Picture in your mind that you are sitting beside another person in a rowboat. Both of you have an oar in your hands. You are ready to row together, recognizing that you must work in unison. So when the oars are consistently used in harmony, the result is that the boat can be maneuvered skillfully. This illustrates for me how families (parents and grandparents) together with the church family can intentionally seek to raise children to know and love the Lord.
As we think of the first person with an oar, continuing with our analogy, we must consider the responsibility of parents and grandparents as revealed in the Bible. Such passages as Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and Proverbs 6:20–23 clearly teach that it is the role of parents to diligently teach their children the truths of Scripture. Additionally, we learn from Psalm 78:1–8 that grandparents have a God-given place to help train their grandchildren.
Now as to the oar being used by the church family, once again we need to examine what the Bible has to say. We learn in such passages as 1 Timothy 5:17 and 6:2b that preaching and teaching are to take place in the church. We can safely assume that children would normally be present when this takes place. The apostle Paul regarded children as part of the church when he addressed them directly in Ephesians 6:1–3. Also, from Romans 12:7 we learn that certain individuals in the church are gifted as teachers. It is a logical inference that some of those teachers have children under their instruction.
Congregations for centuries have placed a high priority on the teaching of children. Presbyterians emphasize the strong link between the home and the church when they baptize covenant children. The pastor normally asks the members of the congregation to affirm their willingness to assist the parents of the child in raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Families and congregations harmoniously rowing together can be God’s means of grace in the life of any child. For diligent Christian parents and grandparents, the steady reinforcement and expansion of Bible teaching through their church can yield abundant fruit. For a child to be exposed to other loving, concerned Christian adults, and to be taught by them, is truly a blessing from the Lord.
The church can also be of great benefit to the family in times of trial, neglect, or innocence. Think of the widow or widower with three young children and the joy of having a covenant community to aid them in this God-ordained task. Consider the third grade boy whose unbelieving parents allow him to attend Sunday school. Through that ministry, he may be converted and later go to seminary and become a pastor. Or what of the newly converted couple who have four children and who know nothing of the Bible or Christian parenting?
Great Commission Publications (www.gcp.org) has a foundational commitment to assist in this God-given assignment to shepherd children to and in Christ. GCP’s Sunday school and catechism curriculums both have handouts for the children. The purpose of these materials is to link the teaching that takes place at church with what goes on at home. As this happens, parents and teachers can row in harmony.
The materials sent home with the children assist in reviewing and reinforcing the Bible lesson. They also serve as a way for parents to help their children memorize the Scriptures and the catechism. For middle and older elementary students, these resources provide a means for daily Bible study and journaling. Parental involvement in teaching and practicing these disciplines can be very advantageous.
Maximizing these resources should be the goal of every family and church. When parents have a specific place to keep children’s handouts at home, it greatly assists in their use. Some churches provide special bags, folders, or notebooks for this purpose. Additionally, when parents set aside a special time, either daily or weekly, to go over the contents of the material, it can provide for increased learning and retention. The vast majority of children who memorize the Scriptures, catechism, creeds, and hymns do so with both the family and church rowing together.
In light of the combined roles of the family and the church, it is important to keep in mind a simple yet weighty truth. We are always teaching children. Children are constantly learning from purposeful training or the lack of such training. The question is not whether or not we are teaching or they are learning. Rather, what are we teaching, and what are they learning? Every family and church should prayerfully evaluate what they are teaching children in light of the truth of Scripture.
We know that the Word of God is central to the work of God in our salvation and during a lifetime of Christian growth. This is why parents and the church family need to be intentional about training children. Guiding them to love Christ and grow in him all the days of their lives is a sacred responsibility. Thank God that he has given both the church and the family his Word and his Spirit to enable us for the task! May we be found faithful in our generation.
The author is the field representative for Great Commissions Publications, a joint publishing ministry of the Committee on Christian Education of the OPC and the Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the PCA.