By Ross Engel –
With Father’s Day looming on the horizon, I thought it would be fitting to consider the important task of training up one’s children. Proverbs 22:6 is often quoted when it comes to the raising and rearing of children. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Any time we want our children to learn something, we typically take the time to teach them. If we want them to learn how to throw, catch, kick, or hit a ball, then we take the time to practice with them. If we want them to learn how to play music, we get an instrument and start their learning. The same thing with reading, cooking, and any other activity we’d like our children to learn. We take the time to work with them. Starting at the bottom, the fundamentals are taught, and then we practice with them, over and over again. We rejoice when they start becoming proficient at whatever task they’re learning. And then, as it often happens, the kids progress beyond our ability to teach and we take them to a coach or a private instructor. We’ll sit on the sidelines or the auditorium, coaching, cheering, watching, and taking it all in, teaching and encouraging all the while.
Except when it comes to church and the faith.
When it comes to the church and teaching the faith, I have often heard parents lament, “I just don’t know how to answer their questions or what to say.” When I hear that lament, my first though often is to say something like, “Well, then it’s time for you to learn!”
We live in a society where it is acceptable and encouraged for parents to check out of the process of educating their children in the things that really matter in this world. Consider formal education and the school system. Parents are encouraged to get their children into the local school as soon as possible. Daycares and “preschools” are happy to raise small herds of children from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, happily giving parents permission to chase after the things they want in life. All the while, the system teaches their children the things that the system thinks they need to know, whether you like it all or not.
In the church, this happens as well. Instead of worship services and Sunday school classes supplementing the faith educating that takes place at home, for far too many children, the hour of church and hour of Sunday school each week is the only faith educating that happens. Parents often admit that they don’t feel equipped or confident to teach their kids the things of Scripture or why the faith matters. And instead of striving to learn and understand for themselves so they can better teach and equip their children, they pass that duty on to someone else.
The kids learn the “what” of the faith but are woefully unable to talk about “why” all these “what’s” actually matter. They know that faith is important, but aren’t equipped to know why. And for them, faith and worship ends up being relegated to just one of those things they do together on Sunday, before they get back to their “real lives.” They understand the importance of the faith to an extent, but since mom and dad don’t seem to know any of the important stuff, they figure why should they?
The greatest influence in the life of a child will always be their parents. Even for teenagers, who may not readily admit it, parents still have tremendous influence on their lives. Parents have the unique God-given vocation of teaching their children and helping to shape and mold them from birth on. Far too often, children become an accessory or an afterthought and it is so easy to forget that raising children is a sacred charge and a worthy task.
Gene Veith says it quite powerfully in his book, “Family Vocation.” He writes, “Perhaps God has made you a parent. That means He works through you to produce one of the most amazing miracles of them all – to create new life, to engender an immortal soul – and He works through you to bring up that child” (p. 23). What tremendous weight there is to the duty of parent!
Luther writes about parenting in the Large Catechism and says this, “There let all people know that it is their chief duty – at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed” (LC I.174). Notice that first and foremost, Luther encourages parents to instruct their children to fear and know the Lord. Parents are to be proactive in teaching their children the faith. And that can sound scary at times! I’ve been asked countless times how to do this.
I think that it starts simple. Just like anything else, parents need to start with the fundamentals. God’s Word becomes a major portion of conversation. Starting from birth onwards, we can speak the Word to our children. You can sing the faith into the ears of your infant at bedtime and naps. Prayer becomes a regular part of the daily routine. It should become apparent just how important it is to have your children with you in church as they grow and learn. And one learns pretty quickly that kids need the gifts of forgiveness, too! Many simple things carry such vitally important weight when it comes to teaching the faith to one’s children. Sometimes it’s as easy as just talking about what we believe and why. As children grow and learn, parents also need to be growing and learning. And when there are opportunities for parents and their children to grow and learn together, take it! Especially when the kids get older! Volunteer to help with the youth group or to chaperone a trip that your child is going on. Parents, be present in Worship and regularly be gathered for the study of God’s Word so that you would be equipped to give faithful answers to the barrage of questions that your children are prone to ask.
There are so many things to consider when it comes to passing along the Christian faith to our children. This Father’s Day, I exhort you to consider how you might grow together as a family in Christ. Talk to your children about Jesus. Find out what things they understand or don’t understand about the faith. And if it turns out that you don’t know these things yourself, call your Pastor, talk to him, and equip yourselves to speak to your children about things with eternal and everlasting significance!
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is 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. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up.” – Deut. 6:4-7
Written after a stellar night of VBS – dressed as a Farmer for CPH’s Barnyard Roundup!