The Big Lie Evangelicals Tell Christian Parents

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

We have heard it preached from the pulpit for years.

“If you are a good parent and train up your kids in the Christian faith they will not leave the faith.”

I’ve preached it from the pulpit and chances are that you have too.  The problem is this doesn’t work.

Many children of good Christian parents choose to leave the Christian faith every year.  When this happens parents tend to blame themselves.

“What did I do wrong?”

Sometimes parents blame the church and sometimes parents get really mad at God.

Here is the problem.

We have taken this scripture out of context.

We have misused it to say something that it does not say.

Proverbs 22:6 is a parenting scripture.

It’s not a scripture about salvation.

The scripture is simply saying that through consistent discipline you can train your children to behave.

Herein lies the problem.

Salvation does not come through obeying the rules. Click To Tweet

It comes by grace through faith.

If your good works cannot save you, then your good parenting cannot save your kids.

You can be the best parent in the world and make all the right choices, but you cannot save your child from hell.

Only Christ can do that.

One problem is that we mix the scriptures on evangelism and parenting and we tend to think they are the same when it comes to children.

You can make your child clean her room or do her homework, but you cannot make her have a relationship with Christ.

That is something she has to choose to do because she loves Jesus.

Please don’t misunderstand me.

You have a lot of influence over your children and God wants you to influence your kids for Christ just like He wants you to influence your neighbors for Christ.

You cannot make your kids love Jesus, but there are things you can do as a parent that will cause your kids to run to God and there are things you can do that will cause your kids to run from God.

If you are a hypocrite – you act one way at church and another way at home, your kids won’t believe you when your talk to them about Jesus.

Another reason that kids leave the church is legalism.

Many church kids grow up thinking that they can never measure up.

Their parents are inflexible.

They live by a list of do’s and don’ts.

These parents tend to freak out when their kids sin as if they have never sinned.

The concept of grace never seems to enter the conversation.

So, are there things I can do to lead my child to Christ? Absolutely.

Take a look at what God said to the Israelites concerning the Passover lamb in Exodus, Chapter 12.

I am choosing this story because it has nothing to do with a child’s behavior and everything to do with salvation.

“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of thehouses where they eat the lambs… Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants.  When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’   Then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.”

I hadn’t seen this before, but recently I noticed that God instructed the children of Israel to select a lamb four days ahead of the Passover and to bring the lamb into their home.

I believe God did this so the family and the children would become attached to the lamb before the slaughter.

He wanted them to feel the emotion when they sacrificed the lamb.

Just a little bit of the pain that it cost the Father to sacrifice His Son.

This was not a pretty picture.

I’m sure the kids were crying when the lambs were slaughtered.

Then they had to take the blood of their lamb and smear it on the doorpost of their house.

The children of Israel could not save their own kids.

They needed the power of God to save their children.

The powerful Egyptian armies were the ones that were crying in the morning as the Israelites were saved by the blood of the Lamb.

Here are six things we can learn from Exodus, Chapter 12.

1. God did not intend to protect the kids from the emotion of this event. In fact, He wanted them to experience the pain of loss.

2. For kids to have an understanding of the grace of God, they need to have an understanding of the price that Jesus paid for their sin.

3. The Lord wants us to preach the deep things of the Word to our kids. Don’t hold anything back.

4. Parenting and discipleship are two different things.

5. When God does supernatural stuff it makes a powerful impact on our kids.

6. As parents we are very dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead our kids to Christ.

It’s hard, because we are not in control.

The good news is that we don’t have to do it by ourselves.

Did you know? I released a brand new KidMin book called The Red Book that tackles this issue and more in its 45 chapters?I go into this subject in depth, learn how to minster the Gospel To kids in a way that brings real life change. Click here to claim your copy.

Mark Harper

Mark Harper

Pastor, Filmmaker and Coach, Mark Harper has over 30 years of experience in the local church. He is the creator of the Super Church 2.0 Curriculum, which is used in over 5,000 churches worldwide. The focus of Mark’s ministry is helping leaders build strong churches and helping parents build strong families.
Not only has Mark served in the local church as pastor, associate pastor, and family ministry pastor but he is also a certified coach with the John Maxwell Team.
Mark Harper

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41 thoughts on “The Big Lie Evangelicals Tell Christian Parents

    • Jane says:

      I agree! But I think #3 is most powerful. If parents don’t understand the deep truths of what they believe, children will be left defenseless when they encounter the cultures onslaught of false views in college, because they haven’t been taught to know and defend Biblical truths. If the hard questions are never addressed when they are in the home, the children will have no experience or knowledge of how to defend their faith left on their own. Read “Finding Truth” by Nancy Pearcey for solutions.

  1. Merry Bird says:

    Thank you my beautiful Daughter for such a great teaching. How many parents have been able to be perfect in obeying Scripture all the time? You human being you! The Jews, both Mother and Father, taught their children from the time they were in the womb and every day after that. It made them responsible and accountable to God, NOT JUST THEIR PARENTS! Choosing the lamb connected the child to God’s and Adams Covenant of animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sin (the child’s as well of the parents) that we don’t do today because of Jesus sacrifice. The body of Christ has lost a lot of Gods original intent through the separation of the old Testament Covenants (plural) and the new Testament (Messianic Covenant), the Hebrew beliefs and what we have been taught today. The Scripture that’s quoted doesn’t guarantee Salvation, it guarantees that The Word spoken and taught to the child will not return void. How many times have you heard testimony of a man trained up by Christian parents who made bad decisions and ended up in sin who remembered his parents teaching years later and turned to The Lord? The Word lived through the sin and became dominant when the man willed it to do so. God is so good. Blessings.

    • Tolli says:

      man’s voice: obviouse, salvation it’s not a parent’s business, our business is direction, were our kids will move: 4 As arrows [are] in the hand of a mighty man; so [are] children of the youth.
      (Ps.127:4)

  2. Jay C. Dodd says:

    Actually the verse says .”Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is OLD he will not depart from it.” I left the Christian faith after being trained up in it. But I came back when I was older.

  3. Bill says:

    Presumably “The way he should go” would by necessity include salvation. Not by being good kids but by following their parents godly example into salvation by faith. If they believe and receive as children, though they may wonder, yes even to their old age, nothing can separate them from the love of Christ.
    It seems odd to site Scripture based on works (sacrificing the lamb and all the rules that went with it) when earlier contending, and rightfully so, that salvation does not come from obeying the rules.

    For my two cents worth….Yes the Word does work. Well, at least for the FIVE generations of family that I can vouch for.

    • Mark Harper says:

      Bill, I can be the best preacher in the world but that does not guarantee that my listeners will receive the Gospel. I can be best parent in the world but that is not a guarantee that my kids will live for God. They still have a choice.

      • Janet Watanabe says:

        Thanks, Mark, I really appreciate this. One of my children chose the faith, one did not and they were both raised the same. I think it is damaging to blame parents if kids don’t choose to follow Christ. There are no guarantees in parenting! Like you said, only Christ can save them, we don’t have that kind of power.

  4. meshelle says:

    Heard a preacher once explain the difference between the wisdom of Solomon and the promises of God. This is an example

  5. www.lifecartography.net says:

    i have for many years taught that the “train up a child” scripture was out of context. When it was written, ALL kids were raised as good little Jews (or should have been). This verse applies to discovering the natural gifts and talents a child has and leading them to pursue their natural giftings. At least that’s my take.

  6. Josh says:

    Ravi Zacharias has taught that the language of this verse actually lends itself to meaning “it will not depart from him” instead of the common translation or understanding. The child may leave the way they were trained up, but the way they were trained up (on and in God’s Word and precepts from it) will not leave them. They will think about it and be reminded of what they should or could be.

  7. Patrick Holt says:

    Must be something regional or generational!! I am going to turn 66 years old in just 2 days. Now I have been in church all of my life and heard many sermons using this text, but I have never, ever, ever, ever, heard anyone say that this was talking about obeying rules to receive salvation. Never, never, Never. Now your insinuation was that they were teaching that following rules would get you to heaven. Every Preacher or person that i know that teaches concerning Proverbs 22:6 are strong believers in salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Those that I know, which are many, Grace is always what is in the conversation. You did state, “It is not a scripture about salvation.” So you must be stating that people take it as a means of salvation. i have never heard it taught as such. Now as for those who live by a list of do’s and don’ts. Are you trying to tell me that you don’t have a list of do’s and don’ts in your life? I do!! Now YOU want to put a tag on those people and say that following their list is their way of getting to Heaven but i believe you are wrong. Is that what they have stated to you personally? Did they say that my following these rules will earn me salvation? I doubt it!!!! I just believe that statements need to be backed up with true facts.

    • Sandy says:

      I thought the same as you when I read this. I never, ever heard that the following of the do’s & dont’s saves. But, I did realize that in every church, in every home, in every life there are do’s & dont’s & they have nothing to do with receiving salvation. There are simply things you do do as a Christian & there are things you don’t do as a Christian…because of your love for the Lord & because you want to live for Him & want your life to be pleasing to HIM. And why do you want to please the Lord – because you love Him. And why do you love Him – because HE first loved you! Hallelujah! (I noticed nothing was mentioned about rebelliousness in a heart or sin, just sayin’ 😉

  8. Mark Harper says:

    Patrick, you are correct that most people who preach Proverbs 22:6 believe in salvation by grace through faith, but then they contradict themselves by teaching “if you train up your kids in the way that they should go that they will not depart from the faith.” I am simply saying that Proverbs 22:6 does not guarantee salvation for our children. Our kids still have a choice to receive Christ or reject him. Parents can and should preach the Gospel to their children, but they cannot receive Christ for their kids.

  9. Chuck says:

    Great thoughts about the right emphasis. We interpret Pr 22:6 to mean, in part, especially pertaining to small children, that the parent is to train him in listening and self control so that he can hear the word of God when it’s read, preached, and taught so he can hear the Gospel. As we know from Romans 10, it’s thru hearing that a man (or child) receives the Good News. A child can’t hear it if he ain’t listening. Thanks the encouragement.

  10. landie777 says:

    My emphasis, when raising my 3 grown children, was to instill in them a conscience toward God, not just toward me and their dad. The purpose of that was to make them aware that there was a relationship to be had with God, and to make them aware of the character of God. Although much grace was given them in their growing up years, the emphasis was always about having a relationship with God through Christ, and learning to be led by the Holy Spirit.

    Of course, it is understood that all children are under the law while they are being raised by their parents, in regards to behavior. They are given rules by which to live. We all live by rules. We parents teach them how to live and how not to live. Teaching them good behavior is not synonymous with leading them to salvation.

    As far as Pr 22:6 goes, what I have been taught, is that “train up a child in the way he should go” is about creating a desire within them; a hunger. Like giving a child a taste of something when they are young, maybe something sweet, creates in them a desire for it thereafter.

    They will watch our lives and listen to our speech, and they will come to a crisis of faith, if you will, and ultimately have to make a conscious decision about living for Jesus or only for themselves. My oldest son had this crisis in high school. He had already accepted Christ as his Savior, but as he grew older, he realized he was under a lot of pressure to behave a certain way, and his conscience was working overtime. When I realized he was stressed out, I approached him and we had a discussion that initiated a turning point in his young Christian life. He was placing himself under the law. He heard the voice of the Bible and the voice of me and his dad in his head anytime his buddies wanted to do anything that was even just a little questionable. He was beating himself up and he was living in confusion and condemnation.

    The conversation we had emphasized that God is not in Heaven with a spyglass toward Earth, trying to catch us messing up so he can lower the boom on us and wag his finger at us. Jesus said “It is finished”, and indeed His sacrifice paid the price for our sin. We are free from condemnation because of that sacrifice. “Do not use your liberty for an occasion of the flesh” still holds true, but my son learned that day the greatness of the grace of God, and the freedom purchased for Him on the cross. That is when his salvation truly became real to him, and he, and all of my children, are following Christ to this day.

    They each had their own type of faith crisis, personal to them. God used me and their dad to bring clarity through the Word of God being spoken often in our home, by the unconditional love we had for them, that, I think, mirrored that of God’s unfailing love;
    by using the Word of God to make clear the character of God, etc., but ultimately, they chose to give their lives to Christ. I am ever thankful.

  11. Tammy Kihlstadius says:

    I know for a fact that each child is different and even though I trained them all my children (9) the same, they have different walks of faith. Some good, some not so good. What I do know is that God is writing their life’s testimony not me. His calling is true and unique to every person.

  12. Linda says:

    I don’t agree. I see it as a promise of God. I claimed that over my children for years.. I don’t think it an accident or coincidence that my two prodigal daughters are now strong in the Lord, raising their kids in Biblical truths.

  13. Be says:

    I To was raised in a Christian home so I believe that part when they are old they will come back to Christ I am a pastor wife I have seen this In my. Life and the life of others. If they are trained God will bring to their rememberance all the scriptures they learned as children. Sure you have a choice to make as for me and my house we will serve God or if you are not serving God then it’s the devil. I am happy I choose God. Choose you this day. Life is made up of choices.

  14. Carole Flynn says:

    Thank you. I raised my Children, 2, now 37 and 35, I God. The Church hurt my son so badly that now he blames me. I feel betrayed by what I know. It was 25 years of his life. He asked Jesus into his heart at age five, was baptist by his Dad in our then Church. Then we separated and I raised he and his sister on my own in another state. God did miracles for him and he Loved God so much, the came the hurt from leadership. My boy even threaten my life due to the torment he feels. I stand on God’s love and promises for him. I have always thought about this very scripture. Thank you, I was ignorant of the meaning. It has been used as you stated, out of context.

  15. mike says:

    Even you misrepresented the passage. Training up a child in the way they should go is to train them toward “their bent” meaning their gifts. If the are technically minded or musical, encourage them to that. Get them proper training, buy them an instrument, get them in an art class, etc. When they are older it will pay off and they will be a happy person.

  16. deb says:

    The scriptures say ‘they will return to it’ It does not mean that they will never have a rebellious stage, or fall down a time or two like we all do. As parents, we need to provide the best Christ can show through us – patience, love, understaning – of those all around us. Loving the people, not the sin: the grace of forgiveness, don’t forget the log in YOUR eye!

  17. Carl says:

    Three comments:

    I think the article is right on and I appreciate the teaching on it. Good word!

    I think the title is just click bait. I kind of turns me off for that reason. I don’t think it is just evangelicals that teach this and honestly, I have not often heard it taught as a “guarantee” of salvation.

    What do you make of Titus 1:6?

  18. Roger Wealand, (preacher) says:

    Look at that verse again friends……It says , ‘when they are old’ they will not depart’…..some people are not ‘old’ until they are 70. ..They are still acting childish. I am one of them. I am 69.

  19. Terese Alexander says:

    I grew up in a home with my mom as a Christian and my dad was a Catholic..it was a little weird because that always wanted to take us to the Catholic Church I didn’t really care for the Catholic Church I prefer to go with my mom I had a praying mother and you know what everything that we learned in church we strayed from but we knew the truth and we came back to it I am a ChristianI ask God to forgive my sins and I know he did and I thank him for it..

  20. Carolyn says:

    C. here. I agree. God only has children; no grandchildren. Salvation is by grace through faith. It is a gift from God. Consider how God’s kids turned out!

  21. MICHELLE HYDER says:

    Parents don’t understand the word training. Training does not mean to drop off you kids at church and let the teachers take on all the reponsibility of training your child. Training is not a thirty minute, one day a week, fun class at church. Most of our kids are learning the worldview at school…40 plus hours a week. Do you discuss values, have bible lessons, demand your child learn scripture, have family devotionals, really show your children how our christian values shape your world view, and pray? If you don’t train your child, and understand the significance of training verses teaching, then yes you will lose your child when they become an adult.

    • Brenda says:

      I’m a child of a good ole Baptist minister who “DEMANDED” that I learn scripture, frontwards, backwards and upside down. I was 14 before I ever missed a church service. I don’t mean a Regular Sunday morning service, I mean if any of our sister churches within 100miles were having service (revival , missionary’s , bible school etc) we were in church, easily 5-6 times a week. I missed then only because at 14 I could not physically handle the pressure and stress of “HELL FIRE AND DAMNATION” any longer and my body broke down with ulcers, and colon issues from trying to be the perfect SAINT. This article nailed it completely with the church “legalism” Christian’s with common sense and compassion are far more likely to raise children that continue on in the faith.

  22. J. Randall says:

    My Take,
    Pour a solid foundation – “Train up a child in the way he should go”

    Then those years of discovery of not my will, but thy will be done!

    A parent becomes an adviser, and must rely wholly upon God and His ability to bring them (these souls) into His house – His way!

    Accountability before God, Spirit of Truth poured out upon all flesh is bringing the desired conviction of sin and pointing that heart toward the solid foundation that can’t be moved.

    God is faithful to the seed of his calling – It takes time in the natural sense, it can seem painful, and at time dangerous: but the reality is God is working at every turn in the day to accomplish that which only His Word can bring to pass.

    Parents and siblings that are trusting Christ for loved ones;
    Stay confident in the faith: “God is, Almighty”

    Life lived in the carnal realm will wear them out, and down to the knee of salvation from the strength of self.

    ” when he/she is old he/she will not depart from it.”

    Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!

    We are accountable for ourselves before God
    Live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit
    Faith will happen, and the reality of the height-width-length,and depth of God’s gracious Agape will be realized.

    Let your heart not be trouble – Hebrews 4:12-16
    Sharing from the heart of my walk with Him.
    Standing and not letting go of hope!

  23. J B says:

    Remember to that how we as parents handle distress and catastrophes and how we continue to rely on God in the face of devastation is a lamp for the kids to look to when they grow up and start having their own calamities. Stay faithful to God; teach your kids about your love for God: they will be drawn to the peace that you can have by following Him in this manner.

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