How the Gospel Shapes Our Children for Mission

There are two things in my life that I felt totally confident going into, only to realize I was abysmally unprepared. The first was marriage, and the second was parenting.

It seems I’m not alone. A recent survey in Perspectives on Family Ministry found that

85 percent of Christian parents admitted that while they acknowledged they were responsible for their child’s spiritual development . . . the vast majority were not personally engaging in any activities that might guide their children to spiritual maturity except taking them to church.

We face a crisis in parenting in the church today, and until we correct it, all of our efforts to engage the culture will fail.

Psalm 127 is written specifically about parenting. It says,

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them. (Ps. 127:1–5a ESV)

This psalm reveals our desperation in parenting, our goal in parenting, our resources in parenting, and our hope in parenting.

Our Desperation in Parenting: We Are Powerless

The first verse of Psalm 127 makes it clear that in order for a house to endure, God has to build it. But many parents have what I call the “Beatles philosophy” of parenting: all you need is love. The accepted wisdom today is that if you have love, everything else will turn out fine. But I know parents who love their kids truly, madly, and deeply, and they are terrible parents.

Love is not enough. The Bible teaches us that our kids have more than a behavior problem—they have a heart problem. They are spiritually dead. And no amount of our love can change that.

“We face a crisis in parenting in the church today, and until we correct it, all of our efforts to engage the culture will fail.”

One of the most helpful pieces of counsel I ever received about parenting was this: be their dad, not their pastor. The pastor is always busy telling them what is wrong with them; a dad is just excited about who they are. You can’t force the affections of their heart to grow. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, and he does it in the security of unconditional love.

If you focus on your kids’ hearts and not their behavior, it’s going to change everything, including how you discipline, how you pray, and how you celebrate success.

Our Goal in Parenting: Mission

Psalm 127:4–5 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (ESV).

What is the purpose of an arrow? Jim Elliot, who was explaining to his mother and father why he would leave a promising career in the US to serve as a missionary in South America, said,

What is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly—all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.

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 discouraging them from finding God’s plan altogether.

“Our kids were given to us for the purpose of the mission. . . . When you accept the call to Jesus, you accept the call to missions. That’s the truth that should shape the way we raise our children.”

The call to follow Jesus and the call to mission are the same: follow Jesus, and he will make you a fisher of men. When you accept the call to Jesus, you accept the call to missions. That’s the truth that should shape the way we raise our children.

Our Resources in Parenting: The Home and the Church

This psalm had two audiences: parents and the larger community. It was read at the birth of every Jewish baby and sung by pilgrims as they ascended Jerusalem together during their annual pilgrimage.

You see, God has two “gardens” in which he grows the child: the home and the church. The home is where kids see the gospel lived out and learn to believe in its power.

“The home is where kids see the gospel lived out and learn to believe in its power.”

Our kids will learn to believe the gospel less by how well we articulate it and more by how we treat other people. Do they see in us the unconditional love, graciousness, faithfulness, forgiveness, and gentleness that we tell them God has for them in the gospel?

Kids also need someone besides their parents to speak into their lives and reinforce what’s being said in the home. Reggie Joiner in Parenting Beyond Your Capacity writes, “Children need more than just a family that gives them unconditional acceptance and love; they need a tribe that gives them a sense of belonging and significance.”

My wife and I have really tried to be intentional with this. We moved into a neighborhood where we knew our kids would be around other Christian families that would influence them as they grow up, and we have developed strategic relationships with other parents who speak the gospel into our kids’ lives.

Kids become like their community, so we need to raise them in the larger community of faith.

Our Hope in Parenting: God’s Grace

In these verses from Psalm 127, the sign that you are walking with God is sleep. But if you’re sleeping, who is watching over the city?

God is. You’re to do what you can and leave the rest to God.

Elyse Fitzpatrick observes that the really dangerous problem with thinking there is a foolproof way of parenting is it keeps us from the one thing we need most: to cast ourselves on the mercy of God to work in our kids’ lives, which is the one thing he responds to—not perfect technique, but hope in his mercy.

The gospel does not depend on how well or how much we have done as parents. The gospel depends on whether or not we rest in Jesus’ finished work.

The apostle Paul said, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32 ESV).

God saved you when you were his enemy. Now that you are his friend, don’t you think he will help you as you raise your kids to love the gospel? Trust in him. His love never fails, and the well of his grace never runs dry!


J. D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of GospelStop Asking Jesus Into Your HeartJesus, Continued and Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems.