Here are two more suggestions for raising children who believe and love the gospel:
3. Put your local church at the center of your family life. Communal practices shape our hearts. Children of Christian parents should be shaped, from the earliest age, by communal practices of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service in a local church. Even before they become church members (I’m writing as a Baptist), our children can still be shaped and developed by the communal practices of a local church community. While primary responsibility for the education of my children falls on me, I would be a fool to neglect the means of grace that God has given through faithful Sunday School teachers, pastors, and others who can have such a tremendous influence on my children in their formative years.
While I understand the thinking behind children’s church, and while I believe God can certainly use such a ministry, I am not a big fan of it. Children learn by observation and participation. I favor the practice of allowing them to observe and gradually learn to participate in the corporate worship of the church from the time they are old enough to sit still through it all. And, of course, training children to sit still for long periods of time can be challenging as well, but with time, patience, and good strategy, it can be done.
My goal for my own children is that they may grow up knowing that our church is a special gathering of people who walk with one another as disciples of Jesus. Years of participation in the practices of a church cannot help but play a formative role in their lives and ensure that they hear the gospel regularly.
4. Integrate discipleship into the day-to-day aspects of life. It is interesting that the preeminent biblical passage on teaching children God’s Law (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) emphasizes the ordinary activities of life as the context for such teaching: “You shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Be careful of adopting the mentality that discipling your children is all about planning structured times of family worship. I think that is an important practice, but not as important as showing your children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the ordinary things of life. As life experiences happen, take opportunities to use them as teachable moments. Did your son have a rough day at school? Talk with him about how his heart is responding to God and others as a result of that. Is your daughter struggling with the way she looks? Teach her the importance of finding her identity and justification in Christ, and show her what the Bible teaches about beauty. Have you recently enjoyed a family movie night? Take a moment to explore the worldview ideas communicated through the movie and show how they compare to Scripture (and, by the way, this can be done even with very young children who don’t even know the word “worldview”). Be alert to opportunities to draw your children’s hearts and minds to the gospel over and over again.
What ideas do you have about grounding our children in the gospel? What practices have worked well in your family? Please share with us.