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Importance of Families

How important are parents in the spiritual development of their kids? That is a question that I thought about as a student pastor before I ever had kids. Now, that I have kids of my own and have transitioned into a Families Pastor, it is something that is of utmost importance to me. What role do I play in the spiritual development of my kids? How responsible am I for the salvation of my kids? 

I know that salvation comes through the Holy Spirit alone, but what is my responsibility in that? According to the Barna Research Group, Parents believe that they are primarily responsible for the spiritual development of their children, but few parents spend time during a typical week interacting with their children on spiritual matters.

The study found that close to nine out of ten parents of children under age 13 (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters. Just 11% said their church is primarily responsible, and 1% said it is mostly the domain of their child’s school. Few parents assigned such responsibility to friends, society or the media.

Nine out of ten parents said that they have the primary responsibility for the spiritual growth of their kids. I think that is great! I agree with that statement. Parents are the ones who God has given the responsibility for their children's spiritual development. This is where things get a little dicey. 

Related research, however, showed that a majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children. Why the disconnect? If parents know that it is their responsibility to teach their kids about God, why are they not doing it?

I don't think it is a lack of care, I think it is a lack of resources. I have talked about this before, but this is something that I do with both of my kids (kids Catechism questions) mainly with Lexi (she is older) and something that can be done relatively quickly. If you would like more resources, please let me know!

Here are eight tips to help you disciple your kids: (taken from the Gospel Project)

1. Set realistic expectations.

One of the main problems we have as parents is that we expect way too much of ourselves when it comes to discipling our kids, and when we can’t live up to them, we feel like failures and often quit. Family worship doesn’t have to look like worship with your church family with singing, prayer, and lengthy and in-depth Bible teaching. Gospel conversations don’t always have to end with some profound theological gem from you. We need to be realistic of what our family discipleship will look like. Perhaps that means talking about a Bible story for 15 minutes one night a week at dinner and trying to find one or two times each week to move conversations toward the gospel. Wherever you are, start there and develop rhythms and habits that work and then build on them to get to where you want to be.

2. See family discipleship as a way of life, not a program.

There is nothing at all wrong with having a more organized time of family worship—it is actually a great idea to do that. But we can’t see our role as disciplers as a program; we have to see it more as a way of life as Deut. 6 describes. That means that you want to strive to talk with your kids about Christ naturally as much as possible. Look for themes in shows, movies, and music and talk about how they relate to the gospel. Talk about the character of God, especially as you experience them in your own life. We have natural opportunities to talk about the gospel every day—we just have to look for them.

3. Focus on Jesus.

Our goal should be to always point our kids to Jesus. It is easy to fall into the trap of moralism—focusing on our kids’ behavior and wanting them to act right. But that is not God’s heart for them! God is less concerned with their behavior and more concerned with their hearts. And the way our kids will develop hearts that love Him and want to obey Him is through the gospel transforming them. This is why we always need to point our kids to the gospel and allow that to inform how they live. Their behavior matters—but why they behave the way they do matters far more. Focus on heart change through Christ.

4. Be a guide, not a general.

As parents we often think of ourselves as generals—we have the authority to tell our kids what to do and point the direction they are to go. There is certainly a place for this at times, but when it comes to discipling our kids, we are better off seeing ourselves as guides instead. Think of a trail guide who travels with you and beside you. He or she doesn’t stay back at camp and just point the direction or give you a map—he or she goes with you! That is what we need to do with our kids on the journey of discipleship. We aren’t supposed to be the experts with all the answers boldly pointing the way our kids should go; we are to travel with them as guides—guides who have more knowledge, wisdom, and experience of our journey but who are still learning ourselves. Positioning yourself as a guide means you don’t need to have all the answers and that is important because none of us do. But it does give you the freedom to tell your kids that you don’t know something and you want to seek the answer together.

5. Feed your own growth.

The best teaching comes from the overflow of what we are learning. If you are looking for the one way to improve the most as your kids’ discipler, this may be it. Spend more time feeding your growth and growing in your understanding of, and joy in, the gospel. Dive into God’s Word more deeply. Read helpful books that will build your faith. Worship in meaningful ways with others and by yourself. As you grow your confidence will increase and you will also have more to share with your kids.

6. Teach by your example.

It has been said that people will remember more of what we do than what we say. We often focus our discipleship on what we tell our kids—and that certainly matters—but we cannot forget that our kids are learning far more from what they see us do, for better or for worse. As a follower of Christ, you need to be working out your salvation through God’s power (Phil. 2:12-13), but this is even more important as parents. How is the gospel framing how you live each day in the home, in the community, at work, and beyond? Are God’s love, grace, and mercy working their way out of you? Is the fruit of the spirit evident in increasing measure? Are you obeying God with gospel gratitude and joy? Model gospel transformation to your kids.

7. Connect them deeply into your church.

While God designed parents to be the primary disciplers, He did not intend for us to be the only disciplers. He has given us the church—our local community of faith—to come alongside us, encourage us, and echo what we are teaching in our homes. Just as it is essential for us to be part of the church, our kids need to be as well—for their good now and in the future as well as the church’s vitality. Prioritize involvement in church, not because you have to or should, but because you want to. This is one reason I love The Gospel Project so much—the heart of this resource is not only to help individuals see the gospel story throughout Scripture but also to position parents to have meaningful conversations in the home based on what they are talking about at church. The church and home aren’t to work in isolation of each other—they are to work hand-in-hand in partnership.

8. Pray with them and for them.

Just as you want to have meaningful gospel conversations throughout the day with your kids, you want to pray with them and for them as well. Think about the opportunities you have each day, such as in the car on the way to school and as part of your bedtime routine, and use some of that time to pray together.