Pass the Baton of Faith to Your Kids
- Wednesday, September 15, 2004
The first -- and most important -- way to establish a positive future for your family is to pass on the baton of faith. Parenting is a relay race. Those who want to win the race are good at handing off to the next generation the essentials they need to live a life of faith. But here's the catch, parents: we cannot pass anything to our children that we do not possess ourselves. Many families live in constant chaos because they don't have the power of faith operating in their homes. We can tap into that power if we get serious about having a relationship with God and living lives consistent with his truth. When we do that, we pass on the baton of faith to our children on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.
How do we go about passing this kind of faith on to our children? Again, we must turn to the Bible. Let's look once more at the words of Deuteronomy 6, which, as we have already seen, are a biblical cornerstone for the parent-CEO household. These eternal words talk about the daily discipline of faith building in the home: "And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning" (vv. 6-7 TLB). The commandments -- those transcendent principles of love, honor, obedience, integrity, kindness, and faithfulness that are true for all people, in all cultures, at all times.
What does it mean to teach these transcendent principles to your children? It is very important that we understand the meaning of the word teach in this key parenting passage of the Bible. The Old Testament Hebrews had two definitions for teach. The first was the idea of a formal lecture, as in a professor giving a lecture in a classroom on parenting, child rearing, or the family system. Our idea of teaching in the Western World is very similar to this concept of a formal, organized presentation.
However, this is not the meaning of the word teach in this passage. The other meaning had to do with casual, everyday conversation of life, and that is the meaning the writer used here. The other meaning had to do with the casual, everyday conversation of life, and that is the meaning the writer used here. He wanted to get across the idea that character training flows more out of a parent's day-to-day encounters with his or her children than it does from formal teaching. Whether you talk about baseball or ballet, music or math, the color of the sky at dusk or the dew on the grass in the morning, every conversation can provide an opportunity to teach your children about the things of God. I like what Kurt Bruner, a vice president with Focus on the Family, said about this process: "We must become intentional about teaching our children the values we consider important. It is not a matter of when we will have the time, but rather a question of if we will take the time to make a plan."(3)
The basic meaning behind the term teach is that parenting never stops. You are always -- always -- teaching your kids something. There are no downtimes, time-outs, or do-overs. Everything you do, every moment of the day, teaches your children something about life, whether you are in their presence or not. The time you spend away from them at your job, at social functions, on dates with your spouse, on the golf green, or on business trips speaks to them about the importance of each of those activities. You pass the baton of faith moment by moment, in a thousand seemingly insignificant words, phrases, activities, and conversations. In other words, just as in a relay race, the baton is not taught, it is caught "when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning."
Christianity is not just a weekend sport. It is a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday lifestyle. Those teachable moments with our children can happen while they are playing Xbox or Ps2, while they are at the soccer field, shopping at the mall, playing at the piano recital, fishing, or camping. And when your children give you those windows of opportunity, take them, parents, and teach them words of faith.
When I think about what it means to pass on the baton of faith through teachable moments, my mind rushes back to when my son EJ was four years old. EJ, at that age, was the quintessential picky eater. His diet consisted primarily of cheese crackers and Frosted Flakes, and trying to feed him anything of a healthier nature resulted in an almost daily power struggle. Well, one night Lisa and I were determined he was going to eat grilled chicken. We placed four little bites on his Spiderman plate, but he immediately began to cry that he didn't want it. So we said firmly, "EJ, we are going to sit here until you eat the chicken." Finally, he stabbed a piece of chicken and slowly lifted the fork to his mouth. If you have, or have had, a four-year-old, you know what's coming. Just as it touched his tongue, he gagged dramatically.
Many sincere Christian parents try the same thing we did with EJ when it comes to matters of faith. They try to force religion down their kids' throats. They take a hose, open their mouths, and force, force, force. This is not how we are to teach the things of God. Rather, teaching happens as we live our lives. I thank my parents for passing the baton of faith. They didn't force it. They didn't say, "We are going to sit here until you take it, Ed." They lived out authentic Christianity in front of me, and as a result, I caught the baton by choice in God's good time.
I'm not criticizing formal teaching. On the contrary, I grew up hearing about character and virtue and the things of God, but those ideas and words became real to me because I saw them acted out through my parents and other adults.
Allow me to sum up this point by recapping the three primary ways in which you can pass the baton of faith to your kids.
First, adopt the teachable-moment methodology. When those opportune moments come up in the midst of your daily life, give your kids words of faith at the age-appropriate level. So many parents miss out on this critical area because they think they have to lecture their children to teach them anything. Lisa Beamer, wife of 9/11 hero Todd Beamer, wrote this about the daily business of teaching values to our children: "It's not necessary to lecture or sermonize, but by interacting with your children on a daily basis, stay alert for opportunities to illustrate the difference between worldly values and godly ones." (4) Take advantage of every teachable moment that comes your way to instill transcendent values in your kids.
Second, do not force-feed faith to your kids. You cannot make your children adopt your faith. In fact, the more you try, the more you will push them away. The greatest spiritual asset you can pass on to your children is that of living out an authentic faith in front of them. If you are trying to indoctrinate your kids with religious ritual but aren't expressing your faith in real and consistent ways, you are missing the boat entirely, You kids don't need meaningless ritual; they need a faith that works. And the sobering reality is that if you aren't modeling to your kids an authentic faith in Jesus Christ, you may be opening the door for someone else to model to them a faith contrary to that. Good parenting is all about letting your life become a living lecture for your children to see and emulate.
Third, take advantage of the church to assist you in this process. I venture to guess you have an incredible local church somewhere near you. The church is the last, best hope for the future of our families and our society. You cannot pass on the baton of faith if you aren't actively involved in a church where your kids receive age-appropriate teaching. Get them involved in preschool, children's church, youth group, or whatever programs your church has. The number one complaint of the workers who staff the children and youth areas in my church is the inconsistent attendance among families. If your children aren't there on a regular basis, it's virtually impossible for the church workers to teach them and develop meaningful mentoring relationships with them. Their spiritual development within the church becomes a hit-and-miss proposition.
It is vital, Mom and Dad, that you utilize and support the resources of the church to help build faith in your children. What do you want most for your kids? If your answer is that you want them to grow up to be people of outstanding character and faith, then the church should hold a central place in your family's schedule.
Excerpted from Kid CEO: How to Keep You Children From Running Your Life © 2004 by Ed Young. Used by permission of Warner Faith. All rights reserved.
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