It Takes a Church to Raise a Child
by Mark Bates
I have often heard parents of college students lament that their children return home from school, drop off the laundry, and immediately go out with friends without spending any time with the family. I remember hearing that complaint and thinking, “My little girls will never do that.”
After my daughter’s first semester in college, she came home, dropped off her laundry, and immediately went to see a friend. However, I wasn’t upset. I was thankful. The “friend” that my daughter went to see is the wife of an elder. That my daughter would want to spend time with this godly woman is a testimony to the church.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is also not something parents should attempt to do alone. Thankfully, those in the church don’t have to. They are part of an extended family — the family of God — that can play a vital role in the raising of children.
When a child is baptized, the church remembers God’s covenant promise to bless believers and their children (Gen. 17:7), and it also renews its own commitment to caring for the children. While raising children is primarily the responsibility of parents, it is not exclusively so.
After all, God charged the entire nation of Israel to teach the children (Deut. 6).
How can church members assist parents in raising children to know and love the Lord? There are a number of practical ways.
First, support the children’s ministry in your church. This includes supporting the church budget, but also serving in ministries to children.
When I was in third grade, my family moved to Atlanta. We had been involved in our previous church since its inception. It was the only church I had ever known. Suddenly, I found myself in a new city, a new church, and a new Sunday school class. The Sunday school teacher, Mr. Tinken, greeted me warmly and he helped me get to know the other boys. Mr. Tinken did not have any sons my age, but he loved us and served us faithfully by teaching us. His presence in that classroom week after week fostered my love for Jesus.
Second, speak to the children, not just to their parents. Ask them about their schools, sports, or hobbies. All of these things that we consider “small talk” are ways to enter their world and express love and concern. Through this small talk, relationships of trust develop that can be vital as the child grows older and needs other people to talk to besides just mom and dad.
Third, older adults can have a profound impact on the children in the church family by befriending parents of young children. Many of our young parents did not grow up in Christian homes. They have no models for what it means to disciple their children or to parent in a godly way. Other young parents are often far away from family. Many of these long for mentors who will come alongside them, not merely as dispensers of wisdom, but as encouragers and friends. These parents need someone to remind them that, even when they fail, God is still at work caring for their children.
This is particularly important for single parents or for those who have a spouse who is not a Christian. Parenting is not something a person can do alone. Yet, in our fallen world, many are forced to do so. The church can mitigate the effects of broken families by befriending both the parents and children in singleparent homes. By taking a single mom to lunch, watching her kids while she gets a night out, or even going to the children’s soccer games to cheer them on, church members can have a profound impact on the children from single-parent homes.
My youngest daughter’s school has an annual Grandparents’ Day. Most of the other children have grandmothers who live in town and join in the celebration. However, one of my daughter’s grandmothers died a few years ago. The other lives on the other side of the country. So, a woman in the church volunteered to be her “grandmother.” For the past three years, she has gone with her to Grandparents’ Day and then taken her out for ice cream afterwards. This could have been an awkward, even painful situation for my daughter. However, this dear woman demonstrated what it means for the church to be the family of God by taking the time to love my daughter.
Finally, church members can pray for the children. Our children are part of a great spiritual battle — a battle for their souls. We will not win this battle through better programs or better parenting techniques. God must work in the hearts of our children. So, we must pray for them, even as the apostle Paul prays for the church, that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17).
It takes more than parents to raise a child. It takes a family — a large family. Thank God that He has given us the church to be the family of God and blessed us all with the privilege of raising children.