Over the next couple months we will look at what Scripture has to say about raising children in the faith. People outside the church often ask me about our kids’ ministry. I get the impression they assume that the best way for a child to grow up to know Jesus is through a vibrant children's ministry and fun youth group. But when we look at Scripture, God doesn’t tell us to have these things. This doesn’t mean they can’t play a role, but they aren’t foundational. Instead God gives some of his clearest instructions in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NLT):
Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Moses is telling the people what they need to do in order to ensure the generations after them continue to experience the blessings God has promised. He calls for wholehearted commitment to God and tells them how to pass that on to the next generation. Notice that Moses doesn’t say the children need to be enrolled in Sampson's Hunting Club or David’s Music School; on the contrary, the things we typically associate with kids’ ministry are absent. These things are not wrong, but God’s design for passing on our faith to the next generation is less about programs and more about authentic displays of God’s word in all of life. Notice the commands: “repeat them,” “talk about them,” “tie them,” “wear them,” “write them.” Now notice the locations and situations: home and on the road, going to bed and getting up, on your hands and foreheads, doorposts of house and gates. Moses is talking about creating an environment, an environment that encompasses the child’s whole life. The idea of sectioning off part of your life for God--this day or this hour--is foreign to God’s design. Moses is calling on people to live spiritual lives where every action is done for God’s glory.
Christian faith is best passed on to the next generation through authentic Christian environments. Certain programs fit into that, but a program is not an environment. Programs end; they have boundaries. God calls Christian parents to something without boundaries. We are to raise our children in a climate where God is loved.
Let me illustrate this. For several months I lived with a family in Hawaii. About the time I showed up the family planted a banana tree in their front yard. A few months later the banana tree was producing bananas. For a guy who grew up in the high elevations of Colorado this was shocking. It took over ten years for my family to get our new apple tree to produce fruit. Hawaii, though, was an excellent environment for bananas. A good habitat fosters growth. A really good youth group can act like fertilizer, but a plant cannot survive on fertilizer alone! For lasting growth, it needs an entire environment with water, good soil, sun, the right temperature, and so much more. Likewise, the key for a good spiritual environment is authentic love for God; it’s like sunlight, water, rich soil, and a good climate all at once.
Authentic love for God must undergird everything we do if we want to see the next generation grow up to love Christ. Everyone in the church has a role to play in this. Over the next several newsletters we will look at some of the ways in which we all can show our children this love for God through family activities, worship, children's programs and more.
This is adapted from the booklet “Helping our Kids Grow in Christ.” It will be freely available in the coming weeks on the JVC website and resource wall.