My wife and I are far from perfect parents. Thanks be to God that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8), that He manages to bring children to sincere faith in Christ despite the shortcomings of parents (Ezekiel 18:4).
Still, we try our best. It’s our God-given duty to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) and we take that responsibility very seriously, knowing that we will stand in judgment of our efforts (Matthew 18:6, 1 Timothy 3:4-5).
There are some really dangerous things in life about which we offer zero leeway. We wouldn’t watch from the kitchen window while our kids experiment with dynamite, saying, “Well, they have to learn for themselves.” So it is with drugs, alcohol, the wrong crowd, and pornography. The spiritual damage done by these is huge and often irreparable. We set uncrossable negative boundaries in these areas.
But we also set some inflexible positive boundaries too; that is, not a list of things to avoid, but rather a list of formative experiences we want to make sure they have. For example, we absolutely require our kids to attend services, no exceptions for travel ball or birthday parties or the sniffles. This helps develop good habits and a sense of duty toward God, which will help them in those moments in adulthood when they will find themselves in a disappointing congregation or difficult circumstances.
Here’s another. We absolutely require our kids to attend gatherings of young Christians—things like our own local teen lunch studies and campfire sings, FC camp and teen challenge weekends. We organize our finances to prioritize these expenses. We organize our schedules to prioritize these events. We endure any inconvenience, driving long distances or missing sleep, to be sure our kids go.
Even if I can’t draw on a “thus saith the Lord” here, allow me to “give an opinion” (1 Corinthians 7:25): here’s why you should make your kids hang out with Christian youth, near and far.
1.) It’s Your Job to Exercise Authority. Too many modern parents have wobbly spines. They want to be their kids’ friends first, and parents second. When a kid shows reluctance, they cave. God has given parents authority, and He demands they exercise it. If children don’t learn authority from uncompromising parents, they aren’t likely to understand it in the workplace, or with regard to a Heavenly Father. Lay down reasonable rules; be unflinching and unapologetic in enforcing them. Don’t worry about wanting them “to make up their own minds about God;” Satan will give them plenty of opportunities to rethink their faith as they grow older. Almost always, adult children will voice their appreciation for your forcing them to be faithful. They will, in turn, set many of the same rules for their own kids. That helps establish a heritage of faith lasting generations (Genesis 18:19). I figure you have from ages 5 to 15 to establish these habits. After that, it’s too late to mold your children, and you’ll have to reason with them as adults.
2.) Act Yourself Way into a Better Way of Feeling. Watching TV seems more exciting than a campfire sing. Staying home to play video games spares a kid the awkwardness of interacting with new people face-to-face. So, expect your kids to be reluctant. Force them to go anyway. As with many things, they will learn to enjoy it after they experience it a few times.
3.) It Teaches Perspective Regarding the Wrong Crowd. Teens think it’s more fun to hang out with the wrong crowd (1 Corinthians 15:33). Only by being forced to hang out with Christians do they discover that young Christians are just as fun. Every person tends to develop close relationships with and emotionally invest in whomever they spend time with. See to it that a lot of that time is spent with young Christians.
4.) Relationships are Just as Important as Doctrine. I realize that Bible teaching is essential for faith and strength. I realize that a Bible is more important than lunch and board games. But I have met very few people who fell away from the Lord because they heard a challenging sermon. I have known very many Christians who fell away because they didn’t build close relationships with Christians.
5.) Do You Want Them to Marry a Christian, or Not? This is the second biggest decision one will ever make, with eternal implications (I realize there are no guarantees, but the odds are higher). We don’t arrange marriages in this day and age. So, it behooves us to put our children in situations where they can meet, grow to like, and fall in love with fellow Christians. That takes intentional effort. —John Guzzetta