22 Sep Preparing Our Children for Their Mission in Life
Published September 22, 2020
By Andreas Köstenberger, PhD, and Margaret Köstenberger, PhD
One of the most exciting privileges of parenting is helping guide our children toward their mission in life. As parents help their children discern their calling from God and discover their natural and spiritual gifts, the children can learn to serve the Lord in their church and move toward choosing a life vocation. Helping them in this way requires a listening approach to your child and to God. What are your children’s strengths? What is the best way for them to pursue their calling? How should they go about choosing a life partner? How do we guide them to discern God’s will for their lives?
THE MISSION OF GOD
Rather than focus primarily on God’s individual mission for your child—or yourself—it is instructive to start with God’s own mission. Once we have a clear picture of God’s mission in this world, we’ll be able to see more clearly how we each can join God in his mission. So, what is God’s mission? This question entails biblical theology, that is, a study of the story line of the Bible to discern God’s overall plan. Like a symphony, it is helpful to view the story of Scripture as unfolding in four movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Within these four movements, consummation corresponds to creation, and redemption corresponds to the Fall.
“In the beginning,” the Bible tells us, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Bible presupposes God’s eternal existence. Those who don’t believe in God should contemplate that there is abundant evidence in our world for the existence of a master designer and creator. What is more, not only did God create the heavens and the earth in general, He created you and your children specifically. By getting married and starting a family, you’re already fully engaged in God’s mission, for the Creator charged the first couple, who had become one flesh in marriage, to multiply and fill the earth. Thus, marriage and family are a central and integral part of God’s purposes for humanity generally and for each of us individually.
In exploring God’s mission, people in the church often start immediately with the Great Commission which is found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:18–20). The risen Jesus’s commissioning of the eleven apostles as representatives of the church is indeed a climactic moment in Jesus’s mission and vital in understanding His purpose for His new messianic community, the church. However, if you start there, we believe you’re missing some important dimensions and entailments of God’s mission in this world that affect you and us very directly. Specifically, you’re missing the fact that the Great Commission isn’t just addressed to followers of Christ generically but to these followers specifically as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers. Being a Christian will play itself out in community, in teamwork, and in the local church by merely living out His design for you as man and woman. In this way, the Great Commission builds on God’s original purpose for creating humanity in the first place, extending God’s glory throughout the earth as man and woman partner in the procreation of children and thus exercise dominion on His behalf.
At this point in this brief overview, we must introduce the second movement in the biblical story, the Fall of humanity. If the Fall hadn’t occurred, God’s purpose for marriages and offspring would have resulted in families spreading the knowledge of the Creator to the ends of the earth by extending and reflecting His image and likeness throughout the earth. However, the Fall introduced a major complication—to put it mildly—into the divine mandate for humanity. When Eve took of the forbidden fruit and Adam followed suit, the result was that now all of humanity was implicated, and all are now considered to have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Think of it as a broken mirror. You can still look at it and see your face, but your facial features will be distorted, and you’ll need to get a new, unbroken one, to see the true image. You just can’t adequately fix a broken mirror.
Something similar happened to humanity when Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command. They could no longer fulfill God’s original mandate for them—which wasn’t merely to marry and have children (though this continues imperfectly in our world with believers and unbelievers alike), but originally was an institution created to reflect His image and glory. Now marriage and family can reflect God only imperfectly, like a broken mirror. In fact, God expelled the first man and woman from His direct, immediate presence in the Garden; so now sinful human beings could no longer live in God’s presence but were instead separated from Him. What makes matters worse, there’s nothing they (or we) could (can) do to save themselves (ourselves) from this exceedingly serious predicament. With the apostle Paul, we cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Once humanity had rebelled against God, people had become impotent to save themselves and fulfill His mission. The next move was up to God.
And, thank God, he did move, albeit very slowly, in what constitutes the third movement in the biblical story. Over the course of Old Testament history, God gradually exposed human sin—especially in the universal flood—and then chose individuals in and through whom He would act redemptively in the Messiah. He chose a man named Abram (later renamed Abraham) and promised that in him, through his descendant, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3). Later, he chose Moses and appointed him to lead His people Israel out of bondage in Egypt and to give them the Law, communicating His specific expectations (the standard of righteousness) in the interim between the Fall and the coming of the Messiah (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Later still, He chose David to rule His people Israel as a caring shepherd, the forerunner of the Messiah, who would be called the “Son of David” (2 Samuel 7:13–14). Then, in the “fullness of time,” God’s appointed time, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, by dying on a Roman cross for the sins of the world (Galatians 4:4–5). At this point, we’re given the opportunity to be brought back into the presence of God and to experience reconciliation and deliverance from our eternal separation from Him. The rescue is available only through Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). All we need to do is to accept God’s gift of salvation and trust Christ, and Him alone, to be our Savior and Lord.
This is the movement in God’s story—God’s mission—in which we live out our lives and equip our children to do so today. The fourth and final movement, the consummation of this story, is yet to come. So, how does parenting fit into the biblical story? What does it have to do with the very mission of God?
Simply put, our mission is this: as Christian parents, we’ve been reconciled to God and are again able to live in God’s spiritual presence through Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We’re part of redeemed humanity, which is again enabled to make God known and to reflect His glory on this earth. How are we to do this: as generic individuals? No—as redeemed men and women who as married couples reproduce and procreate children who in turn need to be reconciled to their Creator and be taught about the wonderful salvation God provided when He sent His beloved Son to die for us on the Cross.
Our mission in making disciples—God’s mission for us—starts in the home. Our first disciples should be our own children! If we neglect to prioritize this vital stewardship of discipling our children, little else we engage in will matter much for eternity. If we’re not committed to making our families and homes a place of mission, then something is off balance. Not that we should stop there—rightly understood, we should be Great Commission families, united in purpose, bonding together in love, embracing and fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives individually and jointly, and consider ultimately the church is the family of God made up of those who are spiritually brothers and sisters in Christ. This constitutes a full-orbed understanding of the mission of God and of the way in which we participate in it.
THE MISSION OF PARENTING
Parenting, therefore, is more than merely training and disciplining your children for a productive life on earth. It’s more than taking them to football practice, dance recitals, and music lessons. It’s even more than taking them to church and memorizing a few (or plenty more) Bible verses (though that’s a great start). Parenting, rightly understood, is mission. In fact, it’s part of God’s mission for the world, and specifically for you and your spouse. In bringing children into this world and in raising them to love and serve God, you are part of God’s mission.
This involves nurturing Christlike character in our children rather than merely giving them an education, no matter how excellent. It also requires that we take a long view of God’s purpose for them, so we won’t get caught up in the daily minutiae but parent responsibly, with purpose and perspective. It requires acknowledging and adhering to the God-ordained roles for men and women, so that the mother can nurture her children and care for them while the father is encouraged to lead and provide for his family.
HELPING THEM FIND THEIR PLACE IN THIS WORLD
God made each of us unique, with a certain set of gifts and a special calling. Like a Christmas present, this calling and these talents (and spiritual gifts upon conversion) are wrapped in a neat (or not so neat) little package which is your child. Usually we’ve found in our own lives is that what a child gravitates to early on ends up being central to their ministry and vocation later. Over the years, try to help them unpack that gift. Observe your child and see what he or she is good at. All of us are good at something! The joy is finding out what that is and then developing that gift, and we can help our children to excel in this.
Take our younger daughter as an example. As she grew and developed as a teenager, she showed an interest in healthy eating. She started reading about nutrition and discovered its value for physical well-being. As part of her interest in healthful diet, she encouraged us to buy healthier food. This wasn’t part of any class or external influence, it was motivated by what was in her heart. She entered college in a generic field, not sure if she could handle the sciences, but still switched to nutrition, trusting God to enable her to succeed. She graduated with a Masters in Human Nutrition and started work in a hospital as a Registered Dietitian.
Things won’t always be simple and straightforward, but if we’re observant, we’ll often be able to help our children discern their passions and drives in life and assist them in developing their gifts. Being able to find a vocation that they’re good at and that they enjoy doing will be a tremendous blessing for them and those around them. This, of course, is an ongoing story. It’s our hope that God will use our daughter’s education and passion in the context of her family and in ministry to other families as well. We’re waiting to see how God will develop her and our other children and in what direction he will take them in the years to come.
Note: The above article is excerpted from Chapter 9, “Mission,” in Andreas & Margaret Köstenberger, Parenting Essentials: Equipping You Children for Life (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2020), 125–30. Used by permission.
Dr. Andreas Köstenberger is Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of the Center for Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Dr. Margaret Köstenberger, jointly teach a course as recurring adjuncts at Shepherds Theological Seminary. This course, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is an introduction to the biblical teaching on men and women, including the uniqueness of their roles in the home and the church. It traces the biblical theology of marriage and the family through Scripture. Related topics addressed in addition include parenting, singleness, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and family requirements for church leaders.