Parents are called to shepherd their children. In so doing, parents are to provide for the needs of their children, to guide them in the way of truth and righteousness, and to guard them from the ways of the world and the waywardness of their hearts.
In describing the work of a shepherd, the Apostle Paul lays out a helpful description in his meeting with the Ephesian elders at Miletus.
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:27–28 NASB95)
Notice the order of care. Like airline passengers being told to put the oxygen masks on themselves before tending to their children, so Paul tells us that shepherding our children begins with shepherding ourselves. The gospel needs to conspicuous in our own lives. The grace of God that frees us from sin’s bondage and brings us to Christ (Titus 3:3-8) must flow out in lives centered on Christ (Titus 2:11-14).
Parents shepherd primarily through ministry of prayer and the Word (cf. Acts 6:4). They are to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (cf. Eph. 6:4), feeding them the nourishment of God’s truth and correcting them against the pull of sinful misalignment that resides in the heart to go their own way. The classroom for instruction is life itself (cf. Deut. 6:4-9), in which parents teach and illustrate what life looks like under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Equally important and perhaps more emphatic in this endeavor is prayer. Shepherding is carried out through ministry of prayer and the word. We see that order in both the Old Testament (1 Sam. 12:23) and New Testament (Acts 6:4). To be faithful shepherds of those under their care, parents must be faithful in prayer for their children. Just as lack of shepherding involvement in the lives their children is tantamount to child abuse (Prov. 13:24) , so prayerlessness amounts to parental malpractice.
What does parenting prayer look like in practice? Parents need to pray for their children and with their children. They need to model prayer, so that children see prayer as ordinary rather than extraordinary, see prayer as the reflex of knowing God, and be drawn to emulate their parents’ prayer lives.
Wisdom psalms like Psalms 1, 19 and 119 provide fodder for such prayer. Paul records examples of prayer for spiritual growth that fit well the task of praying parents.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11 ESV)
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9–12 ESV)
Let me close with a prayer that was passed along as part of my church’s parenting group, Covenant Keepers. It serves as a prayer for parents to be the faithful shepherds God has called them to be.
…that we will be instructing our children in the ways of God, teaching them the wisdom of fearing the Lord, putting our trust in him and in things unseen. Help us to counter the messages they receive in the world every day that there is no God and that satisfaction is to be found in achievement, education, partying. Thank you, Lord, for the Proverbs as a tool to teach our children your wisdom.