“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” is a proverb and not a promise and the words “train” and “go” contribute much to this conclusion. Bruce Waltke explains how, “The relatively rare imperative dedicate ḥănōk (train) means, to start the youth off with a strong and perhaps even religious commitment to a certain course of action.” Frank Gaebelein illuminates the importance of training a child early in life, and how the NEB translation captures exactly why early instruction is paramount in this proverb: “Start a boy on the right road is used to express ‘in the way he should al-pi darko (go).’ The way the verse has been translated shows that there is a standard of life to which he should go. Of course, he would have to be young enough when change for the better was still possible. The consequence is that when he is yazqin (old), he will not depart from it.” A learned behavior early in life is much easier to develop than breaking bad habits, overcoming addictions, or healing hurt and shame from past and future mistakes.
God calls every believing parent to train his or her children in the Christian faith and this model can be traced back to Abraham (Genesis 18:19), Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:1-12; Exodus 12:25-28), and any Jewish home as the primary place for spiritual training (Proverbs 1:8). A paradigm shift must occur in the family, the church, and the foundation of Christian education for the gospel message to reach the lost and hurting. Satan hates the family because it is something God created and loves, so any chance the enemy has to drive a wedge between families, he will do whatever is in his power to do so. Satan has been so successful in this strategy that there is now an entire generation of spiritual orphans, often referred to as the “fatherless generation.” Many of these children are past the young age where he or she is most open to receiving the truth of the gospel message. For these children, the issue the church must deal with is: “how to convey there is a heavenly Father who loves them when his or her earthly father abandoned them or worse…” Lynn Wray emphasizes, “the most important task the Lord has assigned parents is to make disciples of our children and our own hopes and dreams come second. We do not make them disciples; that is the Lord’s and the Holy Spirit’s job to do the transformative work, but we are tasked with being a strong influence and impacting their lives.” Waltke further shows, “Israel’s moral primer in this initiative refers to religious and moral direction, not professional activity. Although the age of the youth naʿar can vary from infancy to adulthood, a child is certainly in view in. He can be molded by verbal instruction and by corporal punishment. Since he is still teachable, the dedication must take place while there is still hope.” The days of no child being left behind is a distant memory, as traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. Reggie Joiner explains, “Research shows that even active children [in church] receive only forty hours or so of biblical instruction each year from their churches. Parents, on the other hand, have more than three thousand hours a year in which they are constantly ‘teaching’ their children in some way.” Jay Strother further explains the importance of this discipleship model because, “The home has the greatest impact on young lives; with few exceptions, and if we fail to impact the home, we will never make a lasting impact on students.”
Choices have consequences and many people, especially younger ones, learn life-lessons the hard way. However, Tyndale shows, “Many parents want to make all the choices for their child, but this hurts him or her in the long run. When parents teach a child how to make decisions, they don’t have to watch every step he or she takes. They know their children will remain on the right path because they have made the choice themselves. Train your children to choose the right way.” One of the biggest problems facing many parents today is a desire to be the child’s friend instead of being a parent, because being a parent requires doing things that might upset the child. This mentality is backwards and has caused many children to never be trained properly from a young age, resulting in a life full of bad decisions and regret. Robert Hughes and Carl Laney demonstrate, “The words ‘to choose the right path’ literally translate ‘according to his way,’ that is, the child’s habits and interests. The proverb ultimately teaches the duty of reinforcing a child’s interests and abilities during the early years of life.” Wray identifies just how critical discipleship is and then demonstrates its ability to happen in formal and informal settings. Wray explains, “Formal times include instances, which are set aside to engage in devotions, family altar, and faith talks.” Wray then explains the importance of these times when children are young because a child’s mind is like a sponge soaking up all the information and influences it is immersed in. As children get older, Wray stresses, “Informal times are crucial because children are being bombarded with social influences and the relationship between parent and child is also strained.” The Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is a great example of the discipleship model and is also a great illustration of the immense amount of time involved in forming an intimate relationship with children. Wray also stresses the importance of having one-on-one time with children and doing things each child enjoys, making them feel important and demonstrating one’s care for their interests. Tyndale further explains:
In the process of helping our children choose the right path, we must discern differing paths for each child. It is natural to want to bring up all our children alike or train them the same way. This verse implies that parents should discern the individuality and special strengths that God has given each one. While we should not condone or excuse self-will, each child has natural inclinations that parents can develop. By talking to teachers, other parents, and grandparents, we can better discern and develop the individual capabilities of each child.
Issues that might impede the training of a child in the way he or she should go can stem from one or both parents not being Christians. In the case of one parent believing and the other not believing, the child or children can get caught in the middle and this dynamic presents lots of challenges, but as Wray reminds, “We cannot do the job on our own strength, but God can.” It takes perseverance and reliance upon God, because in the Lord’s hands, the biggest mess can be transformed into a beautiful message of His mercy and grace. Other factors that could impede the training of a child are the absence of a parent(s), times when the child or children are being raised by relatives or possibly even the state, or instances where Christianity is the cultural minority and/or Christians are being persecuted. Despite these factors, Tedd Tripp explains the importance of, “Understanding your child’s inner struggles and the need to look at the world through his or her eyes. This will enable you to know what aspects of the life-giving message of the gospel are appropriate for conversation.” Every child grows up to be the culmination of his or her own life experiences, so the past plays a huge role in training a child in the ways he or she should go. Some children feel as though their past defines them, while others are able to rise above it, but without Christ, there is still feel a void left inside. Poverty is an ever-increasing reality and can also impede a child’s upbringing. Telling people about how amazing God is when they are starving and do not have a roof over their heads is putting the wagon before the horse. One’s immediate and core needs must be addressed before earning the right to speak into their life. The family is the model God designed and implemented for His Word and instructions to be passed onto future generations and for children, some of the most important lessons in life are caught and not taught, simply because children imitate what they see. As parents and teachers, Michel Mitchell emphasizes, “we are always: being watched, being followed, and being imitated, so Mitchell encourages parents and teachers to be someone worth watching (I Thess. 1:5; I Cor. 11:1), to do something worth following (Acts 5:12; Matt. 20:34; Mark 10:52; Acts 8:11-13), and to saying something worth imitating (I Thess. 2:8; Luke 6:40). Tripp then explains the importance of cultivating a child’s heart towards God because, “There is no such thing as a place of childhood neutrality; your children either worship God or idols. These idols are not small wooden or stone statuary; they are the subtle idols of the heart: fear of man, evil desires, lusts, and pride. These idols include conformity to the world, embracing earthly mindsets, and affections on things below.”
What is important to remember is God has no grandchildren or great-grandchildren, each and every person is a child of God and it is with this mindset every follower of Christ should be seeking out the spiritual orphans and adopting them into the family of God. A parent’s authority comes directly from God and as Tripp explains, “Parents are God’s agents sent to help children understand the need for God’s grace and forgiveness and we are to look to God to give us strength and wisdom for the task.” God is not limited by what we lack or what we are afraid to do; “He is calling each and every believer out to the deeper waters, deeper than one’s feet may wander, but where with His presence one will walk upon the water, and one’s trust will be made without borders.” Ultimately, the heart determines behavior, so as Tripp emphasizes, “You must help your child learn to ask the questions that will expose the attitude(s) of their heart and direct them towards God.”
Barna, George. Revolutionary Parenting. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007.
Estes, Daniel J. Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1 – 9. Edited by D.A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.
Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.
Joiner, Reggie. “Clearing Up Family Ministry Confusion,” www.orangleaders.com (accessed April 3, 2017).
Mitchell, Michael. “The Pillars of Personal Ministry,” HOMI: 601 The Ministry of Teaching, 2013, 1-9.
Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Study Guide Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.
Renfro, Paul et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. Edited by Timothy Paul Jones. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009.
Thompson, Tad. Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2011.
Tripp, Tedd and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008.
Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Revised and Updated 2nd Edition. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2005.
Tyndale. Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.
Waltke, Bruce K. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976, 203.
Wray, Lynn and Dan Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 12:23. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588847_1 (accessed April 2, 2017).
Wright, Steve and Chris Graves. ApParent Privilege: That the Next Generation Might Know… Royal Palm Beach, FL: InQuest Ministries, 2008.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 1059.
 Lynn Wray and Dan Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 12:23. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588847_1 (accessed April 2, 2017).
 Paul Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009), 143.
 Tyndale, Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1041.
 Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 235.
 Wray and Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers.”
 Tyndale, 1041.
 Michael Mitchell, “The Pillars of Personal Ministry,” HOMI: 601 The Ministry of Teaching, 2013, 1-9.
 Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 21.
 Ibid., 35.
 Hillsong United, Oceans: Where Feet May Fail, Zion, 2013.
 Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 5.