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Discipling Kids in Light of Competing Priorities and Busy Schedules

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The headlines speak for themselves: “The Over-Scheduled Child,” “10 Signs Your Kid Is Too Busy,” “Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids.” Modern children have schedules that would leave the heads of our grandparents spinning. From sports to music lessons, from cooking classes to hours of homework, most children these days have packed schedules.

We have allowed these activities to multiply because we love our children—we want them to be well-rounded and successful adults. Even if we don’t like the pace, we often get on the bandwagon because we don’t want our kids to be left behind. I don’t want to be responsible for my son sitting on the bench during the basketball game or my daughter not getting into her dream college. I love my children and I want opportunities and subsequent success to be available to them.

But is there something more than success?

A Higher Calling
As Christian parents, we have the privilege of teaching our children who Jesus Christ is, our need for redemption, and what it means to love Him above everything else. (Deut 10:12-13, Prov 22:6, Psa 78:4). This is our higher calling. Only the Lord can save our children, but often God uses parents as his instruments of grace.

We want to be faithful. Moses told parents in Israel to continually teach their children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut 6:5). Regarding the Lord’s words, he said, “You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:7). This calling is intimidating and time-consuming, especially when it’s coupled with homework and baseball practice! Christian parents often find themselves making hard choices, determining how best to fill their children’s time.

The Battle of Time
Like the Mommy Wars that pit stay-at-home and working moms against each other, we find ourselves in a new battle: the Kid Wars. Only this battle pits the discipleship of our children against worldly pursuits. The question for many parents is how do we provide opportunities for academic and athletic success while prioritizing Christ and his church?

We can all agree parents must teach their children more than just being Christ-followers. I want my kids to succeed academically, and I find myself regularly explaining algebra and chemistry to my teenagers. I have one child who excels at playing the viola, and we’ve devoted time and money to growing this gift. My oldest is currently spending much free time preparing for the SATs in hopes of opening up college opportunities (and scholarships!)

It’s easy to feel these outside pursuits competing with the discipleship of our kids. But does it have to be this way? There are so many good and worthy pursuits that can be done well, but these pursuits should not be in opposition to the spiritual formation of our children.

We cannot and should not separate Christianity from practical living. In fact, many of our children’s activities are opportunities to show them how to follow Christ in the midst of daily life. The battle for time is real, and each minute is to be stewarded for the glory of God.

Christ First
Christians must daily choose to put Christ first. Christian parents must teach this discipline to their children. This doesn’t just happen on Sunday. It happens in the classroom and on the field. It also happens when we choose to let some opportunities pass by in order to ensure that our time is appropriately devoted to Christ and His church.

I want ask a few questions to help parents see how they can train their children to keep Christ first in the midst of the numerous activities vying for their time.

1. Does this activity keep God central in the life of my child?
Every parent must prayerfully consider how all pursuits can point their kids to Christ and not the world. Our kids should understand that whatever abilities or potential they have is a gift from the Lord. They should understand their responsibility to use that gift to glorify their Maker.

Your child may be on a basketball team where the locker room talk wouldn’t even get a PG rating. This could be an opportunity for them to practice fleeing temptation or perhaps even to speak up for Christ’s sake. Not every child is prepared to do this, but some children can! Much wisdom is needed. My husband and I decided to send two of our children to public high school. They left a spiritually encouraging and academically challenging homeschool cooperative for a much worldlier setting. We wanted them to learn how to keep Christ first while they were still under our roof. I don’t recommend this for every child. Again, much wisdom is needed.

Do your kids may have so many commitments that they simply do not have the opportunity for daily time in the Word and prayer? Even if kids choose not to pursue the Lord in private devotions, we as parents can make sure they have the time to do so.

The Holy Spirit has to be at work in the heart of our children before they can truly keep God central. But as parents, we can train our children to position worldly pursuits around Christ, not in place of Him.

2. Does this activity keep the church central in the life of my child?
The author of Hebrews charges us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together . . . but encouraging one another.” (Heb 10:24–25). We need the church, and the church needs us. The body of Christ is God’s earthly protection for us. We must prioritize being a regular part of it.

We have friends at our church whose girls are amazing swimmers with Olympic potential. These parents have had to sacrifice much for their daughters’ training, but the girls are almost always at church, and the parents work hard to make sure godly young adults are in their girls’ lives. They are a good example of stewarding unique gifts and prizing time with the congregation.

Every parent with a heart for the local church should decide which meetings of the church can’t be missed and then trust God’s sovereignty when saying no to an activity that conflicts. Teach your children early on the importance of church in their lives so it will be their habit in later years.

3. Am I willing to lead my child away from this pursuit?
The rich young ruler in Mark 10 would not give up what he valued most for the sake of eternal life. It’s simple: Christ must be first. If your child is willing to allow sports or academics to come before God and the church, then his biggest problem isn’t his schedule: it’s his soul. The greatest concern of a Christian parent can’t be how much playing time his child gets but whether his child knows the Lord. Yes, the souls of our children are at stake.

If we lead our children to think soccer is more important than God and God’s people when they’re ten years old, do we really think they’ll put Christ first when they are full-fledged adults and a job promotion is on the line?

A Much Bigger Battle
J.C. Ryle put it well in his book Duties of Parents:

This is the thought that should be uppermost on your mind in all you do for your child. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, “How will this affect their souls?”

Faithful parenting is no guarantee of conversion. And, thankfully, we can do all the wrong things as parents and the Lord can still intervene for the good of our kids. God alone saves. I am so thankful for this truth.

But the patterns we place in our children’s lives matter. The extra activities in their lives can be wonderful opportunities to point them to Christ. This is why I’ve encouraged my kids to spend valuable time engaged in pursuits that interest them. God gave them gifts that I want them to steward. But every activity comes at a cost. And I don’t want them to grow up thinking anything is worth more than Christ and his church.

So, let’s not get distracted by the battle over children’s stats and scores. There is a much bigger battle at hand—the battle for their souls. Our greatest responsibility and privilege is to teach our children how to be followers of Christ in the midst of a fallen world. And then, should the Lord save them, we can one day say with John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn 1:4).

Deana Menikoff graduated from University of Oregon and went on to get a Physician Assistant degree from Howard University in Washington, DC. She worked in physical medicine and rehabilitation for nearly a decade before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, where she now resides. She is married to Aaron who pastors Mt. Vernon Baptist Church. They have four children, ages 17-8, their youngest being adopted through foster care.
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