Shepherding Children In and Through the Church

Children are precious little packages of joy. Their little voices bring life to a home and a smile to a face. As a father, in many ways my world revolves around their tears, their questions, their off-handed remarks, their (sometimes) amusing childishness, their trusting reliance, their bursting happiness, their ever present battle with temptation and sin, and their ongoing march toward maturity.

In all of these things, I am hopeful that my little ones will apprehend the goodness of the gospel of Jesus from the heart. I hope this good news of God’s grace in Christ will leave distinct impressions upon them from an early age, being almost imperceptibly “caught” as it is at the same time being thoroughly taught. 

As a pastor, this desire extends not only to my own family but also to the littlest member of the families connected with our congregation. We are currently formulating ministry plans for ways to minister to children in our congregation. As we do so, we have a real, and growing, appreciation for the wisdom of God in the creation of both the family and the church. These are distinct but complementary institutions which God has created for his glory and our good. And not just for our good, but for our children’s good as well. 

Parents are called and commissioned by God to be the primary disciplers of their children (Deut. 6). Parents can be encouraged to know that their labors are not in vain here. Though weariness may be experienced and endurance is required, fruitfulness over the long haul can be hoped for. God has designed the family in a way that children are given to Christian parents with an incredibly moldable heart and mind. The loving instruction and discipline lavished on them in the home is a tremendous force for the good of the child.

“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14)

The blessing of sanctification spoken of in 1 Corinthians 7:14  is a derivative blessing not an inherent blessing. In other words, the child who has a Christian parent is holy in the sense that he or she is exposed to the sanctifying influence of holiness. Their holiness is derived from the influence of their parent. This is not a promise of salvation. Not all children born to Christian parents are saved. But it is a promise that there is real blessedness for a child who is being exposed to the formative influences of the gospel in the home. The very fact that a child is being raised in such a setting is an undeniable witness to that child that God has been kind to them. To be born in a home where even one parent is a Christian is an inestimable blessing.

Yet the blessing of God to children born in a home where the parents are Christians does not end with the home itself. It extends to the church of which the parents are a part. As the parents are involved in life of the church, so are the children. Just as the Christian parents are a blessing to the life of the child in the name of Jesus, so is the church.

Furthermore, the church bears some responsibility for this. The church bears a responsibility to those connected to it, whether by creation or redemption. Children who are being raised by Christian parents are temporarily connected to the church by a relationship originating in God’s created order (i.e. the family). This “creation connection” with the church is temporary in that it will not extend into eternity and in itself is not saving. This temporary connection does not lessen biblical statements that from birth all people are children of wrath and need to be saved through personal faith in Christ. 

But this is a real connection and by God’s design it is a particular means of blessing, just as the children of Israel were blessed in being part of a nation to which had been given “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). This does not mean that the whole nation was saved. To be connected to Israel by birth, did not mean that one was a true “Israelite indeed” (John 1:47), but it did mean that one had received remarkable blessing from God.  To grow up under the formative influence of a society that was governed by the ideals of godliness is a great privilege.

In a similar way, the church is the society of Jesus in the world.  Children in the church are blessed in that they are witnesses of life-transformation, hearers of faith-filled teaching, observers of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and receivers of Christian love. They are exposed to the full range of Christian giftedness and experience. They see first-hand the reality of how relationships are carried out in a cross-created community of redeemed people. They see the enduring faithfulness of God in creating for himself a people of promise, against whom the gates of hell itself will not stand. They see examples of other children who have been (like them) created in the image of God, but now are being re-created in the image of Christ. Blessed is the fruit of the womb which is born into such a privileged setting!

John Brown makes this insightful comment about the duty of the pastor to shepherd parents of children and the children themselves as part of his duties to shepherd the flock.

“This duty of instruction must be performed to all the flock. The command of the chief shepherd is not only, ‘Feed my sheep,’ but ‘feed my lambs;’ and there does seem something wanting in a Christian church where provision is not made, and made by the elders, directly or indirectly, personally or by guiding and superintending the exertions of others, for the instruction of the younger branches of the family. The instruction of Christian children is the appropriate work of Christian parents, and is never likely to be so efficiently performed as by them; but it seems plain, that not only is it the duty of Christian elders, in their work of superintending and governing, to see that parents discharge their obligations in this respect, but also, by a system of religious training, common to all the children connected with the Church, not to supersede, but to assist and supplement, parental instruction.” (John Brown, Expository Discourses on First Peter, vol. III, p. 198.) 

I think John Brown nailed it.

Pray for God’s blessing on our desire to disciple parents in the commission to disciple their own children and also to minister directly to all children connected to our congregation through a “system of religious training” that is designed to “assist and supplement” parental discipleship.

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