How can we pass on our faith to our children? How can we create a faith that they want to follow…a faith that is “sticky”?
Passing the faith on to our children is the most important job we have as parents.
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But how do you have a faith that sticks when kids seem to be at different levels of development and vary in spiritual sensitivity? Faith development isn’t like baking cookies, where adding the right ingredients produces a predictable outcome. Rather, spirituality grows when the Holy Spirit connects with the human heart and children experience God’s grace.
There are certain things we can do to encourage spiritual growth in our kids. Some of those things are easy, such as taking our children to church, praying before meals, and memorizing Scripture. And other things are more complex, such as spontaneous prayer, talking about God’s will, and applying biblical truth to life.
Here are three principles from Deuteronomy 6 to guide your thinking as you seek to help each child build his or her own personal relationship with God, whether that child is responsive, resistant, or questioning his or her faith.
The Model – Start with yourself
If you’re growing spiritually, your children will see it. Deuteronomy 6:6 begins the process by focusing first on the parent’s own spiritual growth. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” This is a command. A command is meant to be obeyed. We can’t guarantee that our faith will stick with our children, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. The outcome is in God’s hands; obedience is in mine.
Realize that your child’s growth depends on your own!
We can’t give someone something if we don’t have it ourselves. We can’t expect our children to grow up with enthusiasm and love for God if they see that we, their parents, are halfhearted or hypocritical about our faith.
Be sure your behavior matches your words.
In reality, too many parents are saying to their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Parents today do not practice the virtues they want to instill in their children. This makes the children resentful. Religious instruction for children should be a natural outgrowth of parents who genuinely love God and make every effort to please Him. If your children are not following God the way you would like, take a look at your own faith. Be intentional about this!
Be enthusiastic about your faith.
Are you genuinely excited about your faith in Jesus? Do you gladly live for Him? Do you share that joy and excitement with your children? Are there visible areas of disobedience or hypocrisy in your life that have the potential to turn your children away from Christianity in contempt or disgust? Or are you modeling the Christian life for your kids?
You might make it a habit to keep a prayer journal about specific things you’re praying for regarding each of your children. Or, look for Scriptures that apply to your family and to the needs of your children. As you see God at work in your life, you’ll have something to share with your children. Your spiritual transparency can increase your child’s desire to know God personally.
In verse 7 of Deuteronomy 6 we find a specific goal stated for parents. Referring to the commands of God, the verse says, “…teach them diligently unto thy children.” What it’s saying is to teach in a clear, direct, incisive way. It isn’t enough to share your own ideas about how to be successful in life. Be sure to share God’s truth with your children.
An important way to model the Christian faith to children is to make sure we’re spending valuable time with them. Many pressures are pulling families apart. Faced with a shortage of time, some parents don’t give their children the personal attention they need. Parents are too busy working, watching TV, or spending time on the internet. They neglect their children’s need for attention, interaction, and conversation. Such families grow apart rather than together.
“The Common Sense Census” paints a clear picture about how much daily screen time the average young child experiences:
Children under age 2 spend about 42 minutes
Children aged 2 to 4 spend 2 hours and 40 minutes
Children aged 5 to 8 spend nearly 3 hours (2:58) with screen media daily.
Three hours in front of a screen is precious time that we can’t get back! It’s hard to build a relationship if there is constantly a screen in front of you.
Family life can also become strained at times when all the busyness of life generates pressure. Remember that it’s through relationship that values and convictions are passed. That’s why, referring to the commands of God, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “…talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Use relational moments to teach, explain, and illustrate God’s Word.
Mornings and bedtimes are mentioned in the passage, and both provide strategic opportunities for discussions and thoughts about how the Scriptures apply to life. Walking along the road or driving in the van is also a time when discussions can take a spiritual turn. In fact, you might want to plan ahead and select a story or a specific Scripture verse or passage that you’ll share during those moments.
Sometimes relational times can be scheduled, such as a family time focused on a spiritual truth. At other times, the relational opportunities will come spontaneously. Always be ready to direct your children’s attention to the work of God.
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The Methods – Be creative!
Deuteronomy 6:8–9 says, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” The goal is to help each child bring God’s commands into daily life, viewing them as relevant and practical.
Use object lessons and activities
Keep in mind that the language of children is activity. For every Bible story or theological truth, you might look for some kind of activity to help communicate it. For ideas, consider the teaching techniques of Jesus. He used creativity and life experience to communicate kingdom principles to His disciples. When He wanted to teach what it means to be a good neighbor, He told the story of the Good Samaritan. In order to teach His disciples about being a servant and the importance of humility, He washed their feet.
Christ also used object lessons in His teaching. When He wanted to correct the disciples for criticizing each other, He gave them an illustration that may have come from His own childhood spent in a carpenter’s shop. He encouraged each disciple to get the plank out of his own eye before removing the sawdust from his brother’s eye. You might act out Bible stories with young children or use science experiments with elementary-age kids. Hebrews 12 talks about running a race toward Jesus without being entangled by sin. To illustrate this, you might have children run two races – one without their wearing baggy clothes and the other with them loaded down with Dad’s coat and shoes. Your kids will view the Bible as relevant, practical, and exciting when you use activity to communicate biblical truths.
Deuteronomy 6:20–21 says, “And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son…” Basically, when he asks, TELL HIM!
Get practical in applying Bible principles to your life. Children, as well as adults, need to know how to apply the Scriptures to their own lives.
Be faithful about family worship time; it doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be done consistently. Always the temptation will arise to think that there isn’t enough time available to pray and read the Scriptures together. But we need to ask ourselves what our most important priorities are. What will matter most in the long run? The work we do? The money we earn? The sports champions? Or the faith we pass on to our children?
When you’re the model, growing spiritually yourself; when you’re using the moments God gives you to build relationship; and when you’re using creative methods, that’s when you’ve positioned yourself well to help ensure that you have a sticky faith that will stay with your children.
It isn’t enough to think that children will grow into spiritual vitality. The reality is that many children grow out of their faith as they move into different developmental stages. That’s why it’s so important for parents to apply the truths of Deuteronomy 6 to their own families today.
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
Author: Anthony Ioime
Anthony is the Children’s Ministry Director at Valley Forge Baptist.