Any nation of the world that is intentional about growth, strength, and longevity places a high priority on the education of its youth. They require not only knowledge for their own sake—to prepare them to survive and thrive in the world—but also for the sake of the society in which they will function as adults. What will they bring to that society? How will their training, their knowledge, their skills, equip them to build the kind of society that the society itself is meant to be?
An affluent, economy-based culture will indoctrinate its children with the importance of personal wealth and comfort, and will train them to work hard, aim for excellence, and strive for the material rewards of their work.
A dictatorial nation will infuse into the education of its youth the rhetoric of loyalty to a greater cause, and will teach them to be sacrificially obedient to that cause.
A culture that highly values its traditions and ancestry will shelter its youth from the ‘new’ and go to great lengths to teach them the ways of the past, hoping that that past will remain the reality of the present as well as the future.
The kingdom of Christ is no different. Although the success of his kingdom is unshakable, there are skills and mindsets we must pass on to our children that are essential to the steady advancement and strength of his kingdom. These are the ways that Christ himself modelled for us as he established his kingdom on earth; these are the methods and priorities we need to recognize as we join him in building his kingdom—because they will result in the kind of kingdom he wants to build.
The kingdom of Christ advances by the word of the gospel (Eph 6:17; 1 Pet 1:23-25); disciples of Christ the living Word are by necessity people of the written word. Our walk is articulated, understood, shared, and continued by words. Our world was created through words, and to fill it and subdue it for Christ we have to be trained to use them skillfully.
Our kids need to love others with words, because words of love gracefully open the way for gospel conversations. They need to be practiced in the fine arts of debate and logical thinking, classy in their rebuttals, humble in their willingness to listen, and rigorous in their commitment to the truth. They need to love words, to see the power in words, and to strive to bring their words and ideas into unity so that they can be precise, bold, skillful and wise in the way they do the work of Christ’s ambassadors.
In our right enthusiasm to help our kids be set apart, let’s also remember to empower them to build bridges, to learn from other people, to listen well—yes, even to unbelievers (Jas 3:17-18). Our kids need to learn to stand firm in Scripture, but they also need to learn to be flexible and open-minded as they interact with people on issues that are a matter of taste or preference (1 Cor 9:19-23). Sharing in human life and culture in ways that our consciences allow shows people we care about them, that we’re a part of the human race, and that because we are like them we understand their need—especially their need for Christ.
And don’t make too little of good old-fashioned manners. They allow us to communicate respect and love no matter how impenetrable the cultural—or moral—barrier might be. Simply practicing common courtesy and gestures that put other people at ease—smiling, looking them in the eye, asking them how they are doing, holding open a door, giving a sincere compliment—will aid our kids in establishing trust which could make or break their gospel witness.
Bridge-building isn’t just for evangelism, either. The church is in constant need of the soothing balm of kindness, trust, and respect. When our children have these skills mastered, they are equipped to be valuable people in their local churches who can help navigate conflicts and disagreements. The Bible calls these people peacemakers, and they are blessed for this all-important aspect of kingdom-building (Matt 5:9; Jas 3:18).
Our words need to matter in the real world, not just on paper or screen. All the communication we do through the internet has a way of making us feel omnipresent. This powerful illusion often results in a tragic irony: while we’re ‘present’ with those who aren’t with us, we’re all too often absent with those who are. Our kids are learning from us that a person talks to others while staring at his or her phone, and that it’s far more interesting to find out what’s going on somewhere else than it is to be a part of what’s going on right in front of your face. This is weird for society, but it’s devastating for discipleship—best understood as walking together.
Teach the kids in your life to really walk with others, and to look for the ‘neighbours’ God is placing in their path (Luke 10:36-37). The cashier in the grocery store. The brother or sister sitting across the dinner table. The old lady at church who needs help with her purse as she fumbles up the stairs. Let’s not have our kids tripping over the man in the road just because their eyes are plastered to their phones.
If we’re going to be citizens in Christ’s kingdom, we need to engage in the physical world in which he is building that kingdom—the world where people get sick, where things fall apart, where hunger and pain and weakness are used by God to point our attention to our need for Christ. That’s what he did; he didn’t just broadcast abstract words from space into our atmosphere, instead “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
In cyberspace we’ve created a universe for our minds where we can by-pass many of the painful, strenuous, and humbling aspects of physical life under the curse. Too much time spent in the made-up world designed (by us) to make us feel omnipotent will quickly atrophy our kids’ stamina in the world God has put them in, which is explicitly designed (by him) to strengthen our faith (Rom 8:19-20; Jas 1:2-4).
The Bible is clear: God uses persecution and suffering for the good of his people (Rom 5:3-4; Heb 12:6-11; 1 Pet 1:6-7). As parents and ministers of young people, we should educate and condition them to be ready for these hard lessons, so that they will result in the refined faith and other-worldly joy that they are intended to produce. It’s not our place to intentionally put our kids in the way of suffering: that’s God’s department, because only he is wise and good enough to ordain real-life hardships like disease, accidents, and disappointment as instruments of discipline.
But when he does, and he will (1 Pet 4:12-13), it’s our job as disciple-makers to model a proper response to these experiences. Do you moan and groan when the air conditioning quits working? Do you complain when plans don’t go your way? Do you let stress make you say things you don’t mean? Commit to turn these habitual, natural responses around so your kids and young people can see what it really looks like to “rejoice in suffering”. Maybe someday they’ll find themselves surprisingly able to “rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). How will they learn to suffer big—and by it, to have their faith refined in equal measure—if they haven’t learned to suffer a little in the everyday inconveniences and trials that life naturally brings?
We’re inviting our kids to be part of something huge and powerful: the eternal, global, kingdom of Christ. Let’s give them the education they need to participate effectively and fully.