Well, yes. And no.
If you are in a church wealthy enough to employ staff whose role is children’s or youth work, that’s great! Giving your tithe towards the employment of an expert dedicated to reaching out and helping raise the next generation in the faith is a blessing. It means the time can be used to plan and sustain an excellent programme of mission and teaching in the same way employing any church leader frees them up to make the church run well.
However, even if they are employed full time and successfully run – at a push – a midweek discipleship group, a youth drop-in or other seeker-friendly activity, a Sunday school or equivalent parallel to the Sunday service and maybe do a bit of mentoring, that totals at most about six hours a week that your child or young person is seeing them.
These are all great things, and will disciple your kids in the same way that your home group, Sunday service or any other group session disciples you. But we all know that this is not enough to sustain a faith. Regular private Bible study or times of personal devotion are vital, as are the everyday and unplanned moments that are the work of the Spirit. If this is enough to sustain a mature faith, what do our children and young people need as they navigate growing up and becoming the person God intended them to be?
Let’s take a look at Deuteronomy. These are the commandments God (through Moses) laid out to the Israelites and their children, detailing how they needed to follow God in the promised land that they are about to step into. Now there are a lot of them in Deuteronomy, but that’s to be expected when you’re setting up a whole nation. Chapter 6, though, is specific about the starting point for all the following laws.
Step one is love God (verse 5). Step two is to impress that love of God on your children (verse 7). Moses’ laws do not give a detailed plan of discipleship groups, regular attendance to worship or much else here. However, it does describe a holistic pattern of learning for the next generation in which this love of God is witnessed and participated in throughout all of everyday life. The Israelites are commanded to tell their children about their love of God at home, when they are away, when they are standing up and when they are lying down (verse 7). Standing up and lying down covers most of the positions in which we find ourselves, so without trying to find a get-out clause for when we shouldn’t be teaching our children, I think we can safely assume the idea is that your love of God should be part and parcel of everyday life.
The Israelites are then commanded to tie them to their hands, write them above their doorposts and fix it to their foreheads. I know few outside of the Jewish Orthodox community who take this literally and have verses imprinted on their hands and heads, but Bible verses around the house is not uncommon. However, once again I think taking it so literally misses the deeper idea that this is getting at. Our faith and love of God should be a visible and embodied part of our family life that our children can see it as part of the pattern of a life living in step with God.
There is one final caveat to take in with this: this is not just the job of direct biological parents. The Israelites wouldn’t have needed to clarify that the children meant nieces and nephews, family friends or the child in the row behind you at church. The nuclear family of modern life simply wasn’t a consideration for the nation of Israel as it stood on the edge of the land promised. Children meant your nieces and nephews, your friend’s children, your distant relations and social circle. For us, this would cover the children of our friends, the children in church, the children we teach, any who we have a natural familial or friendly relationship with.
The point is that according to Deuteronomy 6, the best way of raising the next generation in the faith is to let it flow out of all everyday and natural life. And that means it’s everyone’s job – parents, teachers, and everyone who has any relationship with the next generation and loves God too.
So yes it’s their job. But if you are a parent it is also yours.