In an age of working parents and over-scheduled children, it is increasingly difficult for families to find time to spend together. Christian families who desire family devotional time find it particularly difficult to set aside time for such activities. This time together as a family is essential for several reasons—
• First, it establishes the home as the primary venue for the spiritual growth and faith development of a child.
• Second, it draws families closer as they explore together the lessons of the Scriptures, pray together, and sing praise to the Lord.
• Third, it is a time for parents or guardians to pass on their personal faith history to their children.
• Finally, it serves as a preamble to the gathering of the Body in community on a common day of worship. In this manner, the hearing of faith stories in the home is foundational to spiritual formation in worship.
When one looks at examples in the Scriptures, there can be no question that religious teaching and moral instruction begin in the home. From this guidance comes the highest standard for ethical living that a parent can portray—that which is set by God. Worship and instruction in the home are the foundational elements that provide children with a fresh well from which to draw clean water later in life. The older children will apply Biblical truths gained at a younger age as they put faith into practice and seek to make moral decisions as adolescents. Home should be a sanctuary where children feel secure in their surroundings and where parents pastor their children in the context of that security.
It is primarily in the context of family that character is formed because of faith in Christ. Often, busy parents are content to allow others to fill the gaps where the parents feel that they cannot adequately perform as parental spiritual leaders. Many parents expect their children to obtain all the religious education they need during those few hours on Sunday from a Sunday school teacher or a hired weekday leader trained specifically to do that job. This is particularly true in contemporary culture, where the church has sought to renew its role as the center of faith, culture, and society.
It is imperative, therefore, that the church both acknowledge the responsibility of the Christian parent and play a strong, active, and supportive role in the process of spiritual formation. In fact, most parents require instruction to move from the practice of mere moral teaching to living an effective Christian witness before their children. The church must give instruction that includes helping parents know how to introduce and turn children to the discipline of life in Christ—the key to Christian nurture inherent in the faith—creating good habits for a lifetime.
It should also include helping parents guide their children to work in community within certain parameters to model lifestyles that reflect the kind of adults they one day will become with God’s help, and then to trust the power of the Holy Spirit to guide children as they seek their way using their inherent spiritual sensibilities.
Teachers, children’s ministers, and pastors in the church should encourage young families to develop an ongoing habit of family worship activities. When doing so, each congregation must consider how to best provide opportunities for parents to recognize the importance of taking time for family faith activities. In my experience, this can best be accomplished by providing a venue where parents in the church can come together to consider their role as spiritual leaders in their respective families. Some ideas include:
- Sunday school or small groups especially for young parents that meet concurrently with children’s activities at church,
- A Family Retreat Day at church on a Saturday morning, where participants study the Biblical texts that establish the importance of practicing faith in the home and discuss the struggles they face as they seek to be the spiritual leaders, or
- A time in which family worship ideas are modeled in the children’s classroom, involving parents and offering these ideas to take into the home for worship.
Deuteronomy 6 is the place to begin when seeking a foundation for education in the home. On the heels of the Ten Commandments, this passage reiterates the first commandment, proclaiming one true God and charging the Israelites to witness this truth to future generations—not just in formal situations, but also in the everyday living of their lives. Ultimately, this command came to consist of Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.”
The passage calls parents to establish and confirm their faith in the one true God, to love God completely, and to reflect on that love inwardly in order to internalize the faith that they should then pass to the next generation. The charge here to parents is to participate in the joyful witness of the Lord as their children grow to maturity.
Parents are encouraged to engage their children on all levels as they seek to instruct them. They should engage the children in both formal and informal conversations about loving the one true God. It is important to allow these conversations to emerge from ordinary life occurrences. In short, parents should teach children to be bold public and private witnesses for the Lord, so that their faith may be displayed prominently and reflected in each subsequent generation. “Tell it to your children, and have your children tell their children, and their children tell their children.” (Joel 1:3).
In Mark 10, the disciples try to send the children away from Jesus. But Jesus says, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” Jesus acted lovingly toward the least, carrying them up into his arms and laying hands on them after the custom set forth by the patriarchs when bestowing fervent blessings, as Israel did to Joseph and his sons. Imagine the enormous faith that those caregivers who brought children to meet Jesus must have had. They sought out this Rabbi because they had heard of his great power. They wanted their children to benefit from Jesus’ presence among them. Jesus is the strongest example for parents who are entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing the young.
Parents teach children many things throughout life, but the most important things they pass on are those things related to the Lord. It is important for children to know that this discipline is necessary as parents seek to gently, lovingly, and persistently direct their children. As members of the household of God—at home and collectively in our faith communities—we are responsible to model and teach the stories of faith to a new generation.
This article, originally titled “Practicing Faith in the Home,” was published in Children's Teacher Online - Fall. To see the original article, please visit Cokesbury Teaching and Learning Homepage