Following graduate school, my oldest son, Bryce, informed us that he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail—a 2,200-mile hike from North Georgia to Maine. Being that Bryce’s desire was to spend alone time exploring God’s direction for his life, this six-month to a year journey certainly met the criteria.
I knew that Bryce was a novice because he was raised by me. I attempted only one camping trip during his childhood—a miserable excursion beginning with assembling the tent. I was curious how one remained safely on the trail during such a long journey. He explained that a hiker had to remain focused on the white patches, or blazes, of paint on trees and rocks along the path. These 2×6-inch blazes, over 160,000 in total, served as markers.
These markers brought to mind the physical markers in Scripture following a defining spiritual experience, such as the twelve stones set by Joshua after the priests crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 4:1-9). These stones were to remind future generations to remain on the spiritual path their ancestors had paved. Similarly, the biblical truth found in God’s Word is to serve as the collective authoritative markers—a lamp unto one’s feet, and a light to their paths (Psalm 119:105). Those overseeing a child’s spiritual development are ultimately responsible to paint the markers of biblical truth on the child’s heart. In Deuteronomy 6:6-8, and Psalm 78:1-9, we see God placing this responsibility and privilege on parents, though the circumstances of life can require people other than parents to take this helm.
Although children ultimately will make their own choice to believe, internalize, and follow God’s Word, we must be diligent in the training process. Passing the baton of faith to the next generation is a Christ-follower’s transcendent purpose, and it begins with our children. Perspective, congruency, and resolve are three foundational principles for this training.
A Perspective of Patience
The heart transformation of children is not on a school calendar timeline. It is natural for the spiritual maturation process to continue well into the college years and adulthood. It never really ends, does it? There is an unhealthy pressure within the Christian community that children must be fully mature before graduation. I encourage you to be patient. And above all, remember that we are not the heart-changing agent—Jesus is.
Being patient as we shepherd children includes fostering a culture of redemption in our homes, schools, and churches. In Scripture we see that Jesus rebuked Peter for his poor choices. But do you remember the greatest breakfast of all time when Jesus sought Peter out after the resurrection (John 21:9-14)? He cooked breakfast for Peter on the beach and restored Peter’s shattered spirit after he had denied his Lord three times. A redemptive culture communicates unconditional love for our children—the same love Jesus provided for Peter and the disciples, and the same love Jesus provides for you and me. Unconditional love paves the way for a perspective of patience and builds a redemptive culture.
Being patient with our children also allows us the capability of holding doubt and faithfulness in tension, welcoming hard questions even as we press together toward answers. Create an atmosphere in your family life where doubt is not repressed or rejected but embraced. Encourage your children to ask the hard questions and to examine their faith. Listen to your children. Remain calm and answer questions with integrity. Do not be afraid to say you do not know the answer to a hard question. It is often through one’s wrestling match of doubt that the brightest blazes are painted on the heart of a child. Let us be patient and keep our hope on 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
Coherency, Continuity, and Congruency
In Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen and Davis Gushee (2003) argue that developing a Christian worldview requires a community effort—a child’s family, teachers, coaches, church (pastors and adults), and peer group. The importance of a child witnessing a congruent, or consistent, message from these community influencers is vital. Successfully reaching the destination point of the Appalachian Trail requires a consistent marking strategy. Similarly, maintaining message congruency (similar, or a like-minded belief system) with so many messengers in a child’s community is difficult, but essential to the child’s staying on the path.
The importance of a child being trained by people having a similar coherent biblical and Christ-centered worldview is based on the principle of Luke 6:40: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The obvious inference is that we must carefully consider: What does the spiritual condition of our parent(s) or primary guardian(s) look like? Do we look like Christ? Do the other influencers in the child’s community look like Christ? Collectively, does the community provide a congruent biblical worldview that shapes the mind and heart of the child?
The bottom line is that youth tend to resemble the beliefs and core values of their parents and other significant relationships they have with people in their community. The logical conclusion is that the most important decisions for a child’s spiritual journey will involve the environments to which we entrust our children. An incongruent message typically leads to a fragmented and confusing belief system and worldview. If on a trail children come to a fork in the road, which blaze will they follow? We all know that every day on life’s trail there are forks in the road. A congruent set of blazes, or biblical truth, undoubtedly will impact which road a child chooses.
Internal Strength, Balance, and Resolve
As children are trained, we need to allow God to use trials and tribulations to mold and mature them. We must learn to release our children to God’s care. We cannot see what He sees, and we must trust that His purpose and plan for a child requires God-ordained difficult seasons in life. These experiences build the internal strength, self-discipline, and grit needed to stay on the path.
I want to encourage you to read James 1:2-3 and 1 Peter 1:6-7. Meditate on these verses as you pray for a child in your care. As children grow, we must allow them to go through a healthy level of anxiety and not steal an opportunity for God to work in their lives. It is through these challenging times that a child develops a “struggle muscle.” Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not easy, and neither is walking life’s path. Struggle muscle, grit, and self-discipline must develop. Straying from the spiritual path might not be due to a lack of blazes along the way, but instead might be from a lack of fortitude and a steadfast spirit.
In his book The Body, Chuck Colson (1992) describes the seasoned warrior as a child who has been through hundreds and thousands of small practice sessions—conversations, prayers, discipline moments, trials, Bible studies, and encouragement. These practice sessions become the markers, or the blaze-painting. Bryce conquered the Appalachian Trail. Children can thrive in a secular culture. Let us be diligent in blazing their trails.
About the Author
Dr. Larry Taylor is the president of ACSI. He previously spent 20 years as the head of school at Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA) in Plano, Texas, during which time Dr. Taylor co-launched a national training institute for schools, “Becoming a Kingdom School Institute,” and developed a training program for parents titled, “Becoming a Kingdom Family.” Dr. Taylor authored the book Running with the Horses, which helps parents raise children to be servant-leaders for Christ and helps to build a family plan. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.