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Train Up a Child


This is Zeke. He’s our new dog. He’s a chow. He’s eight weeks old.

This past week has been a crash course education in dog training. Everthing from housebreaking to where to sleep to teaching him that our 2 and 4 year olds are not puppies, too. One thing that all the books and websites keep telling us is that regardless of the reputation of the breed, the most important indicator of future temperament is right training in the first 16 or so weeks of life.

You can probably already see where I’m going with this: dog training is a lot like training a child! Especially when it comes to spiritual training. Most of us can quote the verse from Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Parents quote it. Pastors quote it. Well-meaning friends quote it.

If this were true, then I wouldn’t hear stories from God-fearing parents whose children have decided to not follow Christ.

You see, training a dog is NOTHING like helping a child discover who God is and guiding them to experiencing a life transforming decision to follow Christ.

We read verses like Proverbs 22:6 and interpret them as prescriptive sayings. We think that if we can just get the right information into children… train them… by teaching them the right stories, the right verses and the right rules then that somehow guarantees that a child will serve God… eventually.

Nonthing we do can guarantee that a child will serve God. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings life transformation. Does that mean that what we do as chidren’s ministers means nothing? Of course not! We are called to plant and water. It is our job to plant the seeds of discovery within children that provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work. We need to create space for the Holy Spirit to work.

So the obvious question is, “How do we do this?” There’s the rub! (Why I just used a very old and outdated expression… I don’t know.) If someone could just answer that deceptively simple question, then a book could be written and all problems would be solved! The even bigger rub is that there are hundreds of books just as many answers to that question. We want the easy answer, the magic pill, the one-size-fits-all solution to passing on faith to kids. The problem is that there is no easy answer. Yes, there are principles to take into account, but how those principles get played out in each context will be different. It takes time and effort and intentionality to work out that answer for each family in each church in each community. Here at Elemental Children’s Ministry we are working through a framework to approach the spiritual formation of children from a missional perspective. The real work comes in taking those principles and fleshing them out for our specific contexts.

What are your thoughts?

What are you already doing when it comes to the spiritual formation of children? And, more importantly, why?

3 Responses to “Train Up a Child”

  1. Sam June 29, 2009 at 2:58 pm #


    I think the biggest misunderstanding of the "Train up a child" is that we connect it to knowledge alone and not as a holistic plan of knowledge, modeling and radical transparency.


  1. Children’s Ministry Links From Around The Interwebs « Children's Ministry Monthly - June 29, 2009

    [...] Train Up A Child ”Dog training is a lot like training a child! Especially when it comes to spiritual training.” [...]

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