If you’re a Christian mom or dad, you’ve mostly likely been pointed to the Bible verse, Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This saying is often used as very constant encouragement for Christian parents (of course it is, it’s from God). The idea of “training up” can be found all throughout scriptures in many different forms. The biggest example of this comes from Jesus Himself when He gives His followers the charge to be disciples who make disciples! Disciple people (train them up) in the life and love of Jesus as you do the same yourself. And as parents, our main calling in this can be found in our homes. Besides our spouse, our calling to disciple our kids is the most important duty we have within our discipleship lives. Heck, Paul says a man cannot even be considered for Eldership if his kids aren’t properly being “trained up” (1 Timothy 3:4). This is a big deal!
So as parents, how should we be training up our children? Well, making disciples is a legacy discussion. We as Christians are called to live with legacy mindsets, meaning we’re not just invested in our own salvation/lives/ministry…we’re called to keep our eyes on how the gospel will advance beyond ourselves. All the way back in Genesis 3, when sin has just entered the world, the Lord tells Satan that one day his head will be crushed by the foot of His son Jesus (Genesis 3:15). Among other things, this was God establishing His redemptive legacy which will unfold over the lives of many people throughout the Bible and even up to where we are in history right now. So as we train up our children, we keep in mind our prayer and desire to see the good news of Jesus carried throughout the lives of our ongoing family tree.
All that being said, it’s easy for parents to get this calling confused. As a son, and as someone who works with sons and daughters as a (Pastor of Family Ministries) I’ve observed many parents mistaking leaving a legacy with leaving their label on their kids. What do I mean by this? You see, a legacy is something we pass on to our kids. A label is something we put on our kids. A legacy is something we desire to see our kids inherit. A label is something we make our kids feel like they need to carry in order to be fulfilled in the eyes of you. For example, we all know that our kids are so much more than what they do. But how often do we show them this? Do we put certain labels on them (getting good grades, marriage, making money, being well behaved, looking good) and when they fulfill these labels, we give them our approval?
However, this is not legacy making. If we’ve ever made our kids feel as if they “need” to be Christians in order to receive approval from you, then we’ve just made a label wearer instead of a legacy carrier. If our ultimate desire is for our kids to “not” be like us when we were their age…then we’ve given our children the label of “I have to be better than xyz.” If our kids feel us trying to find our identity in them (If my kids aren’t well behaved good little Christian boys and girls, then I’ll get angry and upset because they’re making me feel like a failure), we’ve just given a label they will carry around in many different ways.
Labels could be considered the opposite of Proverbs 22:6 in couple different ways. First, these expectations we put on our kids are often things they feel obligated to fulfill. “I don’t really like church, but I go because it makes my parents happy.” “I have to do well in school because my parents don’t want me to be a drop out like them.” “I struggle with whether or not I want to have sex or not because my parents told me if I do then I’ll be a tramp.” And this is hard because feeling obligated to do something for approval rather than desiring to do something because you are loved, is the opposite of the gospel! And if it is the opposite of the gospel, it isn’t proper disciple making! More often than not (I’ve talked to many kids who have experienced this) when kids feel like they need to live under those labels, stress and a great weight fall upon them.
When they can’t fulfill these obligations, there’s footholds for depression (I’m not good enough), rebellion (why even try when I can’t even make my parents happy anyways), self-harm (I just need to find something I can control), and sometimes it could even lead to straying away from the faith as soon as they get out from their parents’ home (close to 80% of young people stray away from the church as soon as they enter college). When we subconsciously tell our kids they need to be a certain way in order to receive our love…it does damage, because as I mentioned earlier…saying these things is not what God says to His children.
Lastly, leaving labels on our kids, rather than leaving a legacy through your kids, is not proper discipleship because ultimately (we would never say this, but think about it) we’re telling our kids that we want them to live out being made in our image rather than the image of God. If we’re telling our kids we need them to be a certain way because our identity lies in them (you need to go to church, so I feel like a good Christian mom or dad). Who’s glory are you seeking if they obey?
If you’re still not sure, really search your heart for why you get so upset when your kids do something that fails to live up to your expectations. We become the “god” our kids want to serve, and our kids sense this from us and respond accordingly. God calls us to proper legacy making discipleship because it raises our kids in the shadow of the cross rather than ours. Being raised up in the gospel, our kids will find the hope, joy, and honor of living out who God has called them to be. Our Lord as made our kids beautiful and wonderful in His image; He’s made them with unique gifts and personalities for his glory. Our kids need us to help cultivate that truth, and if we need that…we will truly fulfill what it means to make disciples.
Our kids don’t need (or even want) our labels. Heck, the world around them is already throwing enough expectations on them already. Our kids need (they want) us to train them to be the man or woman God has created them to be. We do this by taking what the love of Jesus has done in our lives and using His good foundation to establish a legacy through our kids.