We sat on her living room floor drinking tea, playing with her two toddlers and catching up on life. Kim, a new wife and mom, had been a college student in our church ten years prior to this reunion at her new home in a different part of the state. She had become a Christian during those college years, and it was wonderful to see her continuing to walk with God as she entered adulthood and faced its many challenges.
Raising Children Wisely
During our afternoon visit she asked me a question that startled and astonished me:
“How do you raise children?”
It was a very serious and sincere inquiry. As her children grew out of the infant stage, where their needs were so basic, Kim began to realize they were not just bodies in need of nurturing, but also souls in need of shaping and that the task had been given to her and her husband as parents. She felt a bit overwhelmed by it and freely admitted that she wasn’t even sure where to start.
It was the most humble question anyone has ever asked me, and there were a lot of practical, “how-to” answers I could have given her from my own opinions and experiences as a parent.
Read, read, read to them. Encourage lots of outside play. Limit their screen time, big time. Give them a nap in their own bed every day. (Snuggle them when they wake up.) Be consistent in your discipline. Eat meals around the table together.
But after thinking about it for a moment, this is how I answered:
“Take them to church.”
Pondering Kim’s question brought on a flood of memories, and what I realized in that moment was this: That out of all of my earnest efforts to raise my own children, to nurture them, feed them nutritious meals, educate them, involve them in sports, expose them to nature, historical landmarks, art museums, and quality literature beginning first and foremost with the Bible, the best thing I did for my kids was taking them to church.
My oldest is now twenty-four and married. One of his earliest memories is his first black eye. It wasn’t from fighting with his brother or hurling headlong on the playground. It was from setting up tables and chairs at church on a Saturday night, and in many ways it set the tone and trajectory of his life. From an early age he learned that church is a place of service, a place of worship, a place of community and a place that is truly the body and bride of Christ. Today, you can find him and his wife discipling 8th-grade boys and girls every Sunday.
To be honest, there were times when I lamented the amount of time we were spending at church or in church-related activities. We are a pastor’s family, after all. But looking back I can see more clearly what a gift it was to be “obligated” to be at church. It was either at church or in spending time with our church family where my kids learned all they needed to learn about life:
That true community includes both fun fellowship and sharpening accountability. That people they admire struggle with sin. (And so will they.) That giving into those sins often brings about severe consequences. That God forgives, transforms hearts and make lives new. That marriage is challenging, but good. That both Democrats and Republicans love Christ with all their heart. That people from all nations and cultures are worthy of honor and friendship. That mental illness is real and requires patient compassion. That even cool college students can be serious about their faith. That people will disappoint and even deceive you. That God provides - even when you give sacrificially. That sharing the Gospel is worth any sacrifice. That belief in God is logical and intellectual. That hospitality is a blessing to give and to receive. That suffering and death can be brutal, but also beautifully honoring to God.
Be Invested in Your Church
Merely taking them to church is not really enough, though. You really have to be involved and invested. (And it really needs to be a Bible-teaching, mission-minded church.) Dare I even say that your family life should have church life at its very center?
So my parenting advice to Kim was to not only keep taking her kids to church but to be involved in all aspects of church life. Did you meet a new family on Sunday? Invite them for a meal or a playdate. Is someone in the hospital? Volunteer to stop by – with your kids if appropriate – and take a gift or card. Is a missionary giving a report? Take them to listen. Introduce yourselves. Talk about where they serve at the dinner table that night. Is your babysitter a young believer from your congregation? Ask her how she became a Christian. Is there a work day this Saturday? Go as a family and tackle the bathrooms or weed the lawn. Maybe they’ll get their first black eye and live to tell about where they got it – at church.
My 19-year-old daughter has already started writing her memoir (to be published many years from now, according to her, to protect the privacy of anyone who may feel incriminated). It’s all about her upbringing in the church, which has affected her profoundly and has motivated her to spend her life in service to Christ and His beloved bride. That’s something no parenting book or strategy could ever offer, and I stand amazed and grateful.
Melanie Krumrey is a pastor’s wife, serves as the women’s ministry leader at MERCYhouse church in Amherst, MA, and blogs at www.dwellabideadorn.com.