The following words might be tough to hear, but they need to be said:
A youth pastor’s job is not to disciple your children for you.
I know that when you drop your teenagers off on Wednesday nights to enjoy pizza, games, and Bible study, your intention is not to pawn your responsibility as a parent off on the youth pastor.
But I ask you this in all love and sincerity: Are you effectively doing just that?
One way to know the answer to that question is how you answer any of the following questions:
If your answer to all or most of these questions is “no” or “sometimes” or “sort of,” then you need to admit that you are effectively outsourcing the most important job you’ve been given as a parent: discipling your child. Because as knowledgeable or likeable or inspiring as your youth pastor might appear to be, it is impossible for him — or anyone — to spend a few hours a week teaching your child about God and have it stick. And it is quite the risk to take (not to mention dereliction of duty) if you truly care about training up your child “in the way he should go” and expecting that “when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Scripture is filled with examples of how God uses the family unit to bring His children to a saving faith in Him, and it’s important that we recognize the good fruit produced by a parent’s commitment to teaching the Scriptures to and discipling our children at home.
Timothy is a great example of this. He was the Apostle Paul’s mentee who traveled alongside him as he spread the Gospel and planted churches on his missionary journeys. It’s clear by the way that Paul writes to Timothy in his letters that Paul thought very highly of him. They grew so close that it seems Paul thought of him as a son, his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul was especially complimentary of Timothy’s concern for others’ welfare (Philippians 2:20) and his “sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5), which he attributed to Timothy’s family.
Paul reminds Timothy in his second letter to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Although we know very little about Timothy’s mother and grandmother, we do know that because of their commitment to teach him the Scriptures, Timothy was well equipped to travel, pastor, worship, learn, and pray alongside Paul. He was even entrusted to remain at Ephesus to ensure that heresies did not creep into the church.
It wasn’t Timothy’s intellect, status, talents, or wealth that suited him for such a ministry; rather, it was the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. And not just a Christian home in name, but a Christian home in practice. Timothy was raised in a Christian home in which his mother and grandmother labored daily to teach him the ways of the Lord.
This should be your goal, parents. It isn’t sufficient to bring your kids to church once or twice a week and neglect to disciple them at home. It is an unnecessary burden on your child’s youth pastor to rely on him to do the job that is yours. By God’s design, the primary responsibility for evangelism falls on you and your leadership.
How can a youth pastor encourage a teenager to read and study the Bible if he or she has never seen his or her parents do the same? How can a youth pastor equip a teenager for a healthy prayer life when prayers are said few and far between in his or her home?
The responsibility a youth pastor has is to reinforce the statutes, evangelism, and groundwork that has already been laid within the home. His job is to build on the Christ-centered home set up by you as the parent and to use the few hours a week that he has with your child to nourish their hearts and minds as another mature believer in the faith.
Moses’ sermon to Israel in Deuteronomy 6 might be one of the most explicit charges for Christian parents to be their child’s primary trainer in the faith:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”–Deuteronomy 6:4-9
So what does this look like? Here are some practical applications you may consider:
1. Teaching them diligently may look like you reading the Scriptures to your children, one-on-one or together as a family. It may look like praying with your child and as a family. It may look like putting a Bible memory verse to music or studying the attributes of God.
2. Talking of the Scriptures may look like a discussion following a family Bible study or family worship. It may look like using the Proverbs for discipline and rebuke. It may look like reminding your children of God’s sovereignty in times of trial, of His grace in the everyday blessings you enjoy, or of His creativity and goodness as you observe the sunset.
3. Binding the Scriptures on your hand is akin to meditating on the Scriptures and letting His Word guide the response of your hands. It’s constantly thinking about God’s Word and growing in wisdom so that your actions operate in obedience to Him. When it comes to your children, this may look like memorizing Bible verses with them, copying those verses onto flashcards, and hanging them on the refrigerator or around the house. It’s reminding them of those passages whenever they come to mind and showing your children how to practically apply that wisdom in their day-to-day decision-making, whether through discipline or through encouragement.
4. Writing the Scriptures on your doorposts is equivalent to making your home a shade for your children. It means equipping your children to stand against the lies of the world and providing answers for them when confusion creeps in. It means reminding them of the truth found in God’s Word, shielding them from those who seek to devour them, and spending every day in prayer for them to grow in wisdom and discernment. It means making your home a place of worship, a place of thanksgiving, and a place of discipleship before the Lord.
You, parent, are the only one who can effectively accomplish these things. Your youth pastor can — and will — do a wonderful job at reinforcing your work at home, but it is your responsibility to prioritize the teaching, the talking, the binding, and the writing every single day. Nothing is more important than your discipleship of your child.
So remember God’s faithfulness in using Timothy’s mother to equip him, and be encouraged that He will provide you with the wisdom to do the same for your child so that you can be their mentor, their teacher, and their primary discipler.
And as you go through the challenges and the frustrations and the highs and the lows, remember to do it all to the glory of God.
Follow Reagan on Twitter! @thereaganscott
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