Last week we were reminded of the biblical mandate of carrying out the discipleship process within our households. But many who would agree on the necessity of doing so do not feel empowered or equipped to do it. I thought it might help to give some practical suggestions.
First, we must be continually repenting and believing the Good News of Jesus Christ, taking up his cross daily and following him. Obviously, we cannot help another strive toward Jesus if we are not doing it ourselves. But with such daily repentance we must also reconsider the kind of person we want the child or children in our lives to grow up into. What will they be like if we have been successful? Are we thinking first about their education or career? Or do we envision them becoming strong and faithful men and women of God? Having the right picture in hearts is an important first step.
Next, consider what may be some patterns (or rhythms or rituals) that may be able to help. For example, one purpose the Church has in gathering once a week for worship is to empower her members to be worshiping and living as disciples throughout the week. In the same way, it may be helpful to establish a set regular time for a family to gather and hear from the Lord and apply what they have heard to their life together. This time can be the bedrock for carrying discipleship through to the “in-between times” of life — walks to school, shopping trips, preparing meals, or even working on schoolwork. Daily prayer before school can help a child to remember Paul’s instruction to “pray always.” A weekly memory verse can help to teach a child the importance of taking the words of our Lord into our hearts. Find the patterns that work for your family.
Finally, here are some approaches that can help when you develop these practices.
- Story: My own son is in a “tell me a story” phrase. He asks probably a dozen times a day for me to tell him a story, and most children do indeed love stories. May we not allow the entertainment companies to be the only ones taking advantage! This is an invitation to be teaching God’s overarching “Great Story” of redeeming the world as well as Jesus’ parables and other biblical stories. Take care not to turn these stories into fairy tales. When telling an Old Testament story especially, try to set that story within the context of the Gospel (we must help our children understand how David & Goliath is a Christian story, not simply a fable with an empowering the-weak-defeat-the-strong message). Parents will have to wrestle with the tensions of being honest about these stories while keeping them age-appropriate! Still, story is powerful.
- Concreteness: Children much more readily latch onto things that can be directly sensed. Our family went through a season where at one dinner a week we would talk about a bible story and how our own family had experienced that same story. We would begin our meal by lighting a candle as I read from John 1 about the light coming into the world. That candle-lighting reinforced the identity of Jesus, and it marked out this meal and what we were doing as something special. Our young son much more easily grasps the biblical images that describe eternal life as feasts and celebrations than he does some vague abstraction of “going to heaven.” He has been to a family feast!
- Jesus commands our faith be child-like (Matt 18:3). Do not patronize your children, but honestly consider what they contribute to these conversations. Allow their faith to inspire your own!
Many more words could be written, and there are many good resources available to parents who want to take the charge of Deuteronomy 6 more seriously. But remember that for thousands of years, parents have passed on the faith without off-the-shelf products!