The church’s sanctuary rocked with the sound of children singing, “My God Is Powerful” on the first day of Vacation Bible School. Paige led them in praise. When I first came to my present congregation, Paige was a little girl, just 5 years of age. Now, she is a young woman, a growing Christian, the next link the unbroken chain that links heaven and earth with the Gospel story. Taking it all in, my heart overflowed with thankfulness. Our local church invests heavily in efforts to place the eternal Truth into the minds and hearts of the young! When Selah (my granddaughter) visited our home last week, I offered the blessing at dinner. As I picked up my fork, she asked if she could pray, too. So, our dinner was double blessed and this Grandpa was glad. Selah is part of the 5th generation in the Scott family to be trained to recognize God’s place at the center of life.
How are you doing in your efforts to pass the faith along to your kids? Let me share a strategy that works. It starts at the supper table. For some of you that phrase is archaic, perhaps even mysterious. The supper table can become a sacred place. Before you laugh, consider these practical suggestions. Will they be easy to implement? No. Will they require some sacrifice on your part? Absolutely, yes. Will they pay off richly? Yes.
First, get your spouse to agree to make a regular time for the supper hour at least four days of the week. Make it the fixed point of the day that no one is allowed to interrupt. Write the time on your calendar and in your datebook.
Second, keep the appointment with your family and insist that each person be at the table. Your example will help your children to see that you are serious about spending time with them.
Third, eliminate distractions during the meal. No one, including Mom and Dad, should bring their phone, Ipad™, or book to the table. Turn off the television in the next room. Get attention focused on those at the table.
Fourth, initiate discussion that includes everybody. Your toddler’s story may not be of burning interest but it needs to be told and heard. Your teenager, though appearing bored, wants you to listen.
Fifth, build a conversational model similar to one you might use if your neighbors were present for dinner. Forget that authoritarian “I know what’s best for you” parent’s role at the supper table. Instead, become a friend who listens. Do not use this time to scold and lecture. Make it a happy time! Suspend judgement and listen to the whole story without stopping it for your input. Develop a sense of humor that can laugh with the foolishness of a child and a teenager. This is a key part of handing the faith off to the next generation! Conversation that is authentic and that includes your own stories- of failures and victories in your Christian walk – will build and strengthen your relationship with your kids and create a conduit for the exchange of Christ-centered values. For example, when Jim tells the story of the bully of the classroom, listen carefully to discover how he was feeling. See the world through his eyes. In a discussion, not a lecture, help him to work out a Christian response to that bully. Don’t always be the hero. Tell your stories straight so that your children are assured that they, too, can fail and recover!
In the course of this conversation the truths, ideals, and values of Scripture are transferred. Isn’t this the intent of those well-known words of Deuteronomy? Faith is better ‘caught’ than ‘taught.’ That is why the Bible tells us to integrate what we believe into our daily actions. “Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, The Message)
Make family times of prayer more meaningful by praying at the end of the mealtime. In addition to thanks for the meal, thanks can be offered the victories of that day. Petitions for the concerns expressed at the table can be presented to the Lord.
If this practice is not established from the earliest moments of your child’s life it will be much more difficult to create a real family supper table. Persist in the effort. With time, greater trust levels will be created and stories will get told. Questions will find their way into conversation. Those apparently casual supper time discussions will become teachable moments about every facet of life. You will become your child’s advisor and confidante’ about career choices, doubts, fears, hopes, and dreams. You will find a window into his world. The solid relationships formed during these moments will make your home a safe harbor in the stormy weather that you and your children will surely encounter along the way.
Make the most of the short window of opportunity God has given you with your child. Your family’s dinner table is a unique place where you can transfer eternal values to your children. Build relationships that will last for a lifetime in just 30 minutes a day.
A critical mission for each generation of disciples is to hand off the faith, not just a tradition, but a living, compelling experience and knowledge of Christ Jesus, the Savior. The expressions of that faith will change. The truth of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Lord never will. Are you an active participant in the hand-off of faith?
Dad, Mom; are you merely preparing your children for life? Education, nutrition, dance, music and art lessons, and being involved with sports are good choices. Finish the work by leading them to worship, to service, to knowing the Living Lord! As important as the Church is in that process, this pastor can never take your place as a disciple-maker in your home. Faith is better ‘caught’ than ‘taught.’
The Proverb tells us if we “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. ” (Proverbs 22:6, NKJV) The Message comes a little closer to the Hebrew intention of the word, “train,” saying – “Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost.” (Proverbs 22:6, The Message) The word that is translated as, “train,” is a word that in every other usage in the Bible is translated as “dedicate.” Making disciples is not a singular act or an event. It is a way of life.
To pass the faith along we must go far beyond just taking a child to church, having a time of Bible reading at the dinner table, or a prayer before bedtime. Let them see Christ as Lord – in your marriage, in your business, in your money management, in your choice of priorities!