In the mid 1800’s, Virginia and North Carolina faced an acute shortage of pastors and Bible teachers. R. L. Dabney, Presbyterian pastor and scholar, understood that they were in need of long-term solutions. So in the early months of 1851, Dabney set aside a Thursday to specially address his own congregation in Virginia. He proposed three solutions to the crisis: prayer, education, and mothers. Yep, mommies!
Sean Michael Lucas recounts Dabney’s exhortations in Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life:
‘Christian mothers can do much’ as well. Dabney urged them to ‘teach the child to look upon itself as consecrated to God… In childhood instructing him; in youth wrestling for his conversion; then toiling to pay expenses for education; then in gray hairs hearing him preach; then in heaven, beholding him receiving his crown with many jewels.’
Christian mothers can consecrate their sons to God! Later that same year, Dabney returned to this theme and exhorted his congregation from 1 Samuel 1:27-28:
Dabney urged his congregation to consecrate their male children to the ministry. Dabney claimed that in order to produce young men who desired to enter the ministry, parents should have ‘a distinct, practical purpose… to rear each child, not to be a respectable and pious citizen merely (after the world’s pattern); not to make a fortune in the destined profession; but to rear each one as a workman to labor for souls.’
Parents should examine their sons to determine whether they had ‘natural faculties for the ministry.’ If so, then these young men ‘should be reared from the first to be ministers: but whatever may be their appointed sphere in life, they will be educated especially to be promoters of the kingdom of Christ.’
Consecrate your children, not to make fortunes, but to make disciples. Then even if they’re never ordained as ministers, they will be promoters of Christ in whatever sphere of life they are occupied. That’s sound Christian counsel, friends.
But how were busy, nineteenth-century-parents to pull it off before their kids hit 18? Dabney offered the following practical counsel:
These young men should be taught from their earliest days to minister to their ‘younger brothers and companions’ and to seek to promote the cause of Christ financially by setting apart ‘a portion of his little funds to the mission and the Bible causes.’ And this childhood training, Dabney urged, should then be ‘accompanied with all such education as will best equip him for the glorious work.’ …Dabney appealed to his auditors, urging them to ‘give our children to God and let us educate them for his service, and not for the world.”
I believe that should encourage every Christian parent. You do not have to be a scholarly theologian or an ordained minister to raise one!
Be faithful to sow sound doctrine in the home. Encourage your kids to minister in word and deed to their friends and playmates. Give them an allowance – not as payment for chores, those should be done because they’re members of the household and because you told them to – but to teach them how to steward their resources for the mission of the Church. Then prioritize their education and do so explicitly “for His service, and not for the world.”
It’s always shocking when a Christian parent hesitates or even objects to their child’s desire to pursue a ministry vocation, like the pastorate or overseas missionary work. It happens with a sad frequency. But they do not represent the majority of Christian parents. Sadly, most of us do not even think about it at all.
By their own priorities and schedules, the things they do (and don’t do) with their children, and especially the areas in which they praise their children, most Christian parents communicate that what’s important in life is to make a fortune and retire early enough to spend it all. Oh, and don’t forget to go to church whenever you’re able, so that your “ticket to heaven” is stamped with some measure of authenticity.
Most Christian parents don’t do it intentionally. In fact, most would blush with shame if it ever dawned on them what they’d actually been teaching their children. But it happens just the same because most Christian parents don’t plan or think about how much they can do for the cause of Christ and His Church just by how they raise their children.
Do not ever underestimate the magnitude of raising a child. It’s no small thing. It’s a glorious endeavor.
And the greatness of Christian parenting does not come from the sense of personal satisfaction in your child’s maturation nor even the priceless delights – like spontaneous hugs and unsolicited “Daddy, I wuv you” from your daughter (one of my personal favorites). Rather, our greatest reward as Christian parents lay in the possibility that we may actually be raising a fervent promoter of Jesus’s Kingdom.
Just think of it! Your child could be used as a singular instrument to declare God’s glory in Christ and in the Church “throughout all generations” (Eph 3:21). What more could you possibly do than that?