Fewer phrases are more defensive because fewer subjects generate such emotions. Raising or training children is something most of us learned by trial and error. Few of us really knew or fully understood what we were doing until after the fact. First time parents are all novices. But so are many two-time, or three-time or four-time parents.
The phrase is troublesome though because it depicts a rigid refusal to be taught. It comes from a person whose defenses are so set that no good advice will be given a chance to land on fertile ground. Like the parable of the sower, good scriptural advice on training children falls on stony ground where it cannot germinate. A heart that utters such a phrase is a sad commentary on the parents, but it’s the children, the family and the congregation who suffer most.
Those of us with grown children know a thing or two. Those of us who have raised faithful Christian children, who are now having children of their own, know much more than a thing or two. God didn’t impart some special measure of parenthood genius on us. We just happened to be people capable and willing to learn from His Word, and from the sound advice of others.
I’m not a prophet, but I’m now a grandfather with two adult Christian children with families of their own. I’m not able to foresee the future, but I do possess a modest amount of wisdom and knowledge. I can look at the picture and tell you that if that picture is typical of this home (and it may not be, I don’t know) then the children are highly likely to have little clue about how to care for a home, or their own things. Many other issues could stem from being raised in such an environment as this. I could deduce many things that would likely be true. Not because I’m a prophet (I’m not), but because I’ve seen it before. The odds are not favorable for a good outcome.
The scriptures speak of blindness, deception and being misled. I’m reminded of this verse, Prov. 4:19 “The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.”
The subject is relevant for all Christian homes with children, or those homes that would have children. Our congregation is blessed. We’re blessed with a number of young couples. We’re blessed with a number of young children. That makes the subject even more important and urgent for us. But the advice is more universal.
I’ve written in the past about some things that Christian homes can do to help give their children good opportunities to be faithful to God. It’s not a comprehensive list of suggestions, but it’s a start. Sadly, some who need it most make the declaration, “Nobody’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids!” And they mean it. And they include God Jehovah.
I want to mention a few things that every prospective parent and every parent should do in order to give their home and their children the best chance to be successful in following God.
1. Determine beforehand the standard by which you’ll train your children.
Among the many reasons why we oppose Christians marrying unbelievers (see 2 Cor. 6:14) is because the kids that are born into such marriages are often torn between fidelity to God by one parent, and ungodly standards by the other. Sadly, ungodliness often wins in the hearts of all people, especially the young.
As a couple, parents must determine that the Word of God will be the basis of how they train their children. That means the Bible will be the standard of authority in their home. It also means they won’t just say it, they’ll live it. It means the parents must be committed to follow the authority of the scriptures in their own lives. If mom and dad don’t follow it, then how can they expect junior to follow it? Let the Bible be your guide.
2. Realize that love for your child will come naturally. Discipline and training may not. However, your children need your discipline as much as they need your love. Their souls depend on it.
The scriptures talk of “natural affection.” Parents have a natural affection for their children. But that love doesn’t qualify them to know how to train their children. That love must be properly expressed and demonstrated.
Four verses in the KJV use the word “chasteneth.”
Deut. 8:5 “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.”
Prov. 13:24 “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Heb. 12:6, 7 “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”
The correct notion is discipline and training, not merely punishment. Consider it punishment with a noble purpose. It’s correction. It’s the ability of a parent to know what will serve the child to correct his course so he can live the way God wants. That ability doesn’t come as easily for some as others. For some, it doesn’t come at all. The home and the children suffer the most.
Prov. 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Two distinct ideas are presented in this famous verse. One, the training of the child should be in the way he should go. Two more subtle ideas stem from this. First, the child should be raised by a standard (we’ve concluded that needs to be the Word of God). Second, the child should be raised considering how the child is bent. That means parents have to consider the demeanor and inclination of the child. For example, my two children were and are vastly different people. One was very vocal. The other wasn’t. One was very cautious while the other was very impulsive. That meant my wife and I had to deal with them unique to their personalities. Our standards were not different, but our approaches were.
The second distinct idea from this verse is the general rule – which is what a proverb is – that the child who is properly trained won’t stray far from that training. This is generally true. Sure, there are exceptions. Judas betrayed the Lord, but he was the exception among the apostles. If parents will train their children properly, the odds are favorable that those children will remain steadfast to that training.
Permit me a 3rd distinct idea from this verse, consistency and attentiveness. I see too many parents who are obliviots (oblivious idiots). They don’t pay attention. They don’t see what others see. They don’t hear what others hear. They’re not paying close enough attention to raise wise, faithful children. As a result, the children are training the parents. And with surprisingly good success! I see parents who have learned very well how to behave with their kids. The kids are doing a masterful job of making mom and dad do exactly what they want.
3. Seek and heed sound advice from faithful Christians who have succeeded in training children of their own.
Only the foolish refuse instruction. Read the book of Proverbs and you’ll read lots and lots about instruction’s value. You’ll also read a lot about how fools refuse it.
Sadly the world is full of parents who refuse to listen to the wisdom of others. Some even refuse the wisdom from the Lord. They aren’t better for it and their children suffer.
Be open-minded to the sound counsel from older, wiser Christians. The Gospel commands the older women to teach the younger women, and for older men to teach younger men. It’s crucial that the wisdom of one generation not vanish. It must be passed on. Our children deserve it. So, mom and dad – lose the attitude. Don’t be so quick to throw up walls of defensiveness. And don’t be so foolish that you refuse to improve your ability to train your own children.
Let me conclude with a few specific, but important things that every parent should seriously consider and follow for training children to behave during the public worship services. The public assembly of the saints is where many people are able to judge the job being done at home by parents. If children are not held accountable for proper conduct in worship, then the rest of us assume (correctly, I might add) that they’re not likely held accountable elsewhere.
So, mom and dad – give heed and take note. And understand that I’m not speaking of infants, but I am speaking of toddlers and small children (two years old or so and up).
a. Everybody takes care of their needs before the services start. This means there will be no getting up to go the restroom or to get a drink during the services.
Now before you go off half-cocked blaming me for suggesting that kids not be allowed to visit the restroom under any circumstances, listen. If your child is healthy and suffering no physical ailments, then going 90 minutes (the typical length of a Lord’s Day morning service, at most) without going to the restroom isn’t a challenge. They can stay out in the yard hopping around like rodeo horses for an entire afternoon. Surely, they can sit in place for an hour or so. Yes, they can! And they should. It’s your job to make it happen. Make them get a drink or use the restroom before the services begin. They will learn, but only if you will teach.
b. Everybody has a seat and everybody remains in their seat until the services are dismissed.
For some, I know this is a novel idea, but it’s important that every member of the family have a spot on the pew. Think about the seating arrangement before the services start. If little brother fights with little sister, then do not sit them beside each other. You’re asking for trouble. Put one of them on one side of a parent. Put the other one on the other side. Now they can’t fight. Do not permit musical chairs to be played during church services. Where you’re sitting when services start is where you’re sitting when services are dismissed.
c. Everybody looks forward.
Some weeks ago I went to a gospel meeting. A few pews ahead of me was a family with many children, most of whom were staring backward in my direction the entire time. The parents were obliviots. It was disgraceful behavior – the parent’s behavior!
Do not permit your children to look at the folks behind you. They should train their eyes forward. Will they pay full attention to what’s going on? No, of course not. But in time, as they grow older they will – IF you’ve trained them properly. Teach them to look all around, stare at the folks behind you, get up and walk around, visit the water fountain, visit the bathroom – and I promise you’ll fail at training them to be faithful in worship. It’s a bold claim I know. I hope you don’t test it.
d. Don’t make more noise than your children.
Some parents create a greater disturbance than their kids. The constant “ssshhhh” of a parent is among the most annoying disturbances in a public worship. And for good reason. One, it never works. Two, it creates its own distraction in addition to whatever the child is doing.
Children who don’t understand the word “NO” are mostly subjected to this tactic. Telling a child to be quiet, however you do it, must be performed more quietly than the noise being made by the child. When the parent’s noise is louder than the child, then there’s a problem.
This includes playing with children, doing homework with children (sure, we’ve seen parents doing homework during Sunday morning services before), or other things that demonstrate your willingness to sacrifice your own attention. These are all horrible lessons to teach our children. Remember, we’re not talking about infants who require significantly more attention.
Small children can look at picture books and learn to be quiet during the worship services. But they must be trained. That means the standard must be established and enforced. And enforcement must come from BOTH parents. If dad tries to impose it, but mom won’t back it up – then both parents have failed. Yes, it fails if the order is reversed, too. Both mom and dad must see to it that the children behave as they should. So, mom and dad get on the same page and stay on the same page.
d. If you must take your child out because of disruptive behavior, then make it count. Don’t make it a habit.
I’ll clue you in. When I was taken out I knew it was not going to be a fun time. I only remember being taken out once. Once! How many times do you take your child out? I know parents who take their children out multiple times in a single service. Shameful.
Here’s what you’re teaching that child. “If you’re restless and you’d like to go to the back, act up a little and we’ll take a stroll back there.” So they do.
The restless child should be made to behave quietly. The restless child should be taught (trained) to sit quietly and endure it. Life’s hard. Get over it. If you think your child will be irreparably damaged, I’ve got a news flash for you. They won’t. They’ll be properly trained. And the congregation will see it.
If a child insists on disrupting the services, then by all means do not let them scream and holler during the services. Get them out of the building. Don’t cart them to the back entry and scold them (or worse). We’ll all hear it. You may as well do it in main part of the building.
Quietly (QUIETLY) take them outside. At our building there are windows along the sides of the building, but there is nothing in the front of our building. Where do you think might be the best place to take little junior who is pitching a wild-eyed fit? You got it – to the front, not along the side.
Now you’ve got him/her out there what do you do? Scold. Sternly. Spank if necessary. This experience must not be pleasant. This child must learn to associate being taken out with bad news. Make it quick. Settle them down with encouragement to stop their crying and explain that you’re now going to go back to your seat and tell them they are going to behave by being quiet for the rest of the service. Tell them they’re going to assume their seat when you get back in the building. They’re not going to climb into the arms of mom or dad (the “good” parent). No, they’re going to remain where they belong. And warn them that if they do this again, the next time it will be even more unpleasant. Trust me. They will get it. I’ve seen the stupidest of kids get suddenly quite smart.
e. Know that your job isn’t done once the services are dismissed.
Too many parents think the final “amen” is like the announcement to start your engines at a NASCAR race. Wrong. This is a public gathering and your children need to learn proper behavior.
Do you want them to race outside unattended? Me neither. Don’t permit it. Correct them if they try it. Do you want them to race in and out of people like they’re on a slalom course? Then stop them. There are areas of the building where the kids can get together. There are outside areas where they can go, with a parent, and play.
The pulpit is not a stage upon which your children should play. Children love stairs and elevated places. I know I did. I also know I nearly lost my life before my 3rd birthday for just showing a longing look toward the pulpit. I was 11 when I was baptized. It was also the year when I was first allowed to stand on the holy ground that was the pulpit. I was asked to read a text for the speaker. No, it’s not holy ground, but it is an area that should be off limits to the play of our children. Want to know why?
– It fosters wild behavior inside the building. It always has.
– Our podium has electronic gear that children don’t need to be bother. Little fingers love to noodle around. Most every podium has “things” that children don’t need to mess with.
– It’s close to the communion table. Those responsible for setting the table are also responsible for clearing it after services.
– It’s not because it’s “holy ground” and it’s not because I wasn’t allowed to play there. My childhood may have scarred me, but I’m not that crazy. My parents had wisdom in refusing to allow me to play there. You should be so wise.
Our goal is simple: raise children to be faithful servants of God so they can go to heaven. If we’re unsuccessful at raising our children to obey us, then we’ve no hope to training them to obey God.
I know some folks like to tell everybody how to raise their kids. Often, those people haven’t been so successful themselves. But the church is full of wise, successful parents who have grown faithful children as a living proof of their ability to parent wisely.
A congregation, every congregation, owes every family and every child the very best opportunities to make heaven. The failure of any family, or any child, is our collective failure. My children were blessed to experience the collective wisdom of attentive parents bent to discipline and bent to listen to the wise counsel of older, wiser Christians. I encourage every parent of children – especially small children – to refrain from being so arrogant and defensive that you do not permit yourself to become a wise parent.