Train up a child in the way he should go;Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
It seems we, as a community, are split on this verse. For some— they hold on tight that this is God’s promise, and they’ll just keep telling themselves it’ll work out in the end. For others— this verse feels like swallowing acid, because they’re on the other side and their kids did depart. Having worked with youth and their parents for decades, I can tell you, even if it burns, this verse does hold truth. Not only because it is God’s Word to us, but because I have seen it play out.
When I was a young mom, I used to look at “the fruit” of a family and see if I could puzzle out how they ended up the way they ended up. Of course, I was really always looking at the middle of their story, because even those with grown children are still living out their story and aren’t to the end just yet. But I’d look at young missionaries and the upbringing they had that brought them there. I’d look at kids raised in church that rebelled and left the church as adults and try to figure out where their parents “went wrong”. I’d try to pick out the things you could do as a parent to raise a strong Christian adult.
Here’s what I found:
There is nothing you can do to ensure your child becomes and remains a Christian. The power isn’t anywhere in you. Nothing you will do will save them. Nothing you will do will ensure their future. Only Jesus can do anything about their fallen state. Only Jesus can save them. The power is in Him, not us.
Knowing that the power isn’t in us gives us some idea of how to go about this, though. Knowing that only in Jesus will they stay on The Way, I know I need to get them close to Jesus. I know I need to keep them close to His grace.
So, how do I do that? By staying close to Jesus myself. I did notice that a lot of churched kids who left the church in college were being raised in homes that mirrored their secular neighbors. I noticed these were parents who went to church faithfully, but that was it. They didn’t read their Bibles as individuals or families. They didn’t pray as a family. They treated God as a weekly commitment and not as their loving Father who was remaking them in His image. Read your Bible. Pray. Bring your family along with you on your walk with Jesus— walk together. When we take our kids to church but they don’t see any fruit or walk in our lives outside of the church, we’re telling our kids that Jesus doesn’t reach into our whole lives. He stays in that building, and we have a pleasant Sunday morning activity, but nothing more. Church is simply something to be picked up and set down at will— like a hobby.
I noticed the converse, too. Families who said they loved Jesus but never went to church—their kids never tapped into a community of faith because their parents never made that a priority. Want to be where Jesus is? Get close to His people. No, going to church does not make you a Christian, but faithfulness isn’t found in solitude either. None of us are ‘only-children’ in the Kingdom of God. He brought us together and gifted us for service to one another, and we are there to carry the burdens and blessings together. Make Jesus and His people a priority in your life. When you prioritize sports, leisure, and other things before meeting and worshiping with God’s people, the message you send your children is that my spiritual life is a private matter and the impact of others doesn’t matter (nor my impact on them, positive or negative). We don’t serve others, as Jesus instructed, but live to serve ourselves instead.
Training up a child in the way he should go is about being where Jesus is working. It is about training habits that soften the heart and prepare it for the work of the Holy Spirit. It is about being with the people of God, where God is working, where you can work for the Kingdom. It is about being faithful in private and public, showing that Jesus redeems every aspect of our lives. It isn’t an exact checklist. It is just being faithful with what God has given to you. It is letting God fill you and then having that pour over onto your children. It is realizing that He is God and we are not—so we give that future to Him. We do our part in raising them and training them, and He does His by working in their lives. Get them where that grace spills onto them. Give them good models and examples of what a faithful Christian life looks like. And ultimately, trust that God is working in their lives and will draw them to Himself to restore His very good image in them.