About three years ago, we brought home two babies in a span of four months. I was serving as the interim children’s minister at my church at the time, and the question I had heard from parents repeatedly suddenly became a question I was asking myself: “How do I raise kids who love Jesus?”
I’ll take a wild guess and bet that if you are a parent or someone who invests in children, you want to do this well, too. I don’t want to just take my kids to church and expect them to develop a solid theological framework from what a Sunday school teacher explains to them. I want our conversations and the way we parent to ooze the gospel.
As our kids pick up my mannerisms and the phrases I use often, I’m reminded that kids are constantly learning. They are absorbing what they are told, making assumptions based on what is presented as true, looking at what their friends find on the internet, ultimately building a framework for how to understand life. Upon that framework, they’ll build the house of their theology, or their understanding of God and his work in the world.
So, how do we help them build a theological framework on the truth of Scripture? Here are the truths that I preach to myself and also pass along to parents who ask this question:
1. You cannot teach what you are not doing yourself.
Parenting is hard work. Just keeping tiny humans alive is a huge undertaking, and it can be easy to go through the motions of the day without any focus on the gospel. There were days when our kids were newborns that I forgot to eat, and more days than I’d like to admit that I chose not to shower. Sometimes it feels like there’s no extra time to breathe, let alone get into God’s Word. When the days are hard, I remind myself that getting into God’s Word every day and asking him to use it to transform me is what keeps me going. It is the foundation that I build on, both for myself and my kids. What we teach our kids must be from what God is doing in our hearts. Kids can sniff out a fake faster than I ever imagined.
Discipleship begins at home, with you, and there’s nothing more exciting than watching your kids grow to love God’s Word and hide it deeply in their hearts.
2. You won’t have all the answers.
Yesterday, a child asked me if we’d be able to ride dinosaurs after Jesus restored the earth. Shortly after, a kid asked me if babies who die would be babies in heaven or if they would be 35. (This kid apparently thinks 35 is the ideal age.)
I’ve said, “I don’t know,” more than ever in the last few years. I certainly don’t have everything figured out. The goal is just to teach what we know is true from God’s Word and to teach what we learn as we go.
3. Avoid seeking to simply modify your child’s behavior.
I want to raise kids who have hearts that love God and want to obey him, not simply kids who want to be good for goodness’ sake or to please me. This is a slippery slope. Some behavior modification is necessary when our kids are small because playing with outlets or jumping off high things is dangerous.
Yet, we want our kids to know something like pornography is not just wrong because adults say so. What happens when they are adults and there are no longer other adults telling them what to do? I want my kids to know pornography distorts our view of God’s creation. It doesn’t honor the design God had in creating man and woman, who are made in his image with full dignity.
The Law wasn’t just good because it changed God’s people’s actions. It was to keep them safe and to give them an outlet to show how much they loved God. They lived out their love through obedience. In many ways, this is reflected in parenting. What an opportunity correcting behavior can be to present the gospel!
4. Create rhythms that get kids excited about learning.
Give kids every opportunity to fall in love with the greatest story ever told, where God is the ultimate Hero who rescues his people. Does your family read Scripture during dinner or before bed? Or, do your kids love to act out a story as play time? Find what engages the hearts and minds of your kids, and make it part of the everyday routine of your family’s lives. You can engage your family with a question-and-answer format, read a storybook Bible, or listen to podcasts. There is no shortage of resources, so pick one—or a couple—and go from there. Here’s my favorite list of resources as a starting point.
Discipleship begins at home, with you, and there’s nothing more exciting than watching your kids grow to love God’s Word and hide it deeply in their hearts. Let’s pray and intentionally parent in such a way that we might see God do such a work in our families.