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October 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 3 · pp. 253–56 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr


  1. There is a danger that a preacher speak “his mind” too freely. (Woe to the preacher who identifies personal opinion with the mind of God!) Men who love debate are prone to “stir up” people in an effort to get them to think creatively (or just to think). It is possible that such “stirring” preachers consider the resulting fireworks to be an indication of success. Paul’s caution (and rebuke) is in place for those who love controversy for the sake of lively action: “. . .Avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14).
  2. There is a corresponding danger, namely that we fear a ruffling of feathers or a rocking of the boat so much that we preach too cautiously. To regard the great truths of the Scripture only as a refuge, a means to personal security, is to forget that the Word of God is sharp and cuts down into the heart of things. God does not leave his children smug and complacent. When Jesus promised rest for our souls, he did so in conjunction with talk about yoke-bearing and learning. All learning demands change. All growth demands continuing change. And change is unsettling.
  3. Therefore, we who are called to preach are called to apply the truth of God’s Word to our comfortable securities. We dare not tiptoe around our “sacred cows.” Jesus did not hesitate to puncture pharisaical religiosity. Christians who have gotten too snugly comfortable in religious routine need to be upset and unsettled. Among the foremost of those who need an unnerving shocker are the preachers themselves. We get terribly comfortable in our little routines: call to worship—number by the choir—announcements—let us pray—will the ushers come forward please.


  1. You are aware of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis format of the foregoing. You will find this pattern a useful sermon outline. It allows for the treatment of paradoxical truths and their biblical resolution.
  2. The sermon which follows has grown out of an increasing dissatisfaction with the tendency in our churches to add agency upon agency to the church structure. We have almost a compulsive need to incorporate everything that appears to be good. We find it hard to say “no” to a new program, lest people will say we are against outreach, or evangelism, or Christian education, or. . . .

I used the following material in a session with parents of Cradle Roll Children in a Mennonite church in Winnipeg and also on the occasion of Child Dedication in the Elmwood M. B. Church.



Don’t Let Others Usurp Your Place!

Key Truth: In the face of the danger of losing our parental role to usurpers, we must give ourselves in obedience and in confidence to the task of bringing up our children for God.

  1. There is danger that parents leave their task to others.
    1. Symbolically this shift takes place already at birth, where it is the doctor who “delivers” the baby.
    2. The shift continues in kindergarten and mini-school, where the “important” things are done. The basic educational principle of our culture is: remove and teach. Mother becomes a babysitter.
    3. The process continues on the playground. There training in cooperation, training in relationship to peers, and training in game skills takes place. Parents assume the lesser task of feeding the children, washing their jeans, and buying new runners.
    4. The usurping increases through grade school and reaches its apex in junior high and high school.
      1. Children are taught stuff of which the parent is ignorant. Since the parent cannot help the child with his schoolwork, the child stops asking for help. Thus the parent is cut off as a teacher of attitudes, of values, of ethical principles as well.
      2. Indeed, parents encourage outside of the home activities, where the child develops a peer group mentality, which is to say that the significant things that happen to him happen within his own age group.
      3. The parents provide for immediate needs: tuition, food, and excuse slips for absences, while the school does the significant training for long-range needs, further usurping the teaching/ training role of the parent.
    5. The Sunday School in our churches has copied the educational system of our culture.
  2. Yet the task of training children has been committed by God to parents.
    1. Parents are commissioned to teach children (Deut. 6:1-9)
      1. God wants to be a living presence with children, and therefore he has assigned the training task to parents. When the public education system says “remove and teach,” it is violating one of God’s basic ordinances. By doing so the schools shape the child’s attitude not only to life, but also to the parents. The child comes to feel that what is important and useful comes to him outside the home.

        The Sunday School has fallen into that same trap. The teachers have largely replaced the parents. And many parents are quite happy to let someone else do their religious work for them. And thus the child’s attitude is confirmed, namely that the parent doesn’t know, and that what the parent wants to teach is unimportant.

        It is incomprehensible, but true, that parents who feel inadequate for teaching their children the great spiritual, biblical, truths are quite happy to turn over the job to sixteen-year-old Sunday School teachers. {255}

      2. Compare this with Timothy’s early training (2 Tim. 3:15). The Word of God must be kept close to the real-life situation, and therefore God asks the parent to keep the child close to him so that the child will see how the Word relates to what the parent does (written on the hands), how the Word applies to the decisions the parent makes and the directions he takes (the word as frontlets between his eyes), and how the Word is used as the starting point for the day and the point of orientation for evaluating the day at its close. (Cf. Deut. 6:4-9)
      3. The church’s task is to help the parents do what God commissioned them to do, not to do it for them. (Cf. Titus 2:4-5)
    2. Parents are instructed to witness to their youth. (Joshua 4:19-22)
      1. Parents are not only to clarify truth but to tell what God has done for them.
      2. Much of our religious experience and commitment is symbolized in some way. In the text deliverance is symbolized by a monument. We symbolize spiritual reality in communion, baptism, tithing, church participation, etc.
      3. These symbols cause a child to ask questions and the question is the occasion for witness. Even when the question comes in a negative tone, the parent should witness to the sacred relationship he has with God in a simple, honest, and convincing way.
    3. Such parental training has promise. (Proverbs 22:6)
      1. The reference is not to mechanical habit or regularity of performance. Rigidity of practice in childhood is no guarantee for later obedience to God. Indeed, forced and meaningless religious practice may be harmful.
      2. The word “to train” has reference to early mothering. The word roots in the practice of Hebrew mothers to smear the palate of the child with a kind of sticky material which would cause the child to want to drink. It is the parent’s responsibility to engender in the child a deep desire for that which the parent has. This kind of desire is communicated more by an undercurrent of relationship than by mere directives. Only a genuine faith can be thus transferred.
    4. Parents who refuse to accept this responsibility are in danger of sacrificing their children to non-gods. (Jeremiah 7:30-31)
      1. If we do not allow God to be God and if we make his house less than he wants it to be, using the Christian fellowship to serve lesser and selfish ends, then our religion is phony and our real gods are elsewhere.
      2. The consequence of such religious practice is that we will sacrifice our children at pagan shrines (profession, success, money, prestige, education).
      3. On the other hand we may make idols of our own children, sacrificing ourselves to them. In either case the child recognizes the rejection.
      4. We tremble in the face of this tremendous responsibility and in the face of this constant danger. When my wife and I go out for the evening and find later that our son has broken through the controls which we had set, is he really saying to us, “You should have been {256} here to check me?”
      5. It is a comfort to know that a child can forgive easily and that he is very quick to recognize a change of heart in us. So let us be humble, acknowledge where we have done wrong, confess it to God and to our children, and assume the task which God has given us.


    1. Our children are a trust from God, as well as a treasure (Psalms 127, 128). To shrug off the responsibility is to resist God. To take the job from other parents is to play God.
    2. Let us assume our duty courageously and oppose every effort, even those of “the church,” which seeks to make us less than parents.

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