Three Keys to Help Kids Catch Your Faith
By Jim Burns, Ph.D.
There’s no doubt that you have lots of priorities for your kids as they grow up. But of all the priorities you have for your children, none of them really matters unless they’re built upon a foundation of faith. The Scriptures make this clear, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Our kids need a moral compass to help build their lives, and passing a spiritual legacy on to your kids is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a parent! But, most parents struggle in this area. If you do, take heart, you’re normal! The average parent simply does not take a proactive role in building up the spiritual lives of his or her children. We may spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on important issues like vacations, business plans and home improvement, but when it comes to spiritual values, we too often allow circumstances, chance and our churches to manage the spiritual development of our children.
As parents, we’ve been given the high calling of passing along our faith to our kids. I’ve found three keys to helping your kids catch your faith – and they’re centered on the most-often Scripture quoted. It’s Deuteronomy 6:4-9; it’s most-often quoted because it’s been part of the morning blessing in orthodox Jewish homes for thousands of years. Every morning, each evening on holidays, and at every Sabbath, Jews read this Scripture. They stand, because it is actually so very holy. It is called the Shema, and it reads,
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be written upon your own hearts, but impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
What we find in this passage is the Biblical model for transferring our faith to our kids. While we, as Christian parents, may not have done a great job by the standard set for us in the Shema, the following three keys are valuable reminders, giving us motivation to focus more intentionally on the principles of transference.
1. Loyalty to God. The Shema reminds us that there is one God and He is holy. There is no other God. We are to love God with our entire being: with heart, soul and strength. As parents, this goes to the heart of the matter: Do our kids see our devotion and commitment to God? I cannot give to another what I do not possess myself. We simply cannot pass on a faith that we do not have to our kids. We set the pace. If you desire your children to have vibrant spiritual lives, then they need to see an authentic faith lived out in your life. No one expects perfection, but a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude is not likely to produce a vital Christian lifestyle in your child’s life either. Kids have a highly-tuned “hypocrisy” detector – so it is much better to live out an authentic faith in front of your kids, one that honestly shows how you follow Christ despite your struggles and failures along the way, in order to display Christianity lived out in the real world. Be sure your kids have plenty of opportunities to catch you in the act of doing something spiritual. For example, do you have a regular devotional time where you read the Bible and pray, investing in your relationship with God? Do your kids know it? How about letting your kids see you being involved in your own spiritual disciplines? Don’t forget that your own actions display your loyalty to God and will teach your kids a lot about your faith – probably even more than your words!
2. Transmit Your Faith. The Shema instructs us to “impress them [the commandments] on your children.” Parents are to impress the faith that God has placed in their life into their kids. It’s all about transference. We’re talking instruction here! With all of the great children and youth programs within churches today, many parents allow churches to “take the wheel” when it comes to their kids’ spiritual development, while they take a more passive role. We can easily become convinced that it’s the church’s job to help our kids grow spiritually, not ours. Guess what? According to the Shema, God specifically places the responsibility for nurturing a child’s spiritual development on parents – not the church! Certainly, the community of believers (the church) has a role to play (the Shema does begin with, “Hear, O Israel…”) There is a corporate responsibility we share with the church in raising our kids. Yet, the church should be viewed as a partner to parents, not a replacement of parental responsibility for transmission of faith to children.
Take heart! You don’t need to be a seminary graduate or know Hebrew and Greek to be able to fulfill your God-given role. Here are some practical ideas on how parents can take the lead in transmitting faith to kids:
* Pray regularly with your kids. Pray at dinner. Pray at bedtime. Prayer is a way to acknowledge God’s presence in your family and in your life. By praying regularly with your kids, you teach your kids that we rely upon God and need His presence in our lives.
* Worship as a family. For most of us, this means worshipping together at church on Sundays. Unfortunately, too often, churches have split up the family when it comes to worship time. Take the initiative to make sure there are regular times when your family experiences worship together. Further, while your kids need to see a commitment to church, they also need to be able to see a commitment to worship within the home, and sometimes this means finding opportunities outside of the church to worship together as a family.
* Instruct your kids. This can be as simple as having a daily or weekly family devotional or Bible-reading time. I don’t think it’s time to preach and lecture, but I think it’s time for us to do something that’s inspirational and spiritual. Use a devotional guide, or subscribe to HomeWord’s free daily devotional email resource, Today’s HomeWord with Jim Burns. Or, make something up on your own. The key is to experiment and find something that works for your family. Once you’ve found what works, stick with it!
3. Remind Your Kids of the Importance of God. The way we remind our kids of God’s importance is when we talk about it at home. There are many ways and opportunities to do this, from the music we hear to how you respond when some jerk cuts you off on the highway. The goal is to have faith become a natural part of our kids’ lives instead of just saying, “Okay, this is what we do on Sunday and Wednesday.” This is what the Shema commands us to do. So, don’t isolate spiritual discussions from the daily ebb and flow of our lives. Remind your kids that spiritual issues are important in your life all of the time!
Another idea for keeping our kids mindful of God also comes from the Shema, when it makes reference to “Write them [the commandments] on the doorframes of your houses…” There’s a symbol that is used to represent and reflect that presence in our homes and it’s called a Mezuzah. Mezuzah is the word for “doorpost” in Hebrew. The Jews, at a point in their history, created a little box-like piece and attached it to the doorpost of their home. In it was placed the Shema or other Scriptures. It didn’t serve as a good-luck charm, but rather as a constant reminder of the importance of God and that in this home, God is welcomed. It also reminded the inhabitants of His presence, and of course, to pass this knowledge along to children. Having a Mezuzah in your home, whether you place it on a doorpost or somewhere else, is a great way to keep reminding your kids of God’s importance. In our HomeWord resource center, we offer Mezuzahs, so that families can take advantage of the opportunity to use the symbol in their homes as a way to communicate, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Reminding our kids of God’s importance is a pretty huge challenge for parents, because it’s the challenge to embrace the faith, to be faithful, to practice fidelity to God, and then move it on to our kids from generation to generation.
There’s nothing more important as a parent than leaving an enduring spiritual legacy for your kids! Make a commitment to help grow your family members into all that God wants them to be! HomeWord exists to come alongside you and help you build that legacy in your family’s life. Please visit our website or give us a call, and find out all the ways that we can partner with you, serve you, and help you make your family a healthier and stronger family.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”