By Ann Iorg
Caring for and training children is an important responsibility for adults. When children are not given what they need to mature adequately, they carry those shortcomings into adulthood. As adults, when they live out those inadequacies, society spirals downward.
This is happening today and will only intensify if the church does not accelerate its efforts at teaching children about family, gender, and marriage issues.
Church leaders must continually emphasize love for children and their training, lest churches forget the significance of this task. Every child must learn basic concepts to be a productive part of society. These are best learned from someone who cares for them on a consistent basis—first at home, then church, school, and other training venues. Parents, grandparents, other relatives, pastors, teachers, coaches, and mentors are crucial to ensure children grow into mature, productive, caring adults who make a positive contribution to society.
In our culture (and in many churches), we are not giving children the training they need in the area of personal identity and family relationships. Therefore, children are growing into adulthood without a strong sense of who they are in God’s eyes, their purpose in life, and the proper role and significance of the family.
An important way a church can minister to children in the changing culture is training parents to be the primary teachers for their children in these areas.
This can be done in a variety of ways, including having a yearly parent training event, inviting a guest speaker on child training, organizing a book study about teaching children at home, hosting a parenting conference, or developing a mentoring program in which older parents coach new parents.
No matter the method chosen, here are three key aspects of training parents to teach their children to thrive in today’s culture.
1. Train parents to affirm their child’s identity.
Teach parents to affirm their child’s identity—early and often! Teach parents to speak positively about gender distinctives and differences.
Help them develop a greater comfort level in discussing gender issues with younger children and answering sexuality-related questions as children get a little older. Ultimately, provide some healthy tools to fully educate older children about their emerging sexuality as puberty nears.
Encourage parents to participate with their children in gender-based events like mother-daughter parties or father-son campouts. These are helpful to build a sense of belonging with one’s own gender. They also allow girls and boys to observe a variety of healthy expressions of their gender.
Opposite-gender events, like a father-daughter activity or a mother-son outing, can also be helpful. These are opportunities for parents to celebrate their opposite-gender child and affirm their child for who he or she is and is becoming.
2. Train parents to model biblical family relationships.
We must help parents understand what the Bible says about family relationships so they can teach and model these truths at home. Hopefully this will reinforce what is also being taught at church.
Most parents want to be good parents and good spouses, but many don’t know how to teach these concepts to their own children. Many parents have never had any training in child development and need help knowing what is appropriate for each stage of development. We can help parents by providing training opportunities.
We can also reinforce for parents their “on the way” role of teaching children as life happens. In some cases, the church must provide biblical counseling for parents so they can be emotionally healthy and thus give their children an emotionally healthy home.
3. Train parents to answer tough questions.
God planned for every child to start out safe and protected in his or her mother’s womb. But as parents soon learn, every child quickly grows up and has to live in a chaotic, imperfect world.
Helping our children move from a safe, home environment to the broader sinful world where they will make their impact for Christ is difficult. Children need to come gradually to understand our imperfect world and how to keep it in perspective. As part of this process, they need someone to answer their tough questions and help them make sense out of the messiness of our world. The best strategy for helping children survive this transition is steadily, patiently, and honestly answering their questions and addressing their concerns.
Teaching biblical ideals is not enough without also helping them process the hard reality the world is far from ideal. Likewise, if we show them only the problems and not the ideals, they accept the problems as normal.
When we fail to help children process difficult experiences, we short-circuit their spiritual development and limit their ability to cope with the difficulties of life as adults.
We need to let children experience life, talk with them about the everyday problems they are experiencing, and help them put things into perspective based on the Christian worldview we are trying to develop within them.
As a church, we must be consistent in teaching children, training adults, and helping families. The results will be far-reaching into society. God is faithful, however, and will give us the wisdom we need to deal with whatever comes our way.
Training children about gender and family issues in the new marriage culture is challenging. But doing it effectively is essential to assure healthy homes in coming generations.
ANN IORG is a contributor to Ministry in the New Marriage Culture, from which this article is adapted. Used with permission from B&H Publishing.