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The Gospel-Shaped Parent (Pt. 2): Parenting, Priorities, & the People of God

By: Paul and Susan Gilbert

Click for: Part 1, Part 3

Building Materials

When my parents were building their dream home on a mountain in north Georgia, the process was years in the making. First, they had to select just the right piece of hilltop acreage on the side of the mountain. Then, they hired an architect to design the home, pondering with painstaking detail over how the layout and space would accommodate future generations.. Next came the builder, who spent a year hauling materials up the mountain, constructing the framework, and converting all of that stuff into a home. Then came the coup-de-grace, when my parents moved 30 years of stuff from their old home and into the new one.

Now, we know it would have been utter folly for mom and dad to collect the contents of their “valley” home, haul it up to the mountain, and then to start arranging their furniture in the vacant lot, all. Anyone who has built a house knows: First foundation, then furniture! But sometimes our approach changes when it comes to parenting our kids. We drag a hodgepodge of spiritual ‘furniture’ (resources and requirements) into our parenting plot of land without first building the foundation.

What About the Church?

In our first post, we examined the foundational cornerstone for all parenting – the gospel (print link here!) While this remains the most important piece, it’s not the only piece. The Apostle Paul highlights another foundational piece; a portion easily missed by parents but utterly important to him:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. – I Timothy 3:15-16

Now what does this passage have to do with parenting? Great question! Two things jump immediately to mind.


The Church as a Buttress

First, Paul says that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” A buttress is a sturdy support that holds up whatever is resting on it. One might say the US Constitution is a buttress for the US government. As Christians, we know that our ultimate buttress – God’s Word – governs and upholds everything, including the church. However, Paul tells us here that there is a mysterious reciprocal relationship. The Bible not only holds up the church but the church actually holds up the Bible too. We do so by prioritizing it, proclaiming it, and saturating every area of church life in it.

What’s the parenting point?  This means, in part, that God wants the church to help support the spiritual lives of our children. If you’re a parent, the church is not incidental. When it becomes peripheral to our spiritual lives and the lives of our children, our kids are deprived of the blessing of having God’s Word reinforced and modeled to them within a diverse, multi-gifted community of people.

It doesn’t take a prophet to know that the local church has grown increasingly peripheral in the lives of Christians of all ages. As people of mobility and affluence, the pull on our time, energy, and priorities is greater than any period in history! That’s why parents must live discerning lives. We may think that providing our kids the enrichment of an ever expanding array of travel-sports, recreational, and cultural experiences, but it often competes against the greater goal of grounding them spiritually through consistent church involvement.


The Church as a Family

Secondly, Paul says the church is an “oikos” – literally, “the family of God.” I like to remind parents that the nuclear family is pretty temporary, meaning, it’s confined to this life. Just as there will be no marriage in heaven, neither will there be such a thing as the biological family in eternal glory. Why? Simply put, we won’t need it.

One of God’s chief purposes for the nuclear family is to connect us to and to prepare us for our eternal family – the church. We will have a new, eternal family in heaven comprised of God’s people, with God as our Father. In fact, we can go as far as to say that the church is God’s ‘forever family’.

What parent would dare think about taking our kids out of school for 50% of their school days! That would be an educational and vocational disaster in the making. But if that’s true, why don’t we avoid the spiritual disaster that comes with marginalizing what God says is to be central to the Christian life? If we are not orienting our kids towards a lifelong relationship with their forever family, we may be leaving them spiritually vulnerable.


Next Steps

So, practically speaking, what can parents do to make sure the lives of their families and children are being built upon the “pillar and foundation” of God’s family?


1. Plan Your Travel and Weekend Schedule Well in Advance

It’s hard for families too survive without a clear, well-thought out weekday schedule. But the same should holds true for our weekends and travel. If we’re not careful, we can end up filling up almost every weekend with vacation, sports, and family, leaving us almost no margin for error for eternal priorities.

Here’s a suggestion: Look at your weekends in monthly chunks, adjusting your plans when you realize that you are going to be out for more than one Sunday a month.


2. Find An Area of Church Service for the Whole Family

One of the things that can tether your family to the church and cultivate their love for its people is to serve the church together. At Four Oaks Church where I pastor, we have families who have decided to serve in children’s ministries together—I mean, as a whole family! This helps transform the kids idea of church from “a building to show up at” TO “a people to love and serve.”


3. Take Your Child to a Bible Study

If we want our children to develop a love for the church, include them in a class or study that you are doing. This actually has the added benefit of fueling their love for God’s Word! And don’t worry: It’s ok if they don’t understand everything being taught. Promise them some post-study FroYo (frozen yogurt, for the uninitiated) where you can hang out and talk about the study.


Think about these suggestions as helping to set a trajectory for your family versus a check-list to fix a problem. I believe that as you do so, it will help your children fall in love with the family of God.  It will also begin to orient their priorites to the things that matter most.


Paul and Susan Gilbert live in Tallahassee, Florida. They have been married for 25 years and have 4 children. Paul is a pastor at Four Oaks Church in Tallahassee. He can be followed on Twitter: @revgilbert

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