What are we supposed to do with the world? I mean, isn’t that a question that we as Christians really have to grapple with? How can we love the world, and reach out to the world, but not become worldly? How do we engage the culture without conforming to it? If ministry is messy, how do we get “dirty” without getting stained? And how do we as parents prepare our children to function as Christ-followers in such a world?
Sometimes teaching my children how to function and think biblically in their world means I have to expose them to worldliness and sin. I mean, I can’t teach my children that abortion is wrong without having to explain to them that some mommies don’t want the baby in their tummy. That can be a shattering realization to a child. I can’t explain that homosexuality is not God’s plan for relationships without explaining what that word means. I can’t instill in them a deep sense of gratitude and longing to help those in need without opening their eyes to the daily desperation of starving people. I can’t teach them how to be safe without informing them that there are people in the world who hurt others…on purpose.
I want my kids to think biblically, which means I’m going to have to be the one to slowly (and guardedly) expose them to the world. I’m going to have to draw their attention to the ways sin wrecks our relationships and our lives. It seems counter-intuitive…ultimately I want to protect them from evil, sin, and its effects. So, shouldn’t we just hole up, and hide? Shouldn’t we turn off all technology and shut our eyes to everything outside our door?
The sad truth is that that wouldn’t be enough. Because sin is not just “out there”; it’s also “in here”. In our hearts. In our minds. In our homes. Even when we’re Christ-followers. And I want to teach my kids that truth. Otherwise they’ll learn to turn up their nose at the sin of others, rather than fall on their faces at the realization of their own sin. There’s a weird thing that can happen to us as Christians. We can get all prideful that we don’t fail in a certain sin area (as if that’s due to some sort of innate goodness rather than the grace of God!) and get all judgey when we see others struggling with a temptation we aren’t fighting (at least for now). Then we tend to separate and sector off, rather than run after others with that very gospel that saved us and freed us to stand firm in the face of temptation.
Worldliness is all around us, and we are called to go out into the daily mess to reach the lost with the gospel. I want to teach my kids to do that. But I want to know the balance, as they get older and their eyes are opened to some of the junk I so desperately want to hide and shelter them from. How exactly do I prepare my kids to be in the world, but not of it?
Here are just a few thoughts:
1. Walk humbly before them. Confess my sin…call it what it is and tell them I’m asking Jesus to help me overcome that sin in my life. I don’t want them to think that I think I’m perfect. That would be like taking a giant step in the direction of the Pharisees!
2. Observe their weaknesses and temptations. Then gently help them see that those are the struggles they need Christ to overcome. Encourage them to repent and turn from sin daily.
3. Slowly, prayerfully, and in an age-appropriate way make them aware of the pain and disorder that sin is wreaking in our world and in the lives of people. We don’t have to show them scary news-footage or questionable movies to do this. We can just read them the Bible. Our family is almost done reading through the book of Genesis together…here are just a few issues we’ve had to address (in varying degrees of detail): murder, rape, drunkenness, incest, polygamy, favoritism, deceit, homosexuality, death, cruelty, slavery, prostitution, adultery, and starvation. Some of these topics were introduced in a more veiled manner than others…I still grin remembering the night Jon read Genesis 19:5 as “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, [so we can be mean to them].”
4. Teach them that sin is wrong. But also teach them to have a heart of compassion for others. “If you were stuck in that sin, wouldn’t you want someone to rescue you with the Truth of the gospel?”
5. Then show them how it’s done! I must saturate my mind every morning with God’s Word, and then put on my armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and go out and join the fight. If every interaction is an opportunity for ministry, I need to ask God to show me how to infuse the gospel into every conversation, facial expression, and action I engage in that day.
6. Pray for God’s protection and wisdom every day and teach your kids to do the same. I don’t need to expose myself to temptation in the name of ministry, especially if it’s an area I already know I wrestle with. I need to flee the temptation, and look for a way to minister without giving the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
I want to train my kids to go and make disciples. I want them to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually prepared to face the temptations and evils of this world, and to respond in a Christ-like manner. To flee when they should flee, yes; but also to embrace when Christ would embrace. I don’t want to train little Pharisees, who know the dos and don'ts but have forgotten how to speak the truth with love; who hate the sin and the sinner too. I want to teach my children to run towards holiness; but while they're running, I want them to see the hurting, lost and sin-sick individuals all around them. I want them to stop just long enough to grab others by the hand and invite them to run too...in this race toward Christ and holiness.
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
"...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1)