"Lions and tigers and bears, O my!” That’s not only one of the more memorable lines from cinematic history, it’s one of the more recognizable themes in contemporary discipleship. Sometimes fear of the enemies to our faith seems much more pronounced than faith in the object of our faith — the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can ill afford to be naive about the “schemes of our enemy” — the prowling, roaring lion, seeking to devour (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8). Only an abusive parent and an irresponsible church doesn’t seek to protect the lambs of Jesus. Moreover, we can ill afford naiveté about the glory and grace of Jesus — the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We are called to a discipleship that is proactive rather than reactive — engaging rather than escaping — one filled with faith, not crippled by fear.
So what’s the connection between a concern to protect our kids from the dangers of life in our fallen world and a commitment to prepare them to live as kingdom-servants in that very same world — the world Jesus is committed to renew and restore?
In my first season of vocational ministry, I erred on the side of protection. Influenced by bad eschatology, a pragmatic gospel, a dualistic worldview, and paranoid parents, I thought more in terms of helping graduating seniors survive rather than thrive in their first few years out of high school.
But over the past three decades, a greater grasp of the gospel has led me to invest more in the preparation end of the protection-preparation continuum. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention three areas that we parents and local parishes should take seriously as we seek to prepare our young people for life in the real world — God’s world.
A Satisfying Gospel Spirituality
It’s one thing for our children to be able to defend the faith against false religion, but quite another for them actually to delight in the faith they defend.
As a young convert and collegian, I depended more on the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis than on the power of the gospel “to get me by.” I felt more of a burden to defend God and the Bible than joy and peace in knowing Him. I objectifi ed my professors as adversaries; ignored Paul’s instruction about being kind instead of quarrelsome (2 Tim. 2:24); and did very little to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (Titus 2:10).
While we teach our children to believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, let’s make sure they are discovering and savoring Jesus in every portion of the inspired Scriptures. Let’s help them know why Jesus is the only way to the Father, but let’s make sure they are feasting on Him as the bread of life and the giver of the water that slakes our deepest thirst. If the increase of wickedness leads to love growing cold (Matt. 24:12), then let’s stoke the fires of gospel affection rather than simply lamenting the increase of wickedness (Ps. 63:3–4).
A Robust Biblical Sexuality
The world into which God calls our children is sexually broken. Of course, covenant children need to be aware of sexual temptations as they move into the next season of life. Of course, they need us to be direct with them about the destructiveness of pornography. Yet before there was broken sexuality there was a life of shameless nakedness (Gen. 2:25). A bigger issue, of course, for this generation is the need to introduce them to the frolicking goodness, the sensual wonder, and the magnificent beauty of the sexuality for which God designed us.
Do our children sense we are more alarmed over the “gay agenda” than we are excited about the biblical credenda for sex? Do our children have any clue that we, their parents, actually have and enjoy sex? What would cause us more fear and shock: Finding obscene sexual materials on their computers or having them knock on our bedroom door when we’re making love? Have our kids ever been taught age-appropriate and context-appropriate truths, images, and metaphors from the Bible about the beauty and joy of sex? We must do this well.
Honest, Grace-Infused Community
Relationships, relationships, meaningful relationships. I don’t know of any generation more hungry and more in need of substantive, grace-infused relationships than this one. Not only must we wrap the truth of the gospel around their hearts, we must wrap our arms around them and enter into their brokenness, struggles, and longings (see 1 Thess. 2:8).
As parents, do our children see us still needing the gospel? Are they catching the contagion of repentance as a way of life in our homes? As pastors, mentors, and disciplers, do our parishioners and protégés hear brokenness in our prayers? Do they see vulnerability when they are with us? Are we giving them our hearts or just books and advice on moral reform?
Should the time come when our children find themselves “coming to their senses” in some “far away country,” will their inclination be to come and find the welcoming heart of God where we live, or will they avoid the self-righteous elder brother in us?
Maybe the final word is this: Let’s protect this upcoming generation of young people by preparing them in the gospel so much earlier and so much more thoroughly than we were.