Life lessons around the dinner table: Guarding family time

June 12, 2017

I believe children mature more and are far better prepared for life when their primary places of learning life lessons are in their family and local church. By comparison, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs have a lesser role to play. Yet, our culture wants us to believe the opposite.

I played tennis seriously from first grade until high school graduation; lots and lots and lots of tennis. I played on both my school teams and in independent travel leagues. I remember in middle school when the head coach of a well-known tennis league in Houston mapped out the plan for me to become a college athlete. I also worked part-time jobs through high school, first as a busboy at a diner and then later as a gopher at a vet clinic.

Through it all, several family values remained in place: our family of five ate dinner together in the evening, and we worshiped with our church family on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights.

Extracurricular activities and part-time jobs either accommodated this routine or we quit them altogether. Looking back now at 40 years old with four children of my own, I am so thankful to the Lord my parents stuck to that family value no matter how different it made us. Extracurricular activities and part-time jobs are not irrelevant, but, in my view they remain tertiary learning environments compared to the home and local church.

My family’s example growing up

I learned so much about the Lord, life, people, culture and the world by sitting around the dinner table. I learned biblical headship by watching dad interact with mom and his three children. I learned submission by watching my mom. I learned fatherhood and motherhood. I learned how different males and females are and how they should properly interact. I learned about hard work as day after day I listened to my parents recap their day. I learned selflessness as I had to sit and listen to my sisters share about their day in dramatic detail. I was discipled as my parents debriefed us on our days, helping us look at our challenges, failures and victories from a biblical worldview. I learned the priority of marriage and family from all the times I told coaches or employees I couldn’t be present with them because of family dinner.

Apart from my local church, the dinner table was the most effective school I ever attended.

I learned how to walk with the Lord by listening to my parents’ stories and realizing they were far more committed to the Lord than their own personal desires and dreams. I learned how to forgive, serve and love. I was ingrained with commitment, convictions and values. Apart from my local church, the dinner table was the most effective school I ever attended. In adulthood today, many of my childhood friends have great memories of extracurricular activities and humorous stories about part-time jobs, but have little knowledge of how to build a family, the very foundation of life, according to Genesis 1:27-28.

My family’s practice today

This is why I follow a similar routine with my family. I’m simply replicating what I saw in my childhood. Dinner is not for the purpose of consuming food; dinner facilitates important, quality family time. Four to five nights a week, our family eats dinner together around the table without music, TV or iPhones. Family dinner time is closely guarded; we say “no” to many good things to prioritize this value. Every person shares about their day. We also discuss current events from a biblical worldview. Nicole and I hash out serious issues and decisions about our family that are age appropriate for the kids, so that they can watch and learn how to do marriage one day. Anyone can challenge anyone around the table, but the rule is nobody is allowed to yell in anger nor be disrespectful. The kids need to learn to think critically, express themselves well and defend their personal opinions.

As the family’s leader, I guide the flow, prompting people to share if necessary, mediating arguments, asking leading questions, etc. We laugh, we tease, we celebrate, we mourn, we debate, we challenge, we argue, we counsel. I learned from my father that lots of humor is essential—if the kids haven’t seen me with green beans sticking out my nose and ears or mashed potatoes on my face, I’m doing it wrong. Also, I use lots of self-deprecating humor because my kids need to see that I don’t take myself too seriously.

On the rare occasion dinner is ruined, the solution is never to get upset, but instead to yell, “Last one in the car gets no say in in the restaurant we are going to” and run to the car. Sometimes, someone calmly gets up from the table, walks to the garage door and says, “I’m on my way to get ice cream. Whoever wants to go better get in the car.” After dinner, Nicole leaves the table and goes to the couch. The kids and I wash the dishes and clean the kitchen because the kids need to see that husbands serve their wives in the home, and they need to be ingrained with appreciation for how hard mom works every day to serve our family.

I’d caution you against outsourcing the primary shaping of your child to activities and part-time jobs. As a parent, I urge you to radically prioritize family time and local church time over these things. Nobody can teach your child about life like you can. God uniquely knit you together to be the most effective life-teacher your child can have in this world. You are the chisel with which God wants to shape your child. They need lots and lots of time with you and their family, which is why I beliEve the Lord says what he does in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. You won’t regret the hours you spend investing in preparing them for the rest of their lives.

A form of this article originally appeared here.  Learn from Nathan and Nicole Lino and other speakers at the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

Nathan Lino

Nathan Lino is the lead pastor for Northeast Houstan Baptist Church and has led NEHBC since 2002. Nathan became a Christian while attending Pinetown Baptist Church, in Pinetown, South Africa, and was baptized at Forest Cove Baptist Church in Kingwood, TX. He was ordained by Forest Cove Baptist Church. He graduated … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24