I remember being in my second grade class when my teacher asked us, if we could, who we would vote for in the upcoming presidential election (to avoid revealing incriminating evidence about my age, these candidates shall remain nameless). She then asked us to raise our hands to indicate which candidates our parents were voting for. I don’t remember where the lesson went from there, but what I do remember vividly, is nearly every child (including me) indicated that they would vote for the exact same candidate that their parents would vote for.
Whether we like it or not, as parents, we are the primary influencers in our child’s lives, especially when it comes to their spiritual lives. This may be surprising if your angry teenager or moody tween just told you they no longer want to be seen in public with you, but the research backs it up: more often than not, adults tend to follow the religious traditions of their parents. And grandparents, the research also shows that kids are looking at your spiritual lives too!
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 states: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and 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.”
I think it is very important to note the order in which this verse is written. First and foremost, Deuteronomy clearly states that God alone is the Lord. There is no other, and we are directed to love Him with all of our heart, our soul and our might. There is no room in there for anything else! Of course we are called to love others, but that selfless love overflows from us because of our all-consuming love for the Creator, the Almighty God who took the humble position of a servant to die for our sins. Parents, we can’t know the commands we are supposed to be teaching diligently to our children unless we ourselves know them inside and out.
But just knowing them is not enough…the Scripture says they must be on our hearts. As parents, we are called to disciple our children, but we can’t make disciples unless we ourselves are disciples. It is easier than you might think to overlook your own spiritual growth, especially in the day-to-day busyness that goes hand-in-hand with raising children. I don’t have to tell you that raising kids is hard work, and in my opinion, impossible without the wisdom of our Heavenly Father. If I am going to be a light helping illuminate the way for my children, I have to be plugged into the power source: God Himself. For me, that looks like daily time in the Word, talking to the Lord all throughout the day, listening to the Lord’s voice, and responding in obedience to His leading. Parents, loving God with all your heart, soul and mind has to be in practice in your life if you are going to teach it diligently to your children.
The research noted above found that one of the key indicators in regard to whether or not a child is likely to emulate their parent’s faith is consistent modeling. Consistent modeling…now where have we heard that before? Oh right, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Long before the research came forth, the Bible had it right. In the NIV version, it says (in reference to the commandments), “impress them on your children”. At my house, I am one of those coaster people. You know the person who waits until no one looks and then tries to subtly move someone’s misplaced beverage onto a coaster…yes, that’s me. I know from past experience those ice cold beverages will leave a permanent impression on our table, forever reminding us of the drink that once sat there.
Parents, it is exactly this kind of permanent impression that you are called to make on your children. While a cold drink leaves its mark on furniture nearly instantly, impressions on the heart take time, and they take consistency. Whatever you value, your children will value. Your highest priority has a tremendous influence on what they prioritize. Do your kids see that spending time in God’s Word is something you look forward to and make a priority? Do they see you talking (and listening!) to God, praising Him, expressing your fears and doubts to Him, and asking for His provision? Do they see you joyfully obeying Him in every area of your life? Do you place high importance on being part of the church body of believers, serving them and living life along with them? Or are you involved only when it is convenient for your schedule? Do they see you loving God with all of your heart, soul and might? (Yep, I think I stepped on my own toes with some of those questions!)
I think it is interesting to note in these verses from Deuteronomy that the first way the Scripture encourages us to teach these commandments diligently to our children is by talking about them. And talk about them everywhere! Rather than adding “Disciple your children” as one more thing on your never-ending “To-Do” list, I encourage you to be intentional with the time you already have with your children built into your day. Turn down the radio and make the most of those moments in the carpool line. Eat dinner together as a family with the TV off. Engage in conversation as you give your child a bath or while they help you wash the dishes, or even as you drive them to soccer practice. Whether it’s a bedtime story or just a quick check-in before bed, use all of these moments to be intentional about talking with your child. Ask God to provide opportunities in these moments to steer the conversation to Him and for the words to speak. Often the best conversations start when you ask a few open-ended questions (“What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the most challenging part of your day?”) Take time to rejoice in prayer over what went well and to pray with them about what didn’t. And take these moments to share your story, parents. It is so powerful! Let kids know how God has worked in your life in similar situations.
The next verses in Deuteronomy talk about taking action as you impress these commands on your children, binding them to your hands, writing them on your doorposts…so they are constantly before you. Interestingly, the research shows that the second most important factor in whether or not a child emulates his parent’s faith, is the quality of the relationship between the parent and child. Mom and Dad, are you role models that your children find worth following? We know actions speak loudly, so what are your actions saying? Do they demonstrate that Jesus is your greatest love, or is something (or someone) else occupying His rightful place?
Parents, it is a tall order to disciple your children. And in our own strength, an impossible task. Thankfully, we were not meant to walk through this parenting journey alone. Parents, I encourage you to turn to God and ask for His wisdom. Ask Him to show you what needs to change in your own life. Ask Him to show you how you can create a spiritual rhythm for your home. For us, that rhythm looks like dinnertime discussions each night as we go over one of “The Other 6” questions from our church’s children’s ministry newsletter, about what our kids learned on Sunday. We also read a Bible story and spend time in prayer together before bed each night. When we’re driving in the car, we pray about the people we are going to visit or the activity we’re about to do, or for the people who might be hurting as we see an ambulance pass by. We pray for our neighbors and for opportunities to tell them about Jesus as we take walks to the nearby park in the evening. When we are cleaning the house to get ready for our small group to come over or to prepare for new neighbors we have invited for dinner, we pray for those who are coming and talk about why serving others is so important, and how Jesus so lovingly served us. Your spiritual rhythm may look similar or very different, but know that I am praying for you as you read this, that God would show you what that could look like in your family.
And parents, plug into a local body of believers. Adults need that deep connection with other followers of Jesus, that comes from active, regular involvement in a local church body, and our kids need it too! Be careful though not to make the faulty assumption that your child’s spiritual growth will be “taken care of” by the church. As parents, it is our responsibility to make disciples of our children, and it is not a job that we can hand off to others. But our church family is there to support us in this role, to encourage us, to be additional voices reaffirming those Biblical truths that our children hear from us at home, and to stand alongside us as examples of what a follower of Jesus looks like.
Making disciples of our children is a tall order indeed. And sometimes we don’t have all the answers. And it’s OK to let our kids know that! Search God’s Word and ask Him in prayer for the answers together with your children. Other times we will fail and our children will see it. Let them also see us asking for their forgiveness and asking for the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. Sometimes kids learn more from how we respond to our failures than anything else!
God chose you to be the parent of your child. Because you’re perfect? Definitely not. But because in His divine wisdom He wants to work through you to accomplish His great purpose of shaping your child into a fully-formed follower of Christ. And it is ultimately the Lord (and only Him) who draws people to Himself and shows them the need for salvation. In His amazing grace, He has seen fit to let us be a part of the work He is doing in our children’s lives. So teach diligently parents and make an impression!
Written by: Lauren Carter, Children’s Director, River Rock Bible Church