Discipling Our Children by Abiding in the Word

My mother once said, “The best children’s ministry a church can have is a solid, pastor-led adult Bible study.” Since that conversation, I’ve contemplated her words often, reflecting on the positive trickle-down effect of an adult Bible study in the life of families and congregations.

Modeling as Parents

My mother’s point was less about the best ways to do children’s ministry (which may vary based on the size and demographics of a church) and more about what goes into raising children well in the faith. She was suggesting that the children who will grow up in the knowledge of Christ are children whose parents are immersed in the Word themselves.

As Christian parents, we desire nothing more than for our children to grow up as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. We buy them children’s Bibles and other books about Jesus, enroll them in Vacation Bible School, make sure to tell them what Christmas and Easter are really about, and may even invest in Christian education for them.

All of these things are good! But another crucial component to raising children who will be lifelong learners of the faith is modeling being lifelong learners ourselves. If our children do not see that we value something by our allocation of time and resources, they will not learn to value it from us.

It Starts with Milk

Modeling behaviors for our kids is an important aspect of teaching, but it is not the only (or even the best) reason why parents should continue to learn and grow in God’s Word. In Hebrews we read,

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. (Hebrews 5:12–6:1)

God exhorts and commands each of us to not be content with “living on milk.” Our children are born into our care needing milk—both literally, for their bodily nourishment, and spiritually, as they begin by learning the most basic truths about their heavenly Father. But parents are called by God to be teachers of our children (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). If you are still content with a surface-level awareness of Christianity, God’s Word invites you to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity,” especially because, as parents, “by this time you ought to be teachers.”

There is a command of God to continue to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the truth, but why? What does this growth accomplish in us? Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And Jesus teaches us,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5)

If we want to be successful in our discipleship of our children—if we want to bear fruit—we must abide in Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh—we abide in Him by learning and growing deeper in the knowledge of His Word. One great resource that provides some other strategies for building faith is Building Faith One Child at a Time by Becky Peters.

Immersed in Scripture

Our own discipleship walk serves our children in more ways than merely providing an example. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The epistles to Timothy were written specifically to a young pastor and contain Paul’s advice on how to best serve God’s people through pastoral ministry. Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is God-breathed, that it has power to effect change in the hearts of the hearers, and that it is useful for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Timothy is to be encouraged that everything he needs to teach, reprove, and train his flock is found in the Word of God. As parents, this is true for us as well. We are called to teach, correct, reprove, and train our own children in righteousness. When we spend time in God’s Word, we are simply and profoundly becoming more equipped to disciple our kids. We will know what to say in answer to their questions, where to point them when they need comfort and assurance, when to apply the Law and when to administer the Gospel. While we will never be perfect this side of eternity, we can grow, repent when we have erred, and become more Christlike in our parenting. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word is the best way that we do this. The Lutheran Study Bible is a great way to spend more time in God’s Word.

Where to Begin

So what should you do as a parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, or any Christian responsible for mentoring the next generation) if you feel convicted and desirous of continuing to grow deeper in your own knowledge of the Word? Here are some suggestions of places you can start:

  • If you’ve never read through the Bible, start there! Download a Bible reading plan and get going. (I have yet to meet someone who expressed regret at taking the time to read through Scripture in its entirety!) If you are unfamiliar with the biblical accounts and you feel lost when you pick up your Bible, reading a children’s Bible with your kids will provide the familiarity that will help you understand what you’re reading in the context of the entirety of Scripture.
  • If you’re not familiar with the Small Catechism, start there! If you are familiar with the Small Catechism, read Luther’s Large Catechism, or move on to the Book of Concord. This is a great way to dive deeper into biblical theology and equip yourself with a robust understanding of the faith you wish to pass on to the next generation.
  • If you’re already familiar with all of these resources, you should be discipling other young parents! Start a reading group, an accountability group, or a small group to help encourage and support others to grow in their faith as you have.

The Gospel in Our Lives

So far this article has been preaching the Law—what we ought to do out of reverence for God. Specifically, “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment).

The Gospel in this conversation, however, is this: you and I do not save our children. We cannot, solely by our own strength, reason, or example, lead them to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who does this work in both us and in our children. The Holy Spirit has united us to Christ in our Baptism, and He has united our children to Christ as well. When we are in the Word, we may better serve as the means by which our children encounter God’s Word, but ultimately, faith comes not by anything we do for ourselves or for our children but by what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for each of us.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:6–7)

God has promised us that He meets us in His Word and that His Word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11). God’s Word has the power not just to train and to transform our children but to transform us as well. So look for ways to grow deeper in your understanding of the faith, and if your church has a pastor-led adult Bible study, take advantage of that gift!

Scripture: ESV®. Catechism quotation: © 1986, 2017 CPH.

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Written by

Christa Petzold

Christa lives with her husband and four children in Bartlett, Illinois. She has an MA in Theology, a BA in Mathematics and Lutheran Secondary Education, and is coauthor of Male and Female: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design . She spends her time homeschooling, teaching theology, writing, and learning as much as she can about church history. Find her at christapetzold.com.

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