As you try to raise up your children in the way they should go, do you sometimes wonder if they’re even listening?
According to Barna Research, most practicing adult Christians say their faith was passed down to them and discipleship occurred in their family of origin during their formative years. But taking them to Sunday school for a while or merely “telling them about God” may not be enough. Since statistics now say most children leave the church for good during their teenage years, discipleship is imperative, especially if you think they aren’t listening.
Here are five ways you can begin--or continue--discipling your children in the faith, even when they don’t appear to be listening at all:
1. Make it fun.
If your children are young, make your faith fun. Make it an adventure. Make it more than about just taking them to church or requiring Bible reading. The Christian life is not an assignment nor is it one of our “daily chores.” It is a loving relationship with Jesus. And the more enjoyable and exciting your faith is, the more enjoyable and exiting it will be for your children.
Rebekah, who came from a long line of influential and inspiring women, said her fervor for the Lord, her heart for prayer, and her compassion for people that spurred her toward evangelism as a way of life didn’t develop by chance. Her mother made the Christian life exciting for her and her siblings.
“My mom made spirituality fun and natural,” Rebekah said, “We had our own Bible club–just Mom and us kids. On club days, we would fly through the housework and put on our club rings (especially made and engraved with IAH – I am His), and Mom would plan a romp in the woods with a lunch she had packed. She would teach us a Bible lessons about something specific.”
Make it fun and your children will see their faith as an adventure – and something they want to be a part of – not a chore.
2. Make it real.
In addition to having fun, Rebekah said her family also got real with each other by sharing their hearts with one another. “We had family devotions at night, too. What was shared there was kept inside the family. We knew about mom and dad’s financial situation, health, and other concerns because they shared them with us, and we all prayed about them. I don’t remember being worried about these matters because they weren’t. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation to see what God would do.”
What better way for our children to grab hold of our faith than when they see us living it out in the grittiness of life? No one, our children included, wants something that we just talk about but don’t live. Your children are–or will one day be–too busy to want to spend their Sunday mornings in church or take time to be in God’s Word regularly or put themselves in a place where they can serve God with their lives if it isn’t something they are convinced is worthwhile.
And your greatest testimony to that is what you share with them about how God has come through for you, or what they see for themselves about how Christ has impacted your life. Our children see the reality of our faith, and our struggles and who God is in the midst of them, when we share our hearts with them.
3. Teach them to listen.
Listening is a lost art these days, because we, as parents, may be doing too much talking, or our children–or we, ourselves–are too busy absorbing outward stimuli from electronic devices.
In a society in which many parents, as well as kids, suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) it’s a wonder any of us can sit still long enough to absorb a sermon, learn something applicable to our lives, or get quiet enough to recognize when the Holy Spirit is attempting to get our attention.
One of my friends, who is a mom of two daughters ages 8 and 6, addresses this by modeling listening to her children so they will know what it looks like and how to imitate it.
“We’re struggling with our girls listening to us right now,” she said. “We get ignored quite a bit. While a huge culprit is our current lack of consistency, we also struggle with giving them our full attention when they want it.”
She said it’s easy to find ourselves, as parents, gravitating to a text message conversation or remembering things that are waiting for us like laundry in the dryer, chicken that needs to be thawed, or dishes that need to be washed. Taking the time to listen to our kids, however, is key to teaching them how to listen, themselves.
“It’s easy for parents to rush their children through a story while trying to get them to the point so we can get on with our project or task at hand. But try not rushing the ‘can’t-think-of-the-word’ moments by trying to finish their sentences. Instead just wait. Now, I try not to end the conversation by helping my kids think of words that are on the tip of their tongues. By waiting for them to finish talking they are seeing how conversation works and they are learning more how to listen to me, as well.”
4. Encourage them to share their feelings.
Think about it. You and I came to God either through Christian parenting and discipleship ourselves, or when we came face to face with a need in our lives that we realized only Jesus could help us with.
Bringing faith into our children’s everyday lives involves cultivating in them a heart response and relationship with Jesus. To get our children’s hearts engaged with their Savior they need to know He is available and waiting to be there for them in the ways they need their parents. And recognizing their need for Him happens when they acknowledge their fears, anxieties, doubts, and insecurities, as well as their dreams, hopes and desires.
Our goal as parents is to make our children less dependent on us and more dependent on God, the older they get. They will do that as they see us growing in dependence on God, talking of how God came through for us at the last minute, or sharing about the peace God gave us when we were stressed or anxious. Share your heart with your children (and where Jesus is meeting you) and it will encourage them to do the same.
5. Be aware of the everyday teaching moments.
Most of our parenting and discipleship happens in the everyday moments-- the non-intentional moments--which is why we must be aware of opportunities to naturally focus on Christ and what He is doing in our everyday lives.
When living out our faith daily is evidence to our children, they will understand that our beliefs are more than a Sunday faith and more than a “head knowledge” or “decision to believe.” Understanding a relationship versus a religion of rules is essential for our children to engage their hearts and become Jesus-followers, rather than Jesus-fakers.
I believe this is what Moses ultimately had in mind when he gave us these instructions in Deuteronomy 6:6-8: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”
As a young believer these verses might even seem daunting. You may feel you have no idea how to do this, but as you lean on the Holy Spirit for His help, even audibly admitting to your children you don’t always know how to trust Jesus completely, but you will continue to try as you know it pleases Him, you will be discipling them with your attempts--and admitted failures--to be a faithful follower of Jesus, yourself.
6. Lead by example.
Action still speaks louder than words. And our children recognize it immediately and tend to tune us out altogether when we our lives are proclaiming “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The most effective way to lead your children to follow Jesus is to follow Him closely, yourself. Let them see your life, hear your victories and your failures, see your tears when you mess up, and hear your praise, in spite of the day’s circumstances. They will learn to “pray for miracles” when they see their parents doing it. They will learn even more when mom or dad says “Now, you do it.”
By practicing Christian character, ourselves, we are discipling our children without words. If you want your kids to speak gently, make sure you are. If you want them to be generous, show them your generosity. If you want your kids to help you keep a clean house, show them how to, and give them opportunities to do so.
And make sure you thank them for their efforts, positively reinforcing when they make the efforts to live godly lives. If you want your kids to grow up valuing a quiet time, and becoming studiers--not just readers--of the Bible, let them see you do it. Most importantly, bethe Jesus-loving, God-worshipping, kind-hearted, Bible-obeying person you want each of your children to be.
7. Know when to talk to God instead of talking to them.
I’ve learned through the years that sometimes it is more effective to talk to God about our kids than to talk to our kids about God. There are times they are stubborn, their hearts are hardened, their ears are not open to instruction. This doesn’t mean you tolerate disobedience or rebellion or look the other way instead of applying discipline. It means knowing when to talk to God about their hearts rather than talk to them about their hearts for God.
As you talk to God about your kids, pray for the softening of their hearts toward Him, and for their desire to be people who not only please their parents, and all authority figures, but who ultimately please God. God desires your children’s discipleship and spiritual growth even more than you do. Trust Him with their hearts and pray for them often.
Here’s a prayer for sharing your faith with your kids:
Heavenly Father, thank You for loving my children even more than I do. Please draw their hearts to Yourself. Please enable me to live before them a life of obedience and surrender to You so they will see my faith is real and want that kind of faith, too. Please put a desire in them to really know You, to love You, and to obey You. And help me learn more of Your patient parenting heart for me as I try to live obediently and grow in my love for You, as well. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Cindi McMenaminis a pastor’s wife, mom of an adult daughter, and national speaker who helps women, moms and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She has authored more than a dozen books including When Women Walk Alone(more than 140,000 copies sold), When Couples Walk Together(co-authored with her husband, Hugh), 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom, and When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter. For more on her resources to help strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sinenkiy
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher, and national speaker who helps women strengthen their relationships with God and others. She is the author of 17 books including the best-selling When Women Walk Alone (more than 140,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts,When God Sees Your Tears, and When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection, which she co-authored with her husband, Hugh. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services, or books and resources to help you grow in your relationship with God, your marriage or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.