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A few years ago, Eric and I spoke at a large home-school event. One of the young men who helped chauffeur us around was a home-school graduate, now in his thirties. He was an articulate, smart young man who seemed to be doing well in life. He was living in a large city, owned a house, and was doing well as a financial planner. He was a conservative voter. He had several interesting hobbies and was involved in a good church.
But spiritually speaking, there was no fire in him. Sure, he was a respectable Christian who lived a morally upright life. He believed all the right things. He had grown into a healthy, independent young adult—a positive contributor to society.
Compared to the dismally low character and thwarted abilities of countless others in his generation, he was doing well. Yet as we observed his life, Eric and I couldn’t help but wonder…is this the outcome we as Christian parents should be aiming for? After all the effort that his parents had put into his homeschooling and upbringing, had this been their ultimate goal for their son? To simply raise a conservative voter with a well-paying job?
Most of the veteran homeschool parents we met at the event told us similar stories about their now-grown children. Many were conservative Christians and were doing well as students or businesspeople. But very few, if any, were truly changing the world in a radical way for Jesus Christ. Rather, they were simply going about the business of their own lives and living by slightly higher morals than the rest of society. Whenever an election came along, they voted conservative. They attended church and occasionally led worship or taught Sunday school. But as far as impacting the world, that was the extent of it.
It made us wonder: what should be the ultimate goal of child-raising? If we choose to homeschool our children or raise them differently than the culture around us, what are our reasons for doing so? Do we simply want to raise healthy contributors to society? Or do we want to raise world-changers for Jesus Christ?
Of course, in asking those questions we were not trying to downplay the fact that sometimes God does call men and women to enter the business world and make that their mission field, or to glorify Him in a seemingly “mundane” job. And we can’t underestimate the importance of relational evangelism—modeling the nature of Christ to those that we encounter in our daily lives as we go about our work or studies.
But a close study of Scripture reveals that God has so much more for our lives and families in this short time that we are here on this earth. We are not to merely look out for our own interests and get caught up in the cares of this life. Rather, we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). That is what we should be training and preparing our children for.
Over the past twenty years in ministry, I have spent a lot of time around conservative Christian parents. But, sadly, I have only met a small handful who have a vision to raise their children to be world-changers for Christ in the spirit of Matthew 28:19.
It’s true that there are all kinds of strong ideas floating around the Christian world about what makes a successful, God-honoring family. Some believe that the larger the family, the more impact that family can have upon the world, so their entire focus becomes having as many children as is physically possible and then managing the logistics of a large family.
Others are convinced that if they train their children to be excellent in education and business they can help shape the political future of our country, so they focus on helping their kids excel in speech, debate, and academic studies.
Then there is the camp that believes in returning to a simpler era as the best way to honor God in their homes. They dress in plain, homemade clothes, give their kids wooden toys to play with, and churn their own butter, in hopes of protecting their family from the influences of our digitally-consumed, materialistic society.
Still others tend to focus primarily on teaching girls how to be homemakers and boys how to hunt and fish—establishing specific “male and female” roles, in an effort to debunk the “gender neutral” direction of our culture.
And of course, there are plenty more varieties of Christian families out there, all with various emphasis and focal points.
And while I certainly won’t say that all of these ideas are bad or wrong in themselves, they seem to be missing one key ingredient in their family focus: the centrality of the Gospel and the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
They seem to be missing one key ingredient in their family focus: the centrality of the Gospel and the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
1 Peter 2:21 says that Christ left us an example, that we should “follow in His steps.” And just what were His steps? In Luke 4:18 Jesus proclaims that He was sent to “preach the gospel to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” And now, those are the very tasks He has commissioned us to do—and to prepare our children to do.
When we parents get preoccupied with the affairs of this life—whether in lifestyle choices such as homeschooling a large family, or in pursuing goals such as helping our kids get into a good college—we can fool ourselves into thinking we are raising a successful family, but all the while fall short of God’s primary vision for our children. He desires to build our children into men and women who will go into all the world and make disciples for His kingdom. He wants to equip them to preach the Gospel, heal the brokenhearted, and set captives free with His Truth. Any pursuit or lifestyle choice we cultivate within our families should merely be a tool that can help our children know Christ and become equipped to share Him with others. If it isn’t serving that purpose, then it is nothing more than a waste of time.
Again, I am not trying to snub the idea of helping our kids get a good education or obtain a well-paying job—that may very well be part of God’s specific calling upon their lives. And I’m not trying to discount the value of having a large family, homeschooling, or training our children in specific skills—those things may very well be steps of obedience to God.
But if those things become our main focus in child-raising, we are missing the mark of God’s calling for our lives and our families. The more I study Scripture and learn from Christian history, the more I am convinced that the only kind of life truly worth living is one that goes all in for Jesus Christ. As Christ said, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
If I am not preparing my children to give up their own dreams, wants, pursuits, comforts, and very lives for the sake of Christ, then I am not preparing them to live a life that truly counts. What does it matter if they are good at debate or know how to sew a dress? If they don’t have a heart of radical surrender to Jesus Christ, everything else is pointless.
Christian mothers, are you with me? Are you ready to forsake the distractions and cares of this world and raise your children to become champions for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
If so, here are a few practical ways to begin.
Obviously the first step in raising a world-changer for Christ is to introduce him or her to Jesus in a personal and life-changing way. As Christian parents, it’s easy to focus on instilling godly character and moral ideals into our children, but fail to lead them into an intimate, daily relationship with the King of all kings. As I shared in Set Apart Motherhood,
All the character training, Bible knowledge, and church activities in the world can never replace a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Studies show that a disturbingly large number of young people who have grown up in Christian homes have left the faith by the time they graduate from college. Many of these young people had godly parents who spent years training them in godly behaviors. They attended Sunday school and church. They went to youth group and had Christian friends. And yet, they never made a covenant exchange with the king of all kings; they never gave their lives to Jesus and entered into a personal, life-transforming relationship with Him.
We have the opportunity and privilege of leading our children into a relationship with Christ, and helping them make that relationship the foundation of every godly behavior in their lives. In their early years, our children must be taught to comply with correct behavior simply to respect the requirements and expectations of their parents and other authorities. But our ultimate goal should be for our children to turn their lives wholeheartedly over to Jesus Christ and to embrace godly behavior out of a heartfelt desire to love, honor, and please their king.
Our ultimate goal should be for our children to turn their lives wholeheartedly over to Jesus Christ.
Whatever your personal goals and dreams for your children, make sharing the Gospel with them a primary focus. Help them cultivate a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, and show them by your life and example that He is the only true source of fulfillment and security. For practical ways on how to do this, see chapter six of Set Apart Motherhood.
Each night, Eric and I read or listen to a Christian biography with our oldest two children. When our kids hear stories of men and women who gave up everything for Jesus Christ, it gives them a vision for Gospel-centered living. We talk about what these men and women gave up for the Gospel, and how they counted the cost of following Christ. And we ask our kids to think about how God might be calling them to do the same.
When we talk with our kids about their futures, our focus is on how they can fulfill God’s call upon their lives—not just on how they can fulfill their own dreams. Rather than asking questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask them, “What do you think God wants you do with your life?”
When we encounter nonbelievers, we ask our kids how they can be praying for them and how, as a family, we can demonstrate the Gospel to them through our lives and words.
Because of this, even our five-year-old is gaining a burden for the lost, constantly looking for opportunities to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him.
We also are purposeful about giving our kids a heart for persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, praying for them, and sending gifts of support and letters of encouragement. (Voice of the Martyrs and persecution.org are great resources.) In addition, we look for ways to help our kids grasp the needs of orphans and vulnerable children around the world, such as helping Hudson sponsor a little boy from Haiti, taking our children on mission trips to visit orphanages, and adopting children in need.
These are just a few of the ways we are seeking to raise our children with a Gospel-centered focus. Prayerfully consider some ways that you can begin to instill a Gospel-focus into your children. Ask God to show you how to pass on His vision for their futures, and He will be faithful to guide your steps.
As you raise your children, beware of losing sight of Christ as your “north star” and becoming preoccupied with side issues that are not truly central to the Gospel. Homeschooling, dressing a certain way, having a large family, listening to certain kinds of music, or adopting a specific denominational leaning—none of these are necessarily wrong in themselves, as long as they don’t become the focal point of your life and family. Too many Christian families are sending the wrong message to the world around them because they are totally consumed with a personal conviction, belief, or lifestyle choice that isn’t truly central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, they are majoring on the minors instead of the majors.
As healthy as personal convictions can be, they must always be an outflow of our love for Jesus Christ, not what we find our hope and identity in. When personal convictions are placed above Christ, they make us susceptible to self-righteousness and spiritual pride. I shared a story about this in my book, The Set Apart Woman:
I remember attending a large homeschool conference just before I was married. Everywhere I looked, I saw women in long, homespun dresses, with a trail of kids in tow. Some of these women were joyful and outward focused, but the majority wore somber expressions and only seemed to acknowledge those who behaved and dressed the same way they did. In the restrooms and hallways, I heard several derogatory comments toward public-school families and toward those who didn’t share their same convictions about family size and clothing choices.
While I saw nothing wrong with their convictions about homeschooling, having a lot of children, or dressing a certain way, I also realized that many of these women had begun to idolize their lifestyle choices above Jesus Christ. I couldn’t help wondering how a non-Christian would respond to the Gospel if he or she encountered these women. Would a non-Christian notice the nature of Jesus shining through their lives and examples? Or would he or she only see prideful personal convictions being paraded about?
When others think of you, do they think more about your personal opinions and lifestyle choices than they do about Christ? If so, that’s a sign that you might be placing too high a priority on your own convictions and opinions. Of course, that is not to say that people can’t be impacted for Christ by seeing you living out your convictions. But people are far more likely to be drawn to the Gospel when they sense the attitude and nature of Jesus Christ exuding from you, rather than just noticing that your kids sit still in church or that you always wear long skirts instead of pants.
If you are ever imprisoned for your faith in Christ, it will certainly not be your example of homeschooling, wearing long skirts, or teaching your kids to sit still in church that will impact the prison guards and other inmates for the Gospel. Rather, it will be your hope, your faith, your gentleness, your courage, and most importantly, your love. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, every other demonstration of our Christianity is meaningless without this all-important foundation.
Prayerfully consider whether there are any areas of your family’s focus that are not truly build around the centerpiece of the Gospel: Jesus Christ. Then, ask God to show you practical ways in which you can begin to place distractions aside and “major on the majors” once again.
Unless you build your family upon Jesus Christ as your firm foundation, you will not truly be able to prepare your children to change the world for Him. After all, our goal is not to make disciples of homeschooling or specific denominations, but for Jesus Christ alone!
What a high calling God has given to us as parents. It is exciting to know that He doesn’t intend us to raise world-changers in our own strength. Rather, He desires to give us divine grace, wisdom, and guidance, each step of the way. Don’t limit what He can do through your simple steps of obedience. As you surrender your children to Him, He can take your simple “fishes and loaves” and multiply them for His glory.
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