Children are a gift from God. We love and treasure them. Children are also sheep needing shepherded. Parents must know, feed, protect, lead, and care for their kids.
But did you know the Bible also describes children as arrows? “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Psalm 127:4). This metaphor gets at the missional aspect of raising a child. God wants us to love and enjoy them but also to train them so they can be missionaries wherever they go. God doesn’t want us to hoard them or shelter them but to release them. Parents think about their kids in terms of what they mean to us or what we want from them and for them, but we often neglect what God intends to do in them and through them.
God wants His kingdom-oriented purposes to outweigh our earthly-focused dreams for them. Our children can grow up and excel in sports, get a great education, secure a well-paying job, start a happy family, build a comfortable life, and earn respect for their success, but that doesn’t mean we accomplished our goals as parents. They can do all these things and not be disciple-makers and arrows.
J.D. Greear writes, “Our kids were given to us for the purpose of the mission. When we treat them less like arrows and more like accessories to our lives, we’re not only stunting their development but also discouraging them from finding God’s plan altogether.”
Viewing our children as arrows tells me my aim is to help them know, love, follow, and represent Jesus so they are a disciple who can make disciples.I want to raise them to experience a relationship with Jesus and reflect and represent Jesus to others.
- This Must be a Conviction, Not a Concept
- Teach and Train Accordingly
- Now & Later
- Wisdom Needed
This Must Be a Conviction, Not a Concept
As Christians, we’re tempted to hold concepts intellectually but not live them out. We know God is trustworthy, but do we trust Him when confronted by anxiety? We talk about the Bible’s power, but we keep it on our desk rather than opening it. This applies to parenting. As Christian parents, it’s easy to nod our heads when we hear about raising up making disciples in the home while we emphasize and prioritize other things. It’s not that we deny or dismiss the importance of our kids being arrows, but it gets pushed down the list as we focus on them being students, athletes, musicians, friends, volunteers, and eventually professionals.
You might agree parenting is about making disciples you can send into the world, but if over time the bulk of what you talk about with them, follow-up on, and express excitement over are those other categories (school, future career, extracurricular activities, popularity or respectability), your kid will think these things matter more. Yes, they believe in God and go to church on Sundays, but life is centered on around other things. Children grab onto what we model and celebrate more than what we verbally affirm but practically ignore. Our role as disciple-makers must be a conviction lived out in our priorities, values, and decision-making, not just a concept we support on Sundays.
Teach and Train Accordingly
If our vision of parenting is making a disciple who can be a disciple-maker, and if this vision works itself out in the mundane matters in everyday life, we will keep in front of us that the most important thing is that they know, love, reflect, and represent Jesus.
This doesn’t require choosing between faith and other things mentioned early (whether sports or scholastics), but that we connect everything back to their walk with Christ. For example, if your kid excels in academics but their identity and their hopes cement on that, it’s unhealthy. If they learn a lot of information but they lack humility, a desire to use knowledge or skills for God’s glory and the good of others, and their interests are for their kingdom and not God’s, then we’ve misdirected them. Or when they’re stressed about a test or feel less valuable because they bombed a project at school, we not only want to help them in their education, but we want to teach them how to respond by trusting God, asking for His help, and depending on Him.
As Christian parents, there will be some activities, values, and truths we teach and train on if discipleship is our focus. Learning how to practice spiritual disciplines becomes as essential as any subject in school. Involving our children so they can serve in our church and locally among their neighbors must be included in their training and upbringing. Teaching them to fight sin, love others, and be in healthy biblical community proves just as important as preparing for the SATs.
Now and Later
Our children are both arrows now and are being prepared to be arrows later. Their time with us before leaving for school, taking a job, or entering adulthood is preparation for releasing them into the world. We teach and train them to go out as effective disciple-makers who smell like Jesus in a world full of less pleasing aromas. Have this future-oriented vision in mind and know your work now is in part for down the road. Parenting is a long-term investment; every day you make deposits, and only later will you see many of the dividends.
But don’t miss that you’ll also have countless opportunities along the way for them to reflect and represent Jesus. Whether they’re 3, 8, 13, or 18, they’ll be around friends, neighbors, classmates, cousins (even siblings), and peers. They exert influence as soon as they walk and talk around other kids. Help them from an early age to spot and maximize opportunities to respond like Christ, look like Christ, point people to Christ, and tell people about Christ. You will release an arrow into the world one day, but you’re also doing it right now.
As we think about children even now as arrows, disciples, and evangelists, we need wisdom to discern when and where they can be a light in the darkness and where their light isn’t ready for the darkness.
One of the most difficult parts of parental discipleship is both (1) protecting them from being in the world in an ungodly way, and yet (2) helping them be Christians in the world who can represent Jesus to the world. They can’t be salt to the world if they’re not both (1) salty and (2) in the world. They can’t be light if they don’t both (1) have light to give and (2) shine in the darkness.
Parents must wrestle with this in their own life and for their children. It’s a discipleship question. How can I/they be in the world for the world without being worldly? It’s a tough question needing biblical wisdom, but it tells us we can’t shelter them from the world (or they’re not missionaries) and we can’t throw them into the world without discipling them along the way. We must do both for them and with them. We want them to be in the world but not of the world so they can be for the world. Are you intentional about providing places where they can do this and helping them navigate through the darkness?
A Christian parent is a disciple-maker. Your goal is to live out the great commission (Matthew 28:18–20) in your home by making disciples you can launch into the world to make other disciples. They are arrows. Make sure you’re aiming them at the right target.
J.D. Greear, “What Your Parents Need from You,” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-your-kids-need-from-you/3/5/18.