This is quite a challenging question, but one that is worth our consideration! It certainly ought to be a challenging question for every parent of unconverted children. I say this because, within the eldership of BBC, we have been discussing, as part of an ongoing pastoral conversation, what Titus 1:6 calls for when it says that an elder must have “believing” children.
Is Paul’s inspired use of the word pistos here to be understood in terms of mere “faithfulness,” such that these children are not “debauched” (riotous) and “insubordinate” (unruly), or is Paul calling for more than that? Added to this is the further issue of how old these children need to be before one draws any conclusions about them spiritually. One hardly expects very young children to be converted. But as we pray for our children, and as we who are parents of older converted children pray for those younger in the church family, it would be constructive to consider briefly what specifically needs to be appreciated here regarding the character traits of qualified elders, and by extension, the ambitions of all God’s people. Lying at an even deeper level is an appreciation for God’s wisdom in adding Titus 1:6 to the mix of assessment criteria for potential elders.
Even those who are least inclined to analysis and assessment will readily admit that what happens in the privacy of homes is not easily known by outsiders or revealed to them. In fact, it is quite easily disguised. Sin and neglect in its many forms are often only appreciated when the consequences are revealed. One factor regarding unbelief in our children is precisely this question: What does the unbelief of my child reveal to others about my home and marriage, and about what happens in private behind closed doors?
Now, a question stated as bluntly as this can easily be threatening and unsettling, as if unbelief on the part of our children is always due to some kind of sinful neglect on our part, when in fact your children may be well on track to believe in due course. In God’s kind providence, they simply haven’t reached that point yet. We must be patient and remind ourselves that we stand or fall before God alone. He is the only one who knows the truth about us and about what happens in the privacy of our homes. But still, the question can be constructively considered by those who want to analyse and assess and be sure that they are on the right track in their parenting and disciple-making process.
One of the obvious blessings of Grace Groups (some may view this as a problem rather than a blessing) is that, in smaller groups—where people are afforded the opportunity to get closer to us and our families, probably even getting an opportunity to get into our homes and seeing us in more intimate settings—some layers are naturally peeled away. These layers can inadvertently be part of the way we stage-manage our personal and family image. We are adept, are we not, at always putting on our best pose for the gathered body on the Lord’s Day? But by means of Grace Groups, over time, we may be comforted and encouraged to drop our guard and show more transparently who we are and how we really function as individuals and households. This is a good thing, given that Christians, by definition, love truth and light (see 1 John 1:5-7).
Our children may be resisting our best efforts to coax them to the Saviour because they are not convinced that what they see of us when no one else is looking is that attractive or desirable. Somehow, children spot pretence and hypocrisy from a distance, and their continued unbelief, their resistance to our best evangelistic overtures, may simply reveal that they are not impressed.
Let me offer an answer to the question being posed here: The unbelief of our children reveals our need for the body. The unbelief of our children highlights our need for others to be admitted to the inside, to our protected private emotional space, so that God can use them to highlight and identify our shortcomings as those who seek to testify credibly to the transforming power of the gospel. This is a very subtle and mysterious dynamic—and it is so by God’s design.
We all have our blind spots. And it is only the process of increasing our level of authenticity and transparency that come by means of regular and meaningful fellowship, which will result in the dropping of the disguises, such that reality can be seen for what it is: reality in the form of anger, cynicism, gossip, a critical spirit, arrogance, racism, pride, self-pity, etc.
So, the unfolding situation as I see it, in its simplest form, looks something like this:
- There is some inconsistency in our Christian testimony. There must be, since the people who know us best have not bought into our world-view and value-system.
- Our unbelieving children, by their persistent unbelief and hardness of heart, draw the attention of the body to this reality.
- By God’s design, the solution is for increased intimacy in Christian fellowship to bring this issue into the light so that it can be remedied by us as we speak the truth credibly to one another.
This is a very positive and constructive process, in which we can all rejoice. We want our children to be converted! We want to be sanctified and have our blind spots removed. God has kindly put Titus 1:6 in the Bible, and has thereby ordained that we not live lives that are superficial and distant, but rather lives that are connected and authentic in our relationships within the local church.