Editor’s Note: The author of this post, Dean Ridder, enjoys encouraging educators and parents alike in being intentional about the faith formation of children. Check out his recent Curriculum Trak Teacher’s Lounge podcast episode about how a biblical worldview can permeate our instructional practices here.
Before my family and I moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we lived in Indiana. The public school district in town was known for its small-town feel and its high scores on state standardized tests. There are many factors that combined and contributed to the kind of academic success the district enjoyed. Some point to the district’s P.A.T.H. Program as a reason for the success. The acronym P.A.T.H. stands for Parents as Teachers of Hanover. P.A.T.H. is a privately funded organization that teaches parents how to prepare preschool-aged children for school. They also check the growth and development of the children.
Our family received P.A.T.H. training, even though my children were never enrolled in the district’s schools. Our sons were assigned a therapist at birth and had monthly visits for the first four years of their lives. Each boy had separate monthly sessions with the therapist to monitor whether they were learning at a sufficient level for district standards. Growth and development tests were given twice a year to monitor progress. We were given activities to do with the children and were supplied with information about how we could improve our child’s ability to learn.
I began to use the therapy sessions as a reminder to check up on our family. When the therapist came to check on the physical growth and development of the children each month, it was a reminder for us to check the spiritual growth and development of our family. The therapist came to check that we were preparing our children to be ready for school. We checked to make sure that we were preparing our children for the Kingdom of God. Getting my children academically ready to learn is important, but not nearly as important as training my children in the knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ. Raising our children to be strong Christian adults isn’t going to just happen. We need to make intentional plans and lead the way.
The Lord clearly assigns responsibility for the spiritual training of children to their parents. Sending my children to Sunday School to be taught by someone else’s mom doesn’t relieve me and my wife of our responsibility in this area. Sending my boys to Awana to have someone else’s dad hold them accountable for memorizing Scripture doesn’t change, lessen, or fulfill MY responsibility.
So, we as parents are responsible for the spiritual training of our children. How do we do that?
Deuteronomy 6 verses 4-9 state the following: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” This is practical teaching from Scripture.
When my wife and I were first married, we bought a plaque for our home that reflected these verses. The plaque is narrow (5 inches), but long (3 feet). It is perfect for placing above a doorway. We thought this was great, since it reflected verse 9 literally, when it said to “write them on the door frames of your houses.” That plaque has hung above a doorway in every home we have lived in.
In our first years of marriage, we rented a small basement apartment. We were just beginning our life together and didn’t have much money. The most attractive thing about our basement apartment was that it was affordable. Because it was a basement apartment, the ceilings were not full height. In fact, the ceiling in our living room was only 6 feet above the floor. Because the ceilings were not full height, the door frames weren’t either. You don’t know me, but I am 6 ft. 7 in. tall. Can’t you just picture my tall frame ducking under 6 ft. doors and 6 ft. ceilings?
That plaque hung above one of those 6 ft. doorways. I can’t tell you how many times I literally hit my head on that plaque. My wife would joke that the raised letters on the plaque had been impressed onto my forehead. This is not what it means in Deuteronomy when it says to bind these truths on your forehead. Because of this memory, that plaque, which hangs in our current home (with ceilings that are standard height), makes me smile sometimes. It also serves as a reminder of the important work that we have as parents.
How do we pass these Christian truths on to our children? How do we apply Deuteronomy 6 in our homes?
First, we check our own desire for God’s presence in our lives. How deep is our thirst for God? Do we want our children to follow Christ as we do, or do we want more for them than the walk WE walk? There is an old saying that is widely used in Christian education. “We cannot take others somewhere we have never been.” We can’t be spiritual tour guides of vistas that we have never seen. It doesn’t work that way.
Secondly, we need to live our life. We show the Lord and His ways to our children in our everyday life, not just at church or Sunday School. This is spontaneous stuff. It can’t be pre-planned. It is using teachable moments. When a Scripture verse is a response to a real-life experience, the verse becomes part of a child. We can ask God for those kinds of teachable, everyday moments. But capitalizing on teachable moments takes an investment of time with our children. Teachable moments won’t produce meaningful lessons if the teacher isn’t present.
Thirdly, we have to be deliberate. Make prayer a priority in your home—not just at bedtime, or at meals. Share stories about what Christ has done in your life and in the lives of others. These stories show faith in action. Make Scripture memorization a priority. Hold your children accountable for their memorization. Don’t just require them to memorize Scripture because of a Sunday School lesson, or an Awana project. Scripture memorization is important for a successful Christian walk. Read the Bible with your children regularly, but also read it by yourself where your children can see you. Begin your day and end your day with traditions that place the family’s attention on the Lord.
Fourthly, seek wise counsel from others. There is a myriad of resources for families. These can be purchased at Christian bookstores, found on the internet, and even gleaned from the wisdom of others. Much of what WE do to intentionally share our faith with our children is borrowed. People who successfully practice this principle in their home have shared ideas with us.
Oh, and one other thing. I don’t recommend the practice of impressing plaques on their foreheads.