The Apostle John wrote in 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
Christian parents can relate to this verse. We’re happy when our kids do well in school, in sports, in extra-curricular activities. But the deepest longing of our heart is that they walk in the Truth and love their Lord.
Parents bring their babies to the waters of Holy Baptism where God gives faith. They take them to church and Sunday School…maybe Lutheran day school or summer camp….confirmation instruction…. Hopefully, parents encourage their kids to participate in church activities such as youth group. These are direct and indirect ways parents can influence kids’ spiritual life.
A survey of parents by The Barna Group found that “close to nine out of ten parents of children under age 13 believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters.” However, “a majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious materials with their children.” Instead, they “generally rely on their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive.” The report concludes that parents are willing to provide spiritual leadership for their children, but are ill-equipped to lead them in this way. 1
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 gives a command to parents. “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.”
Martin Luther said, “The noblest and greatest work and the most important service we can perform for God on earth is bringing other people, and especially those who are entrusted to us, to the knowledge of God by the holy Gospel.” 2
So while the Bible tells us that the main responsibility for the spiritual development of children belongs to parents, many parents feel like they don’t want that responsibility or know how to go about it and so they delegate it all to the church. Churches can be more proactive in helping parents rise to their God-given responsibility.
How can we equip parents to be faith leaders in the home?
- Support the parents’ spiritual nourishment and growth. Encourage them to attend church and Bible studies, Christian retreats, etc. Remind them that people are more likely to follow when led in a loving way. Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
- Provide opportunities for families to serve together. Not all activities need to be divided by age group. Families can work together at a food pantry, stand in a Life Chain, take a meal to someone or make cards for shut-ins.
- Let parents know of resources. These could be devotion books in the church library. A Christian concert or movie they could participate in with their kids. Email devotions that they could read after supper. A Scriptorium (Scripture memory event) in the area. Christian counseling services. Internet or cell phone filtering services. Passport2Purity weekend resources, etc.
- Encourage families to pray together… about big things and small. This is easily done before meals. If teens aren’t home for supper, consider a “family meeting” or “group huddle” sometime before everyone heads to bed. Set a time and gather to share highs and lows of the day and pray together.
- Share with parents what kids are studying in Sunday School and encourage them to ask their student questions about the topic. Scripted questions could even be provided.
- Some churches include “Blessings” in their services for “milestones” or “rites of passage” such as when kids start high school, leave for college, etc. The parent is recognized as the primary faith-trainer in the child’s life.
- Don’t keep people so busy with age-segregated programs that it interferes with quality time as a family.
- Offer inter-generational events such as a father-daughter dance or banquet, a community outreach event where older and younger folk serve together, a mother-son date night or a family mission trip or family camp.
- Have a class on how to lead family devotions or how to lead your family spiritually. Many parents have the desire to lead family devotions but are intimidated.
- Encourage Prayer Huddles at home – when someone in the family hears of a situation, gather everyone around in a huddle and pray.
- Prayer requests – Remind parents to ask kids how they can pray for them. And to share with them how God answered prayer.
- Testimonies – Some denominations plan time within the worship service for people to share a testimony of God’s work in their lives. While this may not fit your congregation, is there a time when it would work?
- Journals – Scrapbooks or simple journals that highlight spiritual milestones or God’s work in the family could be made together as families. “I will utter the sayings … that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, that the next generation might know them and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God…” (from Ps. 78:1–7).
- Verse of the week. A congregation could provide a “verse of the week” that families can discuss at family devotions or other times they are together such as during meals, in the car, or at bedtime. These can become special times when families can discuss life matters and how God is working in their lives.
- Family meal night. Begin by having families sit together to enjoy a family meal. Provide discussion questions and end the meal with each father leading family devotions at his table.
- Traditions in worship. Remember how the Jews celebrated the Passover year after year? Exodus 12:26-27: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” Families can develop their own customs related to worship such as Easter breakfast after the Easter service or the midnight Christmas Eve service.
- Challenge families to read through books of the Bible together. (The Concordia Self-study Commentary is great to have on hand to help interpret difficult passages.) The church could even organize this as a church-wide effort to read the book of James during the month of September, the book of John during October, etc. For younger children, a story Bible such as “The Story Bible” from CPH may keep their interest better.
- Instead of always reading a devotion or Scripture together for family devotions, switch it up sometimes and listen to a recording from a Lutheran source and discuss it as a family.
- Public encouragement for parents by the pastor anytime, but especially on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The gift of a new devotion book, etc. could be shared with them at this time.
- As a staff, remember to think strategically when planning events. Ask “Does this activity bring families together or pull them apart?” “How can we intentionally connect this program or event back to what could be taking place in the home?” “How will this program or event resource, train or involve parents to disciple their children?”
Finally, we remember the words of 1 Corinthians 3:6 where Paul reminds us, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” The Holy Spirit is the one who gives and strengthens faith. The Word and Sacraments are His “means of grace” or “toolbox.” It’s not by our power or efforts, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Spirit that anyone grows in faith.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32
1 – “Parents Accept Responsibility for Their Child’s Spiritual Development But Struggle With Effectiveness,” The Barna Group, May 6, 2003.
2 – What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, CPH, page 958.