I earlier began a discussion of walking with little ones in the years between toddling and beginning more formal schooling in the flow and setting of your choosing. I gave our discussion a little structure by giving it a cool acronym to make it memorable DTPL(G) – which pretty much means nothing other than Discipline, Teaching, Presence and Love (Grace).
The first focus was given to setting up a structure of discipline in the lives of our families so that kids learn to listen to right authority and respond well to their parents. That essay can be found here on the blog as well.
The reasons we discipline are many but the one of the main reasons isn’t so little people do the random commands of what big people say. Discipline allows proper respect and honor for God and one another so that we might follow his purposes as a family. Disciplined kids are actually teachable kids and one of the clear mandates parents have is to be good teachers of their children.
Much can be said on the role of teaching and the wheres and whys our instruction. Some of what I’m sharing here I’ve taught and shared in other contexts. For my purposes here I want to focus on the biblical call to teach our kids and then learning to do that in a rhythm that connects to our culture and the age of our kids.
The Biblical Call
It is a great shame today that teaching and education is unhinged from ultimate reality and the fountain of true knowledge. Truth can be taught about all manner of subjects without it being connected to God. We do not want our kids to think that knowledge and learning are disconnected from God and faith in Christ. With our kids I’ve prayed and worked towards the following goals in teaching them things.
- I want them to be humble in all their learning
- I want them to love truth and the process of learning
- I want them to understand that they have been given minds to honor and glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit and serve for the good of other human beings.
So with my kids we have used a phrase, derived from Biblical truth, to posture ourselves in a life for learning. The phrase is simple and a bit over the top but I’ve done this with my kids very early in the toddler years once basic language abilities have formed. The phrase is: The Bifurcation of Knowledge. It’s a goofy big word sort of phrase but I hope you will see why this is a foundational starting point for us teaching our kids. It flows forth from a passage in the Old Testament law:
Deuteronomy 29:29 - The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Knowing this passage of Scripture gives us great humility. It shows us that we are finite, we do not know and cannot know all that God knows. Yet it also gives great hope that knowledge is possible and attainable and that extreme skepticism about learning is unwarranted. We must believe that all learning is not a wasted spinning of the brain. Humility and awe for God and a love for learning; this is the goal. It is my prayer that my kids have the idea of learning very much connected to God who created them to do just that.
For parents, the Scriptures teach us our responsibility to be teachers in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6. These passages give clarity to this calling upon our lives. We will look at these in turn.
As God was giving his law through Moses, he was calling his people to a certain way of life as a unique covenant community. This text begins with what is known as the Shema, which is Hebrew for “Hear!” It means, listen up, pay attention, what I’m about to command you is of big time importance. What follows the call to hear is a central truth about God and what Jesus would call the greatest commandment (See Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Truth about God: the Lord is one. The greatest command: love God with all that you are. It is in this context that the community is challenged in the way it should impart the commands of God to their children.
 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD 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.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV
Parents have the unique, God-given charge to teach the truth diligently to their children. In the course of daily life, the Word of God should be taught by parents to their kids. To do something diligently means to be steady at it, giving focused energy towards the task. God’s people are to be teachers in family as the family engages gospel life and mission together. The locus of this teaching is quite literally, “everywhere.” This text tells us to talk of the Word of God while sitting in the house, walk by the way, when you lie down and when rise in the morning. The Word of God should dwell in us constantly and be a part of the environment in which we live. To rewrite this for a contemporary setting we might say we should talk of the Word when we chill at the house, walk to the park, work out, drive to practices, at bed time and at the breakfast table.
At this point some of you will think this means to set up a classroom setting for you to lecture the kiddos on the things of God at certain points every day. I think what we need to stress is that the teaching of the gospel should happen regularly, in the day to day flow of your life. God gives opportunities to teach as we live with him, have our steps ordered by him and pass through this life with him. We’ll talk more practical at the end of this post but I want you to “HEAR” the call of God – love him first, then teach his truth and his ways to your kids.
The New Testament re-articulates this ancient command and has particular instruction for the relationships in a Christian household. The children and parents are both instructed and a specific, and very important, command is given to the Father. Ephesians chapter six begins as follows:
[6:1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),  “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV
This passage is actually the second expansion on an earlier command given in Ephesians 5:18-21. We are to be filled with the Spirit by addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by giving thanks and by submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus. This aspect of submitting to one another is unpacked in the realm of three household relationships: husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/servants. The harmony and duty of various members of the household are in view. Children are to obey their parents. This is only fitting and it is part of the Ten Commandments. Mom and Dad should be honored as the children follow God. In this context Fathers are also called to a specific role – to raise their kids in the discipline and instruction of God. Even servants and masters had their roles changed and shaped by the gospel.
The word here for discipline is paideia. It refers to the holistic training and education of children in a systematic way, correcting and teaching them in the fear of the Lord. It involves verbal teaching, modeling and correction. Combined with the word instruction, it is clear that Fathers are to exhort their kids to learn the ways of God and to be responsible for their holistic education. Whether this means home school, Christian school, private school or utilizing public school will be left to conscience of the reader but it does mean that Dad is responsible before God. You cannot outsource this responsibility though church, schools and other families can be instrumental in the process. You must take the lead here men and you will answer to God for it. It’s also a great privilege to shape these little lives.
One of the central things we must embrace about being parents is the constant responsibility for others. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 7 that a married man has concerns of a worldly nature as he must provide for his wife and her concerns. This includes the needs of the family. We must embrace and rejoice in this responsibility and not punk out on it. We have other concerns than job and your entertainments. Embrace family life and responsibility. Additionally, the needs of the office and the church will always be calling out to you. People will want to own your schedule and ask you to meet with them at all hours and at their convenience. Our culture has also bought into a stupid idea that if we can get “quality time” together then our families will be close, connected and fruitful. The problem is in our definition. The truth is that quality time IS quantity time. To know their Mom and Dad, children need to be with you and not simply for half an hour a week. If your kids don’t know your heart, you will not have quality “forced quick time” with them. In fact, without time given to your kids, they may not want to be with you. As they get older, they will find better things to do than “quality time” with Mom and Dad. Parents give time to be with your kids often and intentionally from the time they are young.
My oldest is a teenager now and we are still close. Why? Because we have been since day one. I’ve made sure that I’m around for them. What follows are few things we’ve put into practice to make sure of this and to follow God’s command to bring them up in the gospel.
Home Team Practices
What I want to give you here are a few things we have done as a family that have helped us disciple and train our kids in the gospel. Additionally, they have helped my kids know me well in the midst of the bustle of work, church and other activities.
Win 2 out of 3
In our contemporary life and culture there are three great times when you have an opportunity to invest in your family spiritually and relationally: morning, dinner hour, and bed time. I encourage you to try to “win 2 of 3” each day. For some, morning breakfast is a great time to connect to pray, read and discuss Scripture. For others the dinner hour works much better. Additionally, bed time is a sacred moment for young children in connecting with them. For my family, dinner and bed time work well for us while the morning can be a chaotic rush to school. Nevertheless we have found praying in the mornings a helpful way to start our day if we wrangle in the chaos.
We work hard to connect at dinner and we put our kids to bed almost every night. You can see the doc I’ve put together on family worship if you want more but the following are descriptions of things we have done to connect with our kids.
- Morning Prayer – before leaving the house, we hold hands and sing a short song based on Lamentations 3:23, 24 and I pray for the family as we head into the day.
- Family Prayer – we usually do this at dinner time...not every night but often. Each person in our family will share something positive they are thankful for as well as something hard/difficult/negative/suffering oriented. Then in response to 1 Thessalonians 5 and the command to give thanks in all things, we thank God for all of the stuff we wrote down. The good, the bad and the ugly.
- Dinner discussions – we have used books by Starr Meade, topics from science, theology, etc. just to talk about things of substance at the dinner table. I love our kids to ask questions so we go with it.
- Bed time creativity – I tell stories at night and try to engage the kid’s imagination and moral development. My two oldest (my daughters) also like to ask questions at bed time as they milk trying to stay up late. I go along for a bit because the discussions are usually quite rich.
Form a flow (a culture)
I’m a firm believe that the daily rhythms of the home form a flow or a culture. This perhaps shapes our kids more than anything. They will see how Mom and Dad relate, how you respond to your sins and the sins of others and what you do with your time when you are home. Here are a few things that shape the flow of our family.
To shape our culture I have a rotation of Daddy Dates and Buddy Days (for my son) with my kids. I regularly take them to do things. Whether it’s going to a park, out to eat, to a movie, to walk around the mall, or special birthday trips just do things with them. My kids know “who is up next in the rotation.” I forget so they tell me who is up next. They are also thinking creatively about what they want to do with Dad. They know they are important to us as we give them time.
As kids grow they find various interests and things they are into. As this happens, we work to get into their world and help out with their projects. We have coached soccer and go to countless soccer games (I was not a soccer person growing up...in fact...hated it). We have built and played with Legos and tried to “transform” robots into trucks many times failing badly. My wife and I have done school projects volcanoes, worms, computers, the Civil War and even helped one kid start on online business to make money for charity. We help with homework and watch kids do cartwheels and try to do handstands. The constant call of “Mom, Dad watch me, Daddy, Mommy watch” can become overwhelming, but we always try to pause and give attention to a little princess or a budding ninja. We want them to have our attention so that we trust one another. After all, those little girls will seek attention elsewhere if their Dad and Mom never has their eye on them. The young idiot teenage boys are coming! As a Dad, I’m going to be there first.
Finally, we try to repent of sin and confess it with our kids. When I get impatient or harsh with them I apologize. When I am negative or unnecessarily critical of something I repent. I want the kids to know we need Jesus and the gospel and that we are Christian believers. Living a life of repentance and faith before watching little eyes is one of the best sermons you will ever give.
Teaching kids is constant and believe or not there are times they don’t listen or seem interested ;-). Yet stay in the game of teaching about life and faith in God with your kids. Don’t trade your life as a parent for a bowl of busy porridge. Be present, sacrifice selfishness and receive the blessings of God that come with being a Mom or a Dad. It’s worth it in the end.