These are the worst kinds of blogs to write, for two reasons. One, if we love Jesus and we love our kids, then it’s tempting to long for a silver bullet: “Do this, follow these three steps, set your household up this way, and your kids’ salvation is guaranteed”. Two, how do I write this without sounding like I think I’m an expert? I’m not. Our household contains a seven and five-year-old created by God, and two adults doing their flawed, sinful best to introduce them to Him.
If I’m preaching to anyone here, it’s to myself.
So, no silver bullet. And no expert. Still reading?! OK, here are three things I try to remember, and five things we are trying to do, in raising children who have an understanding and appreciation of who our great God is.
3 Things to Remember
1. It’s God’s job to convert
More than anything, I want my kids to know Jesus. But I can’t change their hearts. Faith is a gift of God, not a birthday present from their dad (Ephesians 2 v 8-9). That keeps me humble and keeps me prayerful (or at least it should). And it’s liberating, actually. Imagine their salvation rested on me. That would be a crushing daily pressure.
2. It’s my job to introduce them to God
Fathers (and, as 2 Timothy 1 v 5 and 3 v 14-15 exemplifies, mothers) are to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6 v 4). It is not our job to convert, but it is our responsibility to introduce our kids to God. On judgment day God is not going to ask us whether we had a tidy house, or took our kids on foreign holidays, or what school they went to or what grades they achieved or what sport they excelled in… He is going to ask us to answer for the way we showed his Son to our kids in what we said and in what we did. He is going to ask us if we obeyed the Great Commission command to make disciples in our own home.
3. The kids come second
Nigel Styles, who runs the Cornhill Training Course in London, said something very striking in a talk I heard him give. To paraphrase, he said of his father, who was an evangelist: “Growing up I always knew my dad loved me, and I always knew my dad didn’t love me most. That was Jesus.” I want my kids to say that, too. To know that God is the most important person in the universe, alone worthy of being treated as divine, they need to know that their parents love them, but that they don’t, and won’t, worship them.
5 Things to Do
1. Read the Word
The Scriptures are able to make our kids wise for salvation through Christ Jesus “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3 v 15). So they need to hear them, and then read them. They’re never too young for us to start telling them the Word—from the womb on. They’re never too old for us to start telling them the Word—don’t buy the lie you left it too late. So, read it together (if you need them, resources like these and these help.) Encourage them to read it themselves. Sing it together. Don’t be too proud to ask for help: every good pastor dreams of parents in his church saying to him: ‘Please can you help me teach my kids the Word.’
2. Model the faith
If I am going to teach it, I must live it. In the way we parent, we need to show our kids what kind of a parent God is. We do that in our decisions. We do that in our discipline. We do that in how we respond to difficulties and injustices. We do that in how we prioritise our church family. We do that in our own sacrificial obedience. Or, we don’t. It really is that simple.
3. Pray daily
I’m really weak at this. I need help – for praying for the kids, my wife’s been using this book, and I need to start doing so. For praying with them, we’ve recently came up with an idea prompted by something Jen Wilkin said in a talk. We sit round and each share one thing about God’s character that we want to praise him for, and then spend time in praise; and then share one thing about tomorrow we’d like his help with, and then we each volunteer to pray the request of one other person in the family. This has led both to more thoughtful praise and petitioning, and better listening skills (on my part, as much as the kids’).
4. Chat the gospel
Kids are curious. They ask all kinds of questions. I think that’s why Deuteronomy 6 speaks of talking about God and his ways with our kids ‘when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you like down and when you get up’ (v 7). Just chat the gospel. Talk about Jesus whenever possible. Link the world around you, and the experiences the kids go through, to Bible truth.
5. Enjoy it!
Raising our kids in the Word is our responsibility, but it is not meant to be a burden. It is a duty, but is also a joy. We get to show our kids eternity. We get to share with our kids our God. Smile as you share the gospel. Sing as you think together about God. Make memories as a family that have God’s word at their heart. It really isn’t something we have to do. It’s something we get to do.