For most parents, the daily grind of coping means that we rarely get the chance to step back from the mundane to think critically about our decisions, our routines and our habits. What fills my minimal ‘spare’ time? Did I make those decisions or did they get made for me? What shapes my decisions?
Jesus’ teaching on how we make our decisions is blunt:
31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6: 31-33)
Before fiddling with the details it can be helpful to see the bigger picture. There are three stages in childhood and each gives very different opportunities for seeking the growth in Jesus’ Kingdom:
• For parents with pre-school aged children:
Grow a network of friends for evangelism. This is a life stage where everything changes; a new baby shows most of us that we have no idea how to be a parent! We need help, support and advice. That care needs to be local because it’s hard to travel with young children. Often, new mums take their anxiety and questions to their prenatal class, to discover that the other new mums can only share ignorance- so everyone goes home with other people’s anxieties and even more questions! Christians have a ready made support network on their doorstep and never before has it felt so desperately needed. I remember that in our first years, we would often turn to those one or two families who were just a few years further down the track for their common sense advice. What a blessing a church is in these first years of parenting. Other support groups are available, but they don’t compare!
At this stage, your child is the reason that you’re making so many new friends- at mums and toddler groups, through mutual friends, in the park and as strangers talk to you in the supermarket just because of your baby. Introduce these new friends to your church family. Show them that having a baby does not need to be lonely; they can have a community.
Don’t keep God’s own support network a secret.
• For parents with Primary school aged children:
Partner with your child in evangelism. At school, your children are making friends on their own. Partner with them as they learn how to show Jesus Christ to those friends. The obvious way to do this is to get to know the parents of their friends.
So talk to your children about which friends you can be praying for together. Arrange play dates and sleep overs, invite them to birthday parties. Talk to your children about what church clubs and events they could invite their friends to. Also when their friends can’t come, don’t want to come, or say they’ll come but don’t turn up, see your child’s disappointment, share their sadness – and then pray some more.
You are training your child in how to reach their friends for Christ; prayer, deliberate time together, opportunities to hear more about Jesus Christ and ongoing selfless love.
• For parents with Secondary school aged children:
Support your child in their evangelism. Just when you thought you were getting the hang of parenting; everything changes! Your children are growing up. You are less likely to know who your children are friends with. You are less likely to know their parents. The responsibility for their evangelism is now theirs and not yours. The earlier years of partnership and training are now evident.
Your children are now deciding if they want their friends to hear the Gospel, and how they might do that. So support them. You can’t do it for them. You can’t tell them what to do. But you can discuss it. And you can answer their questions. You can make it a normal topic of conversation, and you can pray for them, and with them.
We must pray that the Lord uses our amazing families, children and young people to reach their friends with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can play a role in this thrilling adventure!
More on Christian parenting here