Family is, rightfully, one of the most emphasized points in the modern church. Seminars, parenting videos, books, sermon series, and a litany of parachurch ministries focus on the family. While these resources are often good, I believe a vital element has been missing in our approach to parenting. I often ask my students if they remember their church hosting family oriented events such as marriage retreats and sermon series. Virtually everyone recalls such a focus. Then I ask, “How many of you recall an emphasis in these events or resources on evangelizing your children or raising them to become Great Commission Christians?” Very few recall such an emphasis.
Who Should Evangelize Our Children?
Nothing matters more to Christian parents than that their children become passionate followers of Christ. Yet, we hardly ever talk about that in the church. And raising children with a focus on the Great Commission seems about as common as a lemonade stand in the Sahara Desert. I believe this stems, in part, from the institutionalism in our churches, as if presenting Christ to our children was the job of "the church" rather than the parents. Perhaps we also (falsely) assume parents are evangelizing their kids.
Being a parent must be the most exciting, frightening, inspiring, upsetting, amazing, routine, joyful and, at times, sorrowful experience in life. I spend a lot of time with youth. Many of them do not have a close relationship with their parents. Many rarely see a family that loves one another. Marriages end in divorce, with fatherless children, and mothers who struggle to get by. How can we avoid this path? How can we cultivate a Christ-centered home?
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses addresses parents and other adults saying: “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Jesus called this the Greatest Commandment. Surely it should be central in any Christian home!
In your decisions as a family, do you seek first to listen to God? Does your family put following what God says above all else? If so, does a passion for the lost have a central part in your home? Sometimes we miss the centrality of loving God above all when we tell our children to get a good education, good job, but fail to place as much emphasis on hearing and loving God. If God really is this lovely, worthy of our affection and devotion, then do we inspire our children to share the good news about Him, to know and enjoy Him through Jesus?
We bought our current home with these things in mind. We picked a home that was: 1) In a neighborhood of folks not actively churched (and we have great neighbors!) 2) Designed to help us focus on being together: large great room with TV, computer all there. Growing up, our children spent very little time in their rooms because we shared a home, not just a house. Parents who model love for God and family, use their years together to not only love one another but also welcome in the lost. A Christ-centered home is an evangelistic home.
How to Make Christ Central at Home
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 provides a great outline for parenting:
”These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The notion that spiritual training is primarily the job of the church and, in particular, teens the responsibility of a student pastor, is NOT taught in the Bible. Deuteronomy 6 puts the responsibility for the spiritual training of a child squarely on the shoulders of parents. We are to instruct them, literally “sharpen the knife,” and live truth before them. What does this look like? While it certainly involves active participation in a gospel-centered church, it also includes imparting a longing for the salvation of the neighbors and the nations.
Allow me to breakdown the passage in six practical ways:
1. "These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart:” Our children should see us spending time in God’s Word, sharing our faith, and demonstrating Christ-like character. They should be aware that the gospel has changed me and is continuing to change me. That includes family worship, family discussions, and family participation in the local church.
2. “Repeat them to your children:” I should be instructing my children, particularly when young, about the things of God. I should help them see how to live out a biblical worldview, making decisions in all arenas of life from a biblical perspective. I should not raise them to be faithful citizens in a religious subculture, but to see all of creation with biblical eyes.
3. “Talk about them when you sit in your house:” We do not talk about Jesus to others because we do not talk about Him much in our homes. Family mealtime provides a great avenue for talking about Jesus and teaching everything from civility to life lessons. Shared activities with children provide further opportunities for instruction. Research has shown the significant impact of regular family meals. Eat together and invite others to your table.
4. “When you walk along the road:” The church and the home are not the only places to learn how to live and share Christ. Our activities, from talking to the waitress at the restaurant to being courteous at the mall, help show how to live out our faith rather than compartmentalizing it in the confines of our house and the church building. Simply talking to our neighbors about things that matter help children see the world through missionary eyes. Talk about Jesus in everyday life.
5. “When you lie down and when you get up” Bedtime, especially for younger children, provides a great time for prayer and instruction in spiritual things. Sit at the end of the bed just a little longer to remind them of spiritual things. Prayer together is important. One Lifeway study showed that 88% of Christian families never prayed together ever regularly. We can hardly complain about prayer being taken from the public schools if we are not praying in our Christian homes. Pray morning and evening with your kids.
6. "Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates:” I suppose this could include Christian symbols and expressions in our homes, but more importantly, it is vital we incorporate the gospel into the fabric of the family. Is the gospel alive in how we discipline, make family purchases, and respond to suffering? Do our interactions with our neighbors should communicate Christ. We need much more than “Christian” conferences and T-shirts. We need Christ applied to the nitty-gritty of life.
Take a moment to consider what role the Great Commission has in your home. How can you and your spouse make changes to cultivate a more Christ-centered home that, not only evangelizes your children but also your neighbors? The greatest missionary force in America today sleeps in our bedrooms. May we lead, teach, and equip them well.
Alvin L. Reid is husband to Michelle and father to Josh and Hannah. He is a professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a popular speaker and author. He has written numerous books on student ministry, evangelism, missional Christianity, and spiritual awakenings. Follow him on Twitter: @AlvinReid.
*Check out Dr. Reid’s new book from GCD Books, Gospel Advance: Leading a Movement That Changes the World.