Being a dad is one of the greatest joys in my life. It hasn’t even been 6 months yet and I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I eagerly look to the future and how parenthood will continue to bring me joy and blessing, understanding that it will also bring me trials and frustrations. I’ve come to understand over these few months what I believe all parents recognize fairly quickly: we have no idea what we’re doing lol. I say that partly in jest, but also as a recognition that parenthood is not the kind of thing where you can be an expert without the experience. In the years before I became a father, and even before I was married, I read several books and articles about parenting. I tried to prepare as best I could, but there is just something about actually seeing your child and interacting with them that no amount of prior preparation can get you ready for.
Despite all of that, I do think it is valuable for us to consider and think about parenting ahead of time and while we’re in the midst of it. Especially as followers of Christ, we need to understand what we have been called to as parents. We need to have a theology of parenting – so whether you’re a parent or hope to be one in the future, let’s go!
A Theology of Parenting
Somewhat out of character for me, the most informative piece of my theology of parenting actually comes from my experience. In the months that I’ve been a dad, I have seen the unconditional love of God as Father more clearly than ever before, because I can understand it in relation to my daughter. So if you want to stop reading here, allow me to provide a simple theology of parenting: we are called to show the unconditional love of God to our children. Super simple and super hard.
I do want to provide a little more meat to this, though. Let’s look to 2 passages of Scripture, 1 in the Old Testament and 1 in the New. In Deuteronomy 6, as Moses is imparting the commands of the Lord to Israel. He says, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son.” A few verses later, we read the well-known phrases of the shema: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.” The people of Israel are being commanded to pass down the statutes and fear of the Lord to their children. When we look at this through the lens of what Christ has done on the cross, in fulfilling the law, and we understand what the law signified for Israel, we can see that the parents are really being called to pass on their relationship with God.
Now that does not mean that salvation can literally be passed on from one person to the next, or even that if parents do everything perfectly, their children will put their trust in Jesus. Instead, it means that parents are demonstrating their faith and see the role they have to pass it on to their children. They are not just passing on truth in word, but also in deed, being an ambassador of Christ to their children through their actions toward them. In Ephesians 6, immediately after the passage on marriage I mentioned last week, Paul exhorts his hearers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Consider Paul’s statement as a whole – parents are to be loving and gentle, but not simply letting their kids do what they want. They are to provide guidance, discipline, instruction, but not without love. This is what parents are called to do, to love their children as Christ loves them, and with that to pass on their faith.
When we have a theology of parenting like this, we realize that our role is not simply to raise good little boys and girls. We also have to confront our tendency to prefer safety and comfort for our children, and see that those are not our ultimate goal. We should want our kids to know the love of Christ and to place their trust in him, recognizing their sin and need for a savior. That has to be first and foremost above everything else. Again, fairly simple and super hard. That’s why our theology of parenting has to drive us to God and to find our strength in him.
I want to stop here, as I am way less qualified than many people to suggest a theology of parenting. I’d love to hear from you, especially those of you who have been parents for way longer than I have. I do have 1 book to recommend, Parenting by Paul David Tripp. He provides 14 gospel principles about parenting that center largely around grace, and understanding this simple fact: we are more like our children than we are unlike them. As parents we sometimes forget that we are sinners in need of God’s grace just as much as our children are. Read that book, it’s incredible.
What does this have to do with youth ministry?
There are a few applications a theology of parenting has for our work with teenagers. First, all of the teenagers we work with have parents. They may have a great relationship or a nonexistent one, but all of them have parents, and many of them hope to be parents in the future. We can help teens to understand God’s call to parents, not so that they can go home and tell their parents how they are failing, but so that the next generation of parents can live out God’s call more faithfully. Second, a theology of parenting has a direct impact on the parents of the teens we serve. If you’re not engaging the parents of your teens, you’re failing, because parents are the most important influence on their child’s faith. We can help parents realize the call God has placed on their lives, although we must do so in a humble and respectful manner (even as a parent with 5 months experience, who am I to give the impression that I think I know better?). We can help parents to craft their own theology of parenting, while also demonstrating that we understand the weight of that call and our gratitude for what they do.
Parenting is hard, joyous, frustrating, and important work. Let’s show the love of Christ to our kids.
 Deuteronomy 6:1-2a ESV
 Deuteronomy 6:6-7a ESV
 Ephesians 6:4 ESV
 See Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian, Fuller Youth Institute’s research, etc.