When I was in college I took a course during a summer with a tutor. Each week I would drive from Huntsville, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee (100 miles away) to meet with my professor and each class session was three hours. The course was “Abnormal Psychology” and one that was very profitable to me.
The teacher was very good, but not any better than others that I had. What made the class so interesting and helpful was that there were only two people interacting, him and myself. Because it was so personal he had time to answer any questions I had. Also, I was able to ask more questions because of the ultimate teaching ratio, 1:1. Over the summer I developed a friendship with him and it made the learning (and the testing!) much easier.
When I went into ministry I took a lot of time (and still do) to study how people learn and grow. I don’t want to just make speeches and bring sermons that put people to sleep. My heart is to help them and show them how the Bible has the answer to every need.
In my quest for becoming an effective communicator (it’s not natural to me), I discovered that the prime way to learn is in a tutorial relationship. This is instruction that is given personally rather than in a group. This is why mentoring is so effective and crucial.
For example, musicians make far greater progress in an individual setting rather than group classes. The same is true with artists. In fact, you can put any subject in that way of learning from an individual – auto mechanic, plumbing, math, science, history, Bible, cooking, and so on.
This is why parents are the best teachers for their children. They spend the most time with them and naturally experience more teachable moments. Too, they are able to address specific and personal issues because they are more aware of them just by proximity to the child. Also, in a large classroom the teacher cannot stop when a student is not grasping the information, but a parent can. Parents can usually look at their children’s faces and tell when they are not absorbing a concept.
Here is the takeaway for parents as they teach their children: the best learning is not done in a group, but individually. Since each child is different with unique gifts, abilities and temperaments this means the parents are best suited to help them to learn. It also means it is a lot of work. But it is worth it!
Godly children are not produced in a vacuum nor are they mass produced assembly-line style in a mechanical way. The most well-known verse in the Bible on parenting supports this proposition.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. (Proverbs 22:6)
Now I’m going to write the verse the way many people interpret it, but it is incorrect. Here is what we usually believe and teach from this text. “Train up your children in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it.”
Quite different, isn’t it? We train our children individually. The Bible says “a child” and uses the personal pronoun “he” three times in a single verse to reinforce this truth of personal training.
Sure, there are times we learn in groups (classes, teams, church services, seminars). I’m not denying that. But it is still true that the best teaching is on a personal level and parents have that special opportunity. We must make sure that our teaching is personalized for each child. Again, it’s a lot of work (that’s why so few are engaged in it).
The best education for a child is when their parents initiate it, accept responsibility for it, and model what they are teaching them. This means we dare not delegate this sacred responsibility to others without our oversight. If we fail to do so there will be devastating consequences.
When I was a young Youth Pastor I had a worker in the youth ministry that was an Army Captain. We became friends and I asked him to teach me some things he had learned about leadership in the military. Every couple of weeks he would come to my office and we would talk. Actually, he did most of the talking and I listened, took notes, and asked questions along the way.
One of the lessons he taught me was about responsibility. He said, “Rick, you can delegate tasks, but you cannot delegate responsibility”. By this he didn’t mean that you didn’t empower others in the delegation process to make decisions. Rather that you as the leader were still responsible for the task; delegation doesn’t eliminate personal responsibility. That was a huge moment in my perception of leadership.
As parents the same is true for us. We can delegate portions of our children’s academic and spiritual training, but we are responsible for it all. I know it’s an incredible burden to carry, but it is part of being a parent that makes a difference. To fail to do so is catastrophic in the lives of our kids.
The best manual on parenting is the Bible and the best book in the Bible on parenting is Proverbs. It is filled with exhortations of how to train children and what we are to teach them. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 23 times in the book the words “my son” are used. These words are Solomon instructing his son in wisdom. It was very personal.
The responsibility of training and teaching children wasn’t given to the state, a school, or even a church (though we can learn in these places), but to the parents. I have seen it happen often in a church where a child becomes a prodigal and the blame game begins. The parents sometimes blame the church, the pastor, the youth pastor, or the Christian school. The church leaders want to blame the parents.
The truth is, sometimes a parent can train their child and do their best and the child still decides to follow a path of self and sin. He or she does have a choice in the matter. (Adam and Eve were in a perfect environment and had a perfect Father and chose to do wrong. Certainly, you are not going to “parent” better than God so quit beating yourself up if you have done what you could).
However, it is still ultimately the parent’s responsibility to train and teach their children. Reclaim this role if you have let it slide, but don’t excuse yourself out of it. God is the designer of the family and He knows how it works best.
A youth department in a church is not so much a catalyst to build strong young people, but more accurately, a reflector of the homes that compose it. An effective and biblical Youth Pastor is one that assists parents with their goals for this children to grow spiritually. He is to help the fathers to turn their hearts to their children (Malachi 4:6) so that, in turn, their children might do the same for them.
I realize what I have written is strong to some people that will read it, but it is correct. It doesn’t mean that parents will always get it right, but we must make a daily effort.
Paula and I have seven children. I do not casually write about this subject. Our kids aren’t perfect and, for sure, their parents are not. The most difficult thing I have ever done is to try to be an effective father. It is demanding and hurtful at times. But I know it will be the most important, fulfilling, and meaningful thing I have ever done.
If we make an impact it won’t happen by treating each of our seven the same way. God’s mandate brings His reward and blessing. His direction is that we train them individually and personally. I have laid my life down for that.
“Father, have mercy on us as we continue to teach and train those still under our roof. Give us Your strength and wisdom. Without it we will utterly fail. Please do the same for those that would ponder these words. Bless them and their children. Help us to make a difference in a dark world”.