It was a typical Sunday morning at our house. My wife, Janet, and I were chasing after 8-, 6- and 4-year-olds while tending to the needs of our newborn. After the breakfast cereal and plunge through the sock box, we had our ducks pretty much in a row, or so we thought. As I rounded the corner to sound roll call, now barely five minutes before the start of Sunday school, I found my two oldest at the bottom of the stairs in tears. "We don't want to go to Sunday school," they pleaded. "We've heard those stories too many times."
Was this a revolt, or a cry for help? Or was it God bringing to my attention a task for which He holds parents accountable—the spiritual training of their children?
My situation those years ago was not unique. In fact, a recent Focus on the Family survey found that the No. 1 issue parents wanted help with was the spiritual training of their children. I know some parents are not comfortable in this role. I myself have had no formal training in how to pray or read the Word. I had passed off to others what should have been my job.
But then I realized it's not a job. It's a privilege. And it's really not that hard to do. I didn't need a seminary degree or a library full of theological books. All I needed was a willingness to pass on a Christian legacy to my children. A heritage is the spiritual, emotional and social legacy a child receives—for good or for bad.
Where to get it
If I didn't give my children a heritage, who would? The church? Their teachers? The culture? So I started searching for ways to develop a plan for my family.
The main thing I discovered was to be intentional and consistent, using everyday experience as a tool to teach my children. It didn't have to be elaborate or lengthy—and if it was enjoyable for the whole family, the better. These are some of the areas in which I decided I could be intentional and consistent:
Fragrance: Have you ever been into someone's home where there was a vague, unpleasant odor hanging in the air? Or maybe it was the opposite: a sweet freshness permeated the house. Whichever it was, it affected how pleasant your visit was or was not. If my home was filled with tension and chaos, it would be difficult for spiritual values to be taught or caught. But if my home environment was sweet and restful, it would be easier for it to become fertile for spiritual training.
Tradition: In our house we have a door on which we mark the children's growth from year to year. But did we have a spiritual door to mark the spiritual growth of our children? Traditions, such as marking birthdays in a special way or distinct holiday customs, help create such spiritual milestones, allowing our faith to pass to the next generation.
Direction: Ever had someone give you directions by saying, "Go north eight miles, then east five miles" when you had no idea which way was which? A compass would certainly help in such situations. By giving my children a family compass I would point them in the right direction. A family compass points to truths, such as who God is, and standards, such as integrity and responsibility. It provides a means to measure attitudes, actions and beliefs.
Teachable Moments: Deuteronomy 6:4-7 instructs us to teach God's truths to our children in the everyday circumstances of life: when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Instead of listening to a secular radio station in the car, I could turn on a Christian station or play a Bible song tape. When reading to my children at bedtime, I could choose a Bible story instead of a library book.
The key thing was I had to get started. Research shows that starting any plan—to exercise more, to lose weight, to redecorate the house—within four days of making a decision is vital to its success. Waiting longer makes it easier to put off doing it altogether.
So I started. Now almost 10 years later, as part of the Heritage Builders ministry at Focus on the Family, I am helping other parents get started. Our mission is to educate, train and equip parents to become intentional and consistent in passing on a spiritual heritage to their children. With practical tools and resources that will capture children's hearts and minds, the next generation in your home will receive your legacy. To find out how you can start building a spiritual heritage for your children, visit the Heritage Builders' Web site at www.heritagebuilders.com.
Jim Weidmann is director of Focus on the Family's Heritage Builders ministry.This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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