One of the most difficult and painful things to watch is when a covenant child commits apostasy and abandons the faith. It is a tragedy when a child who has been raised in the church, taught to love Christ, and then he or she walks away. Given the fears of apostasy many Christians try to put forth parenting rules—if you follow certain principles you will ensure that your child will not apostatize. I have had some parents try to give me parenting books and claim that it’s the biblical approach to child-rearing. Others have told me to teach children to give first-time obedience (i.e., they respond immediately and obediently to your instruction)--this rule will ensure your child stays on the right path. I understand this mentality—I understand the desire to find the right method to ensure your child never abandons the faith.
But on the other hand, over the years I’ve seen many parents do all the right things and nevertheless the child still abandons the church. I know of Christian parents who catechized their children, taught them to love Christ, set an example of godly piety for their child, ensured they memorized Scripture, attended Christian schools, and yet their children still apostatize. I know of multiple instances of this happening. So, then, what’s a parent to do?
The best parenting advice I can give as a pastor is twofold. First, do everything you can to foster your child’s spiritual growth. To use a Pauline metaphor, water, fertilize, and carefully tend the seedling that the Lord has given you. Do everything you can continually to place Christ in your child’s life, whether through devotions, the means of grace, worship, and by modeling piety in your home. Nothing can undermine a child’s faith more than watching you say one thing and doing another. Sunday Christianity is a surefire way to alienate your child from Christ. That is, if you act like a Christian on Sunday and then a spawn of Satan the rest of the week, then your hypocrisy will definitely pay negative dividends in the lives of your children.
Second, I think regardless of the specific parenting techniques that you use (parenting books, methods, or principles), the most important is continually to be on your knees in prayer on behalf of your child. I regularly pray that Christ would guard my children and never let them out of his hands.
In the end, we can water, nurture, and care for the sapling that God has given us but, God’s Spirit must provide the Son-shine—the light of Christ’s gospel that causes the growth and maturity. We must ultimately entrust our children into the hands of Christ because he is the only one who can save them. In the event that your child has apostatized, don’t give up hope. As long as they live and draw breath into their lungs there’s always the hope of restoration, reconciliation, and repentance. In such cases call upon the church to hold your child accountable to his or her baptized state. Call upon fellow Christian brothers and sisters to pray on behalf of your prodigal that she might return. Always remember that Christ is greater than all of our sins and even those of our children. Pray that the Shepherd will doggedly pursue your lost sheep and bring her back to the fold.