Our first child was born in August of 1988. Alisa and I had been married for just over three years and were excited about our baby girl whom we had already named Amanda Carol. I chose Amanda from Don Williams’ song by that title, and Alisa chose Carol after her mother’s middle name. Amanda had colic for about five months and almost no one could console her except her mom. Being a new daddy and inexperienced, that sort of hurt my feelings but I got over it.
Then Glenn Clay, our second child, was born in December of 1990. He got two family names, Glenn after Alisa’s dad’s first name and my daddy’s middle name. “Clay” was after my granddaddy, Henry Clay Leonard. He was an easy baby and almost anyone could hold him.
In September of 1996, we lost a baby at 4.5 months in the womb. Caleb Austin was stillborn. That was very hard on Alisa, and an experience a man cannot understand. It was hard on me because he was a “surprise” and I really did not want more than two children. Yet when he died I felt guilty for not wanting him, even though I had prayed about it and had come to accept his birth. However, it was much harder on Alisa and she wanted another child after that loss. So Ellie Marie was born in July of 1997. Alisa named her Ellie because she liked the name, and Marie was after Alisa’s maternal Grandmother, Marie Brockman. She was a breath of fresh air after losing Caleb.
Our last, William Roger Leonard, was born in March of 1999. Alisa chose both names. William because she liked the name, and you can figure where his middle name came from. He was a calm and easy baby to care for.
Concerning Christian parenting and our children’s faith, there is no guarantee, not even from God, that our children will become faithful adults. God is the best Father and not all of His children are faithful. Yet there is hope and there is a Manual for rearing faithful children. The Bible always has been and always will be the best guide for rearing children, and especially for faithful ones. Among the qualifications of an elder is “having children who believe” (Tit. 1:6, NASB). The verb “having” is echō, a present, active, participle (Mounce 2006). So they must continue to believe. If this is possible for an elder and his wife, then it is possible for other Christian parents. Yet it takes planning and work.
Around the time Amanda was born, I was challenged by a dear sister in the church where I was preaching in Kentucky. She asked me something to the effect, “Do you have a spiritual plan for raising that child in the Lord? If not, you’re already behind!” She was a converted Catholic and dead set on doing God’s will and helping others to do so. Presently all four of ours are faithful to the Lord. Additionally, two are married to faithful Christians. I know the reason for our children being faithful is not simply due to that sister’s bold challenge, for we had thought about it, but the sentiment she expressed played a major role in us rearing our children to be faithful.
The #1 Consideration For Raising Faithful Children: Have A Plan
The foremost key in the plan is that the parents be faithful to the Lord. (Ideally, both parents would be Christians, but we know that is not always the case.) We cannot rear children to be what we are not. As Christian parents we must be cross-bearers if we follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23).
The second key is set forth in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The principle here is the same as Deuteronomy 6:4-9. If young people would grow to be faithful under the Mosaic economy, they had to be instructed regularly in the Law. If youth today would grow to be faithful adults under the Law of Christ, they must regularly be taught New Covenant doctrine. This must begin when they are babies: “Train up a child…” (Prov. 22:6). Read God’s word aloud to them. Get a reliable children’s Bible. Have a family devotional time. We did this most nights except for Sunday and Wednesday. Talk to them on their level. Feed them “milk” and later something they can “chew on.” Ask questions from previous discussions. Teach them to reason from the Scriptures.
A third key in the plan is discipline. The Bible must be the foundation, and a part of discipline is teaching God’s rules and parents’ rules. Children need to know what behavior is expected of them. And, just as God chastens those whom He loves (Heb.12:6a), there must be penalties: “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24). Whether it’s by spanking, “time out,” or taking away privileges, children need to expect penalties for disobedience. This is for both their spiritual and physical benefit (Eph. 6:1-2). I told all our children that disobedience to their mother or me was disobedience to God because God has commanded us to teach them to obey us. The fruit of having little or no plan is foolish and rotten children! Solomon wrote, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15, emphasis added). Follow God’s plan.
#2: Be Consistent
While there are no perfect parents, we should always seek to live and act like Christians. There is no place for compromise in the Christian faith. I once said something to our younger son about listening to a song about drinking beer. He brought up the old song “Mountain Dew” that I played and sang with my guitar! What could I do? I apologized and quit playing it! Consider the principle of Romans 2:1-2. Children do pay attention to what we say, but perhaps even more to what we do! Consider Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 9:27. It may be the way we dress (1 Tim. 2:9), what we eat or drink (Rom. 14:21), or who and what we associate with (1 Cor. 15:33). Jesus accused the Pharisees of saying but not doing! (Matt. 23:1-3.)
Consider some of the problems when parents are inconsistent about rules and punishment. Children hear one thing from one parent and something different from the other. They are confused, and at times will play one parent against the other. This creates arguments, tension and frustration in the home. Parents must discuss and decide on the rules before the children are born. If there is disagreement, both parents must seek to do what God says and be firmly united. This will establish clear expectations, consistency, and produce harmony.
#3: Be Persistent
Just as children need physical food, they also need spiritual food regularly. We often had Bible discussions in the car and on family trips. We talked about God, creation, evolutionary errors, the Bible as God’s word, moral matters, the Lord’s church, etc. We went to VBS, gospel meetings, and singings. We helped smaller churches with their VBS’s and door knocking, and made several foreign mission trips.
If we expect our children to be faithful in the activities of the church, we must teach them by “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58.). We never skipped services of the church nor allowed any secular events to take precedence. Be persistent.
#4: Help Them Have Their Own Faith
The aim of evangelism is to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). When our children desired to be baptized, we studied with them as we would with any one else. The decision was ultimately theirs and not ours as parents.
When Christian children are faced with tough issues, teach them from God’s Word how to address them. This is also part of the teaching in Matthew 28:20 and Ephesians 6:4. If they learn early to use the Bible for life’s decisions, they will be better prepared to do so as adults. I once gave our older son a copy of the debate book between Alan Highers and Given O. Blakey on instrumental music. After he read it I asked what he thought. He said Mr. Blakey could not answer brother Highers’ arguments. We often asked our children what they might do in this or that situation if it were their decision alone to make. We would ask what God would want them to do. It helped them to study and process serious matters on their own. We believe this has been effective for their faith today.
Can we rear faithful children? Yes, we can.
Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA. He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.
Mounce, William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Wm. Mounce Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.