Restoring family discipleship is key to instilling faith in children, teens
By J.L. Martin, Ken Ediger and Jenny Wall
The best method of transferring faith to the next generation is parents or significant adults in the lives of kids who are teaching and modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ. One way to turn your hearts and the hearts of your children to God is through family devotions.
We have a problem: Young people are leaving the church after high school graduation—and many don’t come back. Researcher George Barna reports that 61 percent of today’s young adults had been churched at one point during their teen years, but now they are spiritually disengaged. Josh McDowell says that some denominational leaders report as many as 94 percent leave the church after high school. LifeWay Publications reports that more than two-thirds of young adults who attended church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
There is a desire among families and churches to change theses outcomes. Parents and grandparents are rediscovering the great impact they can have spiritually on their families. The Significant Religious Influences Survey reveals the number one reason why kids have faith is Mom and the number two reason why kids have faith is Dad. Surprised? Mom and Dad are two to three times more influential than any church program.
The best method of transferring faith to the next generation is not a new method but a very old one prescribed in Scripture. It is parents or significant adults in the lives of kids who are teaching and modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ.
Laying the biblical foundation
The story of the Bible guides our understanding of how God intends a family to be the primary place of spiritual nurture.
Foundation #1 God’s story of purpose: The story of the Bible is a story about God more than it is about people. Rather than isolated stories of how God loves people, the main point of the Bible is that God is to be loved with heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). It is a single prolonged story of God transforming people into a vast community of worshipers who fully love him (Rev. 5, 7). God’s purpose necessarily spans time and generations. Thus he is deeply committed to the continuation of his purpose generation after generation (Ps. 145:3-4).
Foundation #2 Incarnation: God communicates most fully through incarnation (Heb. 1:1-3). Incarnation literally means “enfleshment.” God became a flesh and blood human being to reveal himself to us in a way written words cannot. The God of Christianity is someone we “have seen with our eyes” and “whom our hands have handled” (I John 1:1-2).
No matter how creatively the Word of God is proclaimed, people are more likely to believe an experience of faith lived out in front of them. Incarnation is more powerful than proclamation. And in the case of children, this is also true as they tend to do as parents do, not as they say. In order to grasp truth for themselves, children need to see, touch and experience faith lived out in front of them.
Foundation #3 Marriage: God created marriage so that we will reflect his image (Gen. 1:26-27), become more like Christ (Eph. 5:24-25), experience the blessing of two lives and hearts becoming one (Gen. 2:21-25) and take part in God’s plan to fill the earth with worshippers through having and raising faithful children (Gen. 1:28, Mal. 2:15). Marriage is a “discipleship relationship” designed to help each person grow in every area of life. A strong marriage helps children understand God and the gospel.
Foundation #4 Family: God created the institution of marriage and family as the foundation for human life, society and the faith community (Gen. 1). The family was created by God to be an active and powerful spiritual discipleship center (Gen. 18:18, Deut. 6:5-7,Eph. 6:4).
Understanding the plan
Two key Bible passages provide the picture of faith formation through family from generation to generation:
1) Deuteronomy 6:4-9 pictures the home and family as the primary context of spiritual formation. Set in the understanding of the tendency of spiritual vitality to decline from generation to generation, this passage emphasizes the nature of faith as a personal relationship with God.
At its core, faith is about “loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” That same love for God is to be “impressed” (v. 7) on the hearts of children through the natural ebb and flow of life in the home, much like one learns to love another person by their constant welcomed presence.
2) Ephesians 6:1-4 outlines the divine pattern for parents, especially fathers, not to relinquish their role as the primary teachers and shapers of their children’s mind and heart—not even to the church. The biblical pattern is for parents to impart to their children a God-centered, Bible-saturated vision for all of life. Wired for relationship, God intends flesh and blood relationships of home and family to be the primary context for faith formation.
Being the parents God calls us to be
If parents are not sure where to start, start with your heart. Capture God’s vision for your family and turn your heart to your children. The final words of the Old Testament call parents to turn their hearts to their children, and the first words of revelation in the New Testament say the same thing (Mal. 4:4-6, Luke 1:17).
One way parents can do this is by having family worship or family devotions in the home. What is family worship? Rob Reinow, in the introduction to his Family Worship Guides, states that, “When a family gathers together at home for prayer, Bible reading and turning their hearts to the Lord—that is family worship.”
Reinow says, “God calls us to family worship for many reasons. Family worship deepens and strengthens family relationships. Family worship provides an opportunity for parents to take the lead in passing faith to their children. Families that worship at home bring that spirit of worship into the church.”
If you have never practiced family worship, it’s not too late to begin with teenagers, school-aged children or grandchildren. It’s OK to start slowly. Bible reading and prayer are the most important elements. Activities, singing and discussions can also be included.
Transitions are good times to impact your children as well. Use times such as riding in the car, at breakfast or when going to bed to play worship CDs, go over memory verses, ask questions about devotions or Bible lessons, read from the Bible or have family worship. Some resources to help you get started are listed at the end of this article.
Don’t get discouraged if you try family worship and things don’t go well at first. Based on Deuteronomy 6, the most powerful spiritual experience in the life of a child or teen is when a parent or grandparent leads outside of the four walls of the church. The enemy would love to keep it from happening. Let’s restore and reclaim the biblical culture of family discipleship.
J.L. Martin is pastor of children and family at Hesston (Kan.) MB Church. Ken Ediger is senior pastor at North Oak MB Church, Hays, Kan. Jenny Wall is director of kids ministry at First MB Church, Wichita, Kan. The authors will be presenting a workshop at Conection 2012, the USMB delegate convention to be held in July, that will offer a theology of family ministry as well as practical steps that churches are taking to challenge parents to pass on their faith at home.
The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) Originally published in 1935, this beloved Bible storybook is still a favorite with children, parents and teachers. More than 200 stories from the Old and New Testaments are retold in simple language appropriate for 4- to 12-year-olds, while remaining faithful to Scripture. Colorful illustrations enhance the text.
The Big Picture Bible by David R. Helm (Crossway Books, 2004)
Rather than simply retelling portions of the Bible, this book presents the big picture-the unified story running through the Old and New Testaments. Twenty-six stories together form parts of this big picture. Simply written and beautifully illustrated, this book teaches children the Bible's whole story so they can begin to appreciate the fulfillment of God's promise to his people.
The Family Reading Bible NIV (Zondervan)
The NIV Family Reading Bible provides a roadmap through Scripture designed for Christian parents looking for a way to read and explore the Bible with their kids. With three easy-to-use reading tracks to accommodate children of any age and insightful questions and fun facts to keep kids engaged, The NIV Family Reading Bible will nurture a family's interest in God’s Word.
The Legacy Path by Brian Haynes (Randall House Publications, 2011)
Brian Haynes wants to take parents down the path of intentional spiritual parenting. This book is meant to change the culture by equipping parents to move their children and grandchildren toward life God’s way instead of life portrayed as right in the eyes of the world. The reader will find many practical steps explained allowing the destination to be reached.
Seeds Family Worship Scripture song CD volumes 1-5
This CD series combines songs that use Scripture for lyrics with strongly produced music that is varied in style to create a sound the whole family will love. Each song helps a child (and any adults in the vicinity) memorize one or more Bible verses from the NIV.
www.famtime.com: Created by individuals experienced in ministry, marriage, parenting and youth and children’s ministry, Family Time Training exists to equip and encourage parents to do spiritual training in the home with fun and effective Bible activities.