God's plan for shepherding ministry begins when people are young, from birth, the primary responsibility for it being given to parents.
Shepherding is a Parents' Job Description:
Scripture clearly describes the role of parents as those of a shepherd.
- Deut. 6:4-9 - "These commandments . . . Impress them upon your children. Talk about them . . . Tie them as symbols . . . Write them on . . . " --- training that is constant, consistent, deliberate, both modeled and spoken
- Prov. 13:24 - "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." --- training that is corrective and rooted in love, that is proactive not reactive
- Prov. 22:6 - "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." --- training that is personalized and relevant
- Eph. 6:4 - "Bring them up in the training (Greek word: paideia - instruction, nurture, correction) and instruction (Greek word: nouthesia - putting in mind, admonition) of the Lord" --- training both by action and by words
Parents' God-given role closely aligns with the ministry description of shepherds.
Consequently, parenting needs to move . . .
from simply providing for physical needs like food, shelter, and clothing and for the emotional and social well-being of children
to providing for the nurture of their souls, for their spiritual well-being
from simply protecting them from bad people and physical harm
to protecting them from the Evil One and from a world view that leaves God out
from focusing primarily on their behavior
to focusing primarily on their heart
from merely telling them what they should do
to showing them how through the parents' own example
Parental Authority Comes Under the Chief Shepherd:
Parenting is no exception to the way shepherds should act. Just as through any other venue of shepherding ministry, parents are not to exercise control. They are responsible for their children and therefore have a stewardship or entrustment for them . . . but that is not control. They are to train them, discipline them, admonish them, instruct them, and chastise them . . . but that is not to be done as a means of control.
Control exasperates and embitters children. Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 command fathers not to do that.
Control tends to seek one's own agenda. Hebrews 12:7-11 uses God's example for disciplining as that which "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Control grows out of one's own perceived authority. Ephesians 6:4 says that children are to be brought up "in the training and instruction of the Lord." The phrase "of the Lord" takes the agenda and personal authority from the parents and gives it to God.
Control can bring an inconsistency into child rearing as it is often based on the convenience and preferences of the parent. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 leaves no room for inconsistency as training is to take place "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
Control usually stems out of a self-centered heart and is self-serving. Mark 10:42-45 identifies Biblical authority as that which comes out of an other-centered heart and is selfless "for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The source of parental authority is in God Himself. When truly grasped, parents understand their mission to be that of helping their children line up under the authority of the Chief Shepherd, not under their control. They do this by . . .
- developing a Christ-like atmosphere that is Bible-based and grace-saturated
- disciplining with the right motives (i.e., love which seeks the good of the child, not anger or personal offence) and with godly means (i.e., correction, not punishment)
- discipling them in making the right choices using the character and nature of God Himself as the standard
Parents Who Know the Condition of their Flock Tend to do Better at Shepherding:
Proverbs 27:23-24 says, "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever and a crown is not secure for all generations." Replace the word "flocks" with "children" and you will see the value of keeping informed as a parent and of being sensitive to the unique needs and bents of the children. Their future well-being is at stake.
How easy it can be for parents to simply apply Band-aids rather than deal with the root issues and problems. How common it can be for parents to apply a "one size fits all" mentality in child rearing rather than tailor what they do to the child as an individual different than a sibling or different from the parents when they were growing up.
To effectively shepherd, parents must learn the personal bent of each child.
Train a child in the way he should go (according to his bent), and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Prov. 22:6)
To effectively shepherd, parents must learn to discern what is in the heart of the child.
The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. (Prov. 20:5)
To effectively shepherd, parents must be aware of the influences the child faces.
He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (Prov. 13:20)
A Network of Shepherds may be Helpful in a Child's Life But Parents Maintain Primary Responsibility:
God gave parents the primary responsibility of shepherding their children. While the church, teachers, coaches, babysitters, grandparents, and others may influence children, they are not the ones to whom God gave the entrustment of nurture.
The African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child" has some merit, but it must be kept in perspective and it must not be used as an excuse for parents to neglect their God-given responsibility.
- The "village" should only be seen as a supplement to the parents.
- The "village" is not filled with all good influences.
Parents must help children process the teaching and world views they encounter out in the "village" to discern between truth and error, to distinguish what is worldly wisdom and what it godly.
Children will come under many influences. Parents who take their shepherding role seriously must seek the cooperation and alliance of the other significant people in their children's lives.