The church gets 40 hours per year and the schools get 2,000 hours per year, while parents get 3,000 hours per year, so it’s a parent’s job to disciple their children.
I’ve seen a lot of posts recently that have been directed at Christian parents making this point.
There is definitely truth in that statement. The hours listed aren’t far off from what research shows us.
The influence that parents / caregivers have on their children cannot be understated, and the home is primarily the place of faith formation for all of us.
But when this is our approach to beginning the discussion with parents / caregivers about their responsibility of leading discipleship in the home, we do the parents, kids and the body of Christ a huge disservice.
Deuteronomy 6:7 is often used to demonstrate the mandate for parents / caregivers to disciple their kids: “Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
In shining the spotlight so often on this verse and directing our focus of discipleship exclusively to parents / caregivers, we miss something of great importance, something that changes everything about the command.
This command wasn’t given to parents. It was given to the community of faith.
The charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith was given to the entire gathered assembly; never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their responsibility.
The command was clearly given in the presence of everyone and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly.
It is repeated, nearly word for word, in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.
This means that it is not exclusively a parent’s job to disciple their children. It is corporately the church’s role to disciple children.
If you are a parent and you are a believer, of course, it is your job to disciple your kids, especially since you have the most time with them and the most influence on them. But parents are not supposed to be doing this alone.
Deuteronomy 6:7 isn’t a command devoid of community. This isn’t a mandate that applies only to parents / caregivers and their children.
This is a command given to all of us, every single member of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our house.
When viewed in this light, some of our common excuses fail.
We can’t say, “I gave my time serving in Sunday school and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.”
We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.” We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.”
If we do, we are willfully choosing to ignore the commands that God gave, not to parents alone, but to all of us to pour into, engage with, impress upon and walk with the youngest generations.
It is time for us to release some of the burden we’ve put on the backs of parents by repeatedly telling them, “This is your job,” by changing just one letter and a whole way of understanding and instead saying, “This is our job.”
No parent should ever feel alone in this calling. Not in the dynamic that God has given us.
They should feel the support, nurture and equipping of an entire faith community surrounding them and ministering to them and their children.
The children in our church should be known (by name) not only by their parents and a few close friends, but also to the congregation, the community of faith, who are committed to helping them grow in their faith.
The covenant of the congregation, spoken often at baptism or confirmation, in which the congregation pledges to walking with the child and helping them grow in their faith needs to become more than just “what we say” and turn into “what we do.”
The ministries to children and youth in any church should not be lacking in volunteers or servants on mission because the entire church is called and has verbally confirmed their commitment to disciple these young people in the faith.
To place the responsibility squarely on parents without recognizing the responsibility of the church to walk hand in hand with them skews the command of God to “impress these commandments on your children.”
It is time for congregations to step up and relinquish excuses. It is time we read the Scripture as it was given: to the whole assembly in community as a unit.
It is time we seek not only to support and equip parents but also to join them, hand in hand, and be part of the work of discipleship.
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A longer version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.
A church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, she is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.