Since the goal of Christian parenting is to raise obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, then every family needs to be a place of spiritual formation. This isn’t the job of the Church, or youth pastor, it is the job of parents. Children need to be taught and have modeled to them the lifestyle habits that make for obedient discipleship. And they need it to come from their parents. These lifestyles and patterns of life include prayer, Scripture study, Scripture memorization and meditation, worship, submission, forgiveness, repentance, Sabbath rest, generosity, Stewardship and a host of other disciplines.
The Word calls us to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). We are the parents and our children are our heritage, and if rightly trained, a blessing not only to ourselves but to all whom they will come into contact. So how does one begin the process of making the home a place of spiritual formation?
First, parents must set about making their house a place of worship and a training ground for the Christian life. Unfortunately, without a conscious decision to this end, the demands of life will press in and other things will take priority. If parents are wishy-washy on their goals and plans, their children will suffer and turn out exactly like society and culture desire.
Second, determine which disciplines are most important to teach first. Our family believes that family worship times are the most important. When our children were young (under 3) we focused on prayer at the meal and bible reading at bedtime. Now, as our children are growing up (ages 5-12), each day at one of our meals, normally the breakfast meal, but it has varied depending on the day, we take time to read the word, sing 2 hymns, memorize a part of a catechism and close in prayer for each other. This routine takes about 20 minutes but it is establishing a fundamental reality in all our lives. Worshippers are who we are and worship is what we do. This gives us time to discuss the word, field questions, hear thoughts on why a passage is included in the Bible and correct any misunderstandings our children may have.
We have opted to sing hymns because they are easy to learn and don’t require any extra musical abilities, things our family lacks. But the fruits of such labors pay off quickly. Where many kids walk around reciting advertising jingles, ours carry the great hymns of faith with them, they hum them, sing them and even spontaneously break out into song. This tells their father, that the mind is being transformed and shaped to view life in a very specific way – God is God, Christ is Lord and the Spirit is part of the Trinity.
A friend of mine, is much more adept at teaching his kids the hymns. His daughters, both 3 or under, know hundreds of them. Time tested hymns, written with great theological implications, fully trinitarian. What a legacy to give our children. (As an aside, when adults grow old and Alzheimer’s sets in and they are unable to remember who their children or spouse are, it has been shown and I have experienced it first-hand – these adults can still recall the words to great hymns and passages of Scripture they memorized earlier in life.) Family worship is fertile training ground for discipleship.
Furthermore, we as a family memorize scripture passages, not a verse here and there but entire psalms and whole chapters of the gospel or the epistles. Romans tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1f), in other places Paul urges us to think on whatever is good, noble and right. The scriptures definitely fit both categories. Even modern psychology affirms that we are what we dwell on. The entire wing of cognitive therapy exists to correct people’s self-understanding and to change their thinking patterns and habits. Why not bypass the world’s psychology by planting good texts in the minds of our children before they develop poor thought patterns? This will form them and allow God to bring His Word to their minds as they grow and mature.
When it comes to prayer, as a family, we pray not only at meals, but before bed, and whenever the need or occasion arises. If we get a call that someone is sick, we stop and pray as a family for God’s mercy and his healing, then I may take one of my kids to the hospital to visit and pray with the infirmed. When big decisions are being made, we invite our kids to join in the prayer and ask them if God revealed any wisdom to them about the issue at hand. We even practice silence in our house, inviting all to go to a quiet place (a hard thing with 5 kids) and sit for 5-10 minutes in the presence of God and listen for his voice. Sometimes they hear, sometimes they don’t; that’s okay for the same is true for me. But I am amazed at the things God says to kids. One time our daughter came forward and confessed sin that none of us knew she had done, another time a different daughter said that we weren’t to pray for healing for a particularly ill friend, but we were to pray for comfort for the family when she died. Sure enough she died a few days later and my daughter had been praying for comfort before anyone else even knew what was happening.
Stewardship and generosity are more great areas to form into our children. How can we teach our children to give and care for those things God has given us? There are a variety of ways. We give our children an allowance, not much but $5 a month is enough to start the pattern of giving. When they receive it, they are asked how much they want to give back to God. We have never told them there is a minimum, but they have asked us how much we give at different times. And we take the opportunity to share some of our patterns in terms of percentages. Kids don’t need to know dollar amounts at a young age they need to understand relative quantities. Often our kids will give 20% or more away, and rarely do they ever defer from giving at all.
Then when special offerings or collections come we invite them to give more, sometimes they respond, sometimes they don’t. Be we are teaching them to consider everything before God. In addition, every December we take our entire giving for the month and put it into our kids hands. Then we sit down with a gift catalog from a group like CRWRC or Heifer International, or World Vision and invite them to decide how to best use the money. It is great seeing their faces and eyes light up as they choose how to give God’s money and to pray for those who are receiving these gifts, not only for their poverty to be alleviated but for them to come to know the love of Christ.
Stewardship is a little more difficult, for it involves so many areas: care of the land, simplicity, etc… We have always had a garden in order to teach our children to love the natural world. Unfortunately our current home doesn’t have enough light for a garden, so we volunteer at a Community Supported Agriculture Farm near our home. This has proved to be an even better means of developing an ethic of caring for the Land. Walter, our farmer at FA Farms in Ferndale, WA, takes great care of his farm. No big machinery, no heavy fertilizers, rather he works the ground by hand and takes the time to teach our kids how to tell good soil from bad, why fertilizers and hybrids are dangerous to indigenous peoples and a variety of other things. WE have learned so much from Walter, he is God’s way of teaching us as a family about the care of His creation.
I feel like I could keep writing. But I will stop here and maybe in another post address other ways of practicing Spiritual Formation in the Family. In the meantime, I hope you get the picture. Spiritual Formation in the Family is a must, and it takes great effort. But the consequences of not doing it are disastrous and too dismal to contemplate. I urge you to consider how to form your Children into the obedient disciples of Jesus Christ.