Looking back at my life there are many things for which I am thankful, but there is one treasure that I cherish – the handoff of faith, one generation to the next. At the edge of my memory are scenes of both sets of grandparents in church, with open Bibles. I can hear my Grandfather Baker’s voice from the pulpit, strong in song. He was the ‘song leader,’ the title before we called them worship leaders. My Grandpa Scott’s prayers echo, in his heavy accented English as he spoke to his loving Father in church. My own parents lived their faith as well as teaching it. Bev and I shared the desire of leading our children to faith in the living God and now I pray for my own grandchildren to know Him.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Why all this emphasis on dinner time? Few things facilitate the handoff of values and faith like genuine conversation. Unless we are intentional about creating time and space for it, those ‘talks’ seem not to happen. Around the dinner table, the truths, ideals, and values of Scripture are transferred. Isn’t this the intent of those well-known words of Deuteronomy? “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 habit is not established early on it can be 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 casual supper time discussions will become teachable moments about every facet of life. You will become your child’s adviser 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. This is more than tradition! This is about a living, compelling experience and knowledge of Christ Jesus, the Savior. The expressions of that faith will change. The songs and forms of my grandparents are no longer mine, but the truth of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Lord is!
Dad, Mom; are you merely preparing your children for life? Are you an active participant in the hand-off of faith? Education, nutrition, dance, music and art lessons, and being involved with sports are good choices. Complete your parenting role 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. Let them see Christ as Lord – in your marriage, in your business, in your money management, in your choice of priorities.
Here is a word from the Word. “Fathers, (parents) don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. “ (Ephesians 6:4, The Message)