room sing a song or two or as many as you can. Sing Jesus loves me. Sing a hymn. If you don’t know any worship songs then learn some. Then read some Scripture. It can literally be one verse. If your kids are older read a whole chapter or an entire passage. Talk about what it means and how it might apply. If you have a study Bible with notes, refer to that. You don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to know everything. If your kids ask a question you don’t know an answer to, and I guarantee they will, just tell them you don’t know. Then, take each child on your knee one at a time and say a prayer for them out loud so they and all your other kids can hear. Again, these are not rules, these are simply suggestions of things you can do to lead your family in worship. Just make sure you do things like this consistently. Add it into your routine.
One question you might have is how often should you do this? The elders of our church recently went through a book called Light to the Nation by Dr. Michael Goheen. In it Dr. Goheen mentioned that he and his wife made the commitment to worship as a family five evenings a week for an hour to an hour and a half. Now that’s not going to be possible for everyone, but let yourself be challenged. These are only some of the ways that families must take up their responsibility to nurture their children into the story of the Bible. It will take prayer, time, commitment, and sacrifice, but what will it profit parents if they gain the whole world and lose their children?
2) Deuteronomy 6 also says we are to talk of God’s word “When you walk by the way.” We don’t walk places very much but you probably drive just about every day. When I was growing up, every time my family got in our minivan to go somewhere my parents would have us all bow our heads as my dad prayed a short prayer for God’s protection and blessing over us as we traveled. Then they would kiss, to our disgust, as you can imagine. This small action showed us that our parents actually believed that God was present and active even in the menial and routine areas of life like taking a trip to the store in the minivan.
3) We are to talk of God’s word “When you lie down.” Have a bedtime routine with your kids. Every night as you put them to sleep pray with them. Pray with them about what happened that day. Pray with them about whatever is coming up tomorrow. Let the last thing they hear before they fall asleep be the voice of mom or dad blessing the name of the Lord.
4) We are to talk of God’s word “When you rise up.” Talk about God in the mornings with your kids. Let them see you reading your Bible and praying in the mornings. I distinctly remember one morning in high school I came out of my bedroom to find my mom with her Bible laying open on the table as she cried. She actually was embarrassed that I caught her crying, but she had been reading through the book of Romans and was in chapter 9 that day. She said, “I don’t completely understand it, but I believe it.” You can imagine the impact that had on me as I saw the high regard my mom had for God’s word. She taught me there by her example that just because I don’t understand something in Scripture doesn’t mean I reject. Rather, I submit myself to it. Show your children a pattern of worship in your personal life, and lead your family in worship together.
Parents, Lead your family in worship, both by example, and by routine. Bring your children to Jesus.
3. A Plea for A Discerning Use of Technology
Parents, discern how your children use technology. The best preaching, worship, and education programs of a church simply cannot compete with television, movies, the internet, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and the ever-expanding list of technologies that shape our vision of the world. If you do not make radical, costly, and time-consuming commitment to nurturing your children, their future is bleak.
According to a study by Nielsen published in the New York Times, on average, American adults are watching five hours and four minutes of television per day. That doesn’t even include the roughly four hours a day that teenagers average on the internet. According to the Associated Press the typical American spends 11 hours consuming media every day. It is ignorant and foolish to think that this is not having an effect on your children.
Friends, I want to challenge you here for your children’s sake. Do they really need a smart phone or a tablet or an ipad? You know as well as I do that they are only one click away from pornography. Do you really need the internet in your home at all? What is our reasoning behind all of this? Is it just to “keep up with the Joneses”? Do your kids actually need a smartphone or do you just want to make sure that they have one since all their friends have one? I’m not saying that any of these things are wrong in and of themselves, but parents, be discerning with how your kids use technology and how much media they consume. We must help our children learn how to use technology wisely.
We have to stop kidding ourselves that 1 or 2 hours of church each week can cancel out 77 hours of anti-God media.
If a young boy spent two hours a week learning basketball from Lebron James, the greatest basketball player in the world right now, but spent 77 hours a week eating junk food and playing video games, do you think he would make it to the NBA? He wouldn’t even be good enough to play in college.
What makes us think, then, that two hours of Jesus is enough each week for our children to know the ways of God, especially when their sin nature is opposed to the Christ? Parents, discern how your children use technology. Bring your children to Jesus.
4. A Plea for Education that sees Jesus as Lord of all of life
Parents, find ways to educate your children that sees Jesus as Lord of all of life. In America, you have essentially three options for educating your children: 1) Send them to public school, 2) Send them to private Christian school, or 3) home educate them. It’s wonderful that we live in a time and place where we have these options. Whatever education they receive, it is your responsibility. The public schooling system attempts to separate all religion from education. This, of course, is impossible, because Jesus is not just Lord on Sunday and he is not just Lord at church. He is lord of every day of the week and he is the Lord of all knowledge. All truth is God’s truth. If you choose to send your children to public school, just make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into. As one pastor put it, “If we keep sending our kids to Rome, we shouldn’t be surprised when they come home as Romans.”
After technology, education is the primary way that the next generation will be shaped. “Education today—including public, Christian, and home education—is too often committed to serving the gods of economic utility, consumerism, multiculturalism, and technology. Commitment to finding ways to educate our children in a way that sees Jesus as Lord of all of life is not an option but rather a deep responsibility. It will require an intentionality and sacrifice that can be sustained only when we realize the importance of our task.”
I’m not saying that in order to be a good Christian you must home-educate your children or send them to a Christian school. First of all, that is impossible for some people even if they would love to do it. But know this, if you send your kids to a public school, the task ahead of you is going to be difficult, because you will not only have to teach your kids God’s Word, but you will have to un-teach them so much of the falsehood they will learn in a system that has attempted to deny reality by removing God, ethics, and morality from every subject. I had the privilege of spending a day with Dr. Goheen and his wife during which I asked them about the way they educated their children. For a few years they sent their kids to public school, but they had already made the commitment to spend every evening in family worship, and the kid’s homeword from the school interfered with that. So Dr. Goheen went to the principal and said that his kids would not be turning in any homework while attending the school; they would fully participate in class and activities, but they would not be doing any homework, and if there was a problem with that then he would withdraw his kids. He didn’t get any pushback, he was able to maintain the prioritized time of family worship, and his kids still did better in their classes. I’m not saying that this is the path for everyone, but what I am saying is that we need to think outside the box with how we educate our children. Parents, find ways to educate your children that sees Jesus as Lord of all of life. Bring your children to Jesus.
5. A Plea to Incorporate Children in the Church
Parents, teach your children how to worship in church. I’ll never forget when my dad taught me how to read from a hymnal, skipping down from each stanza one line at a time, so that I could sing in church with everyone else. Ask your kids what they learned from the sermon. Teach them to tithe. Set a pattern of giving for them so that they learn to be generous with the blessings God gives them. Don’t treat them as second class citizens in the church, in Luke 18 Jesus declared the value of children as worthy kingdom candidates. Parents, teach your children how to worship in church. Teach them that the worship of the church involves and includes them. Bring your children to Jesus.
6. A Plea to Make Radical Sacrifices
Parents, make radical sacrifices to bring your children to Jesus. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a man on a plane while I was on a trip to speak to a group of high school students. The man told me that he used to take his family to church but his son was involved in a snowboarding league that competed on Sundays, so he couldn’t go anymore. Friends, if your child is involved in an activity that keeps them from gathering to worship with God’s people then they don’t need to be involved in that activity! Do not allow T-ball to keep your child out of the kingdom of Heaven! Do not allow your desire for your child to become a professional athlete to supplant your commitment to Christ! Friends, if your children see that church attendance is not important to you, then why should it be important to them? You can’t attend church once a month and then be surprised when your kids only show up on Christmas and Easter. Quit every activity that interferes with church. No more excuses. Cut it off. Make radical sacrifices.
What TV shows will you give up in order to lead your family in regular times of family worship. Write them down. It will be worth it in eternity. What promotions and financial gain will you have to abdicate in order to maintain an adequate amount of time with your family. Perhaps you will have to settle for a minivan instead of an SUV, or you won’t be able to buy that jetski, or you can’t take that extravagant vacation in order to send your child to a Christian school. Be willing to make sacrifices that your neighbors and even other Christians will look at as radical. Parents, make radical sacrifices to bring your children to Jesus. Bring your children to Jesus.
7. A Plea for Grace to Overcome Obstacles
Parents, pray for grace to overcome the obstacles of bringing your children to Jesus. All of us need the grace of God to enable us to honor him with how we raise our children. There are obstacles that get in the way of all of this. If you’re a single parent may God’s Spirit encourage you today. Do your best to honor God with what you have. Remember, the widow who gave all she had, and even though it wasn’t much, God considered that she gave more than everyone else. Perhaps the hours that you work make it difficult for you to spend any time with your kids. Pray for wisdom that God would show you what you can do, whether that means spending time with them at unusual hours or getting a different job even if it pays less. Perhaps you’ve been convicted by what has been said here today and you want to do these things, but you’re afraid and don’t know where to start. Friends, you have to start somewhere, and better late than never. You will never regret do something that brings glory to God and is eternally significant. Start small, one step at a time, prayers before bed, then in the car, then singing together, then reading the Bible as a family. Just start somewhere.
Pray for grace as you attempt to be obedient to God in the way you raise your children. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Make sure that in all that you do with your children with regard to family worship and instructing them in the faith that it is done with joy. Don’t turn it into a militant chore that is no fun and your kids hate. Let your times of worship and even prayer be filled with laughter. Let your home be filled with joyful dancing. Sing songs of praise that are lifted up in gladness. Let your children see you pray with tears, but let them also see you rejoice as you worship your Savior. Let them see that a life devoted to God is a life of joy, and the reason you want to pass the faith onto them is that their joy might be full. Parents, pray for grace to overcome the obstacles of bringing your children to Jesus.
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Now that I’ve had my own son I can’t read this passage without thinking about what it would have been like for me to be there. What lengths would I go to in order to bring my seven-month-old son to Jesus, just so that Jesus might touch him. How far would I be willing to carry him? What work would I have given up for that day? What meals would I have been willing to skip?
Put yourself in that position. Friends, these children did not come to Jesus on their own. Their parents brought them. If there was something you could do to bring your children to Jesus, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you be willing to climb mountains? Wouldn’t you be willing to cross rivers and oceans, wouldn’t you be willing to forego meals and shelter if it meant bringing your child face to face with Christ.
I’m not asking you to climb mountains and cross seas. I’m simply asking you to open up your Bible with your kids. Pray with them. Worship with them. Teach them who God is, and in doing this, you will be bringing them to Jesus.