(This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.)
Children are keen observers and imitators. Compliant children will try to do what their parents do in order to make them happy. Strong-willed kids amy try to be little rebels, but even they have a tendency to imitate their parents to some degree. They are always watching how we handle our circumstances.
What we do has a greater influence than what we say.
The second ‘E’ of Raising GenNext Christians is Exemplify: Demonstrating how a Christian ought to live. Once you have formed a relationship with someone—be it your children or other Christians—they will begin to observe your habits, temperament, and lifestyle choices. If they respect you, then your example will be highly influential on that person’s life. As I said in the previous post: A poor example can destroy the gullible soul.
The title of this article asks the question: Do you want your children to follow in your footsteps? In other words, is your example one worth following? If it is, then what are you doing to ensure that your children emulate it? If it isn’t, what should you do to fix it?
We know from the scriptures (and from experience) that the righteousness of parents does not guarantee righteousness in the children. On the flip-side, evil parents have also put out righteous children. Our example is not the only determining factor in the choice of a child to follow God or not. They possess the free will to make that decision. That being said, we still ought to strive to set a solid example and do all we can to persuade our children of the value of a Christ-centered life.
How do we set a worthy example for our children, whether we are teachers, family members, parents, or mentors?
#1: Guard your heart.
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
~ Proverbs 4.23, NKJV
Your example begins here. If your heart is tossed about by the world rather than rooted in Christ, then your actions will be equally unstable. Put on the armor of God and make every effort to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
#2: Pray for help.
Or every hour.
Ok, sometimes you need to pray every minute!
We desperately need God’s help to stay on course. We need his grace in our weakness.
A very wise woman confided to me her constant prayer that her children would follow God because of and in spite of her. That should be our prayer, whether we are parents, mentors, family members or teachers. We want the children in our lives to follow God because of our good example and to serve Him in spite of our foibles.
I cannot emphasize this enough—we need to pray!
#3: Get your priorities in order.
I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve seen who have put recreation or other interests before God. So many sports these days have games and tournaments on Sunday mornings. If you are allowing your child to participate in sports or activities that will take them away from worship, then you are teaching them that their interests are more important than God. If you yourself skip services and Bible classes to watch the game or go to a concert or whatever, you are demonstrating to your child that worship isn’t really that special.
Decide what you value most and order your life accordingly.
#4: Use your time wisely.
Time is short with our children. They are only in our care for 18 years. While that may seem like a long time at this moment, it will be over in the blink of an eye. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to spend quality time with your children and teach them about the Lord you love.
#5: Be consistent
Children thrive on routines and fairness. If your life is disordered and you change the boundaries from one day to the next, your children will recognize it and resent it. Be consistent in your discipline. It helps your child feel safe and confident.
#6: Keep your word.
If you say you will do something, do it. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Making promises is a big mistake, because we cannot control circumstances. Make a plan and if it gets disrupted, come up with an alternative to meet the same goal ASAP. Demonstrate to your child that when you say you will do something, it is as good as done.
#7: Read the Bible with your children
Do you eat every day? Do you brush your teeth every day? Why? Because you need it to stay healthy. Your children recognize those habits.
Do you read the bible together each day? It’s important, isn’t it?
Hopefully you eat at least one meal together as a family per day. This is an ideal time to read from the Word. I suggest starting in the book of Proverbs as there are 31 chapters (and 30-31 days in every month except February). One chapter only takes about 5-10 minutes to read. Do it during or after one meal every single day, asking your kids what they think something means and helping them to understand it. There are so many life lessons in Proverbs alone!
#8: Make time to pray together.
Just like Bible reading, begin with meal times. You should be regularly eating at least one meal together as a family. Make sure you pray before every meal you eat together. This demonstrates that prayer is important and we are willing to hold off on filling our bellies long enough to offer thanks to God.
Please note that this is a good place to begin, but don’t stop there. Once you’ve established a good routine of meal-time prayers, I suggest making time to pray together as a family before bed. Each person can contribute to the prayer. It could be that your kids go out before your bedtime (if they are older). Pray together before everyone takes off. Make it a priority!
#9: Ask their forgiveness when you mess up.
NEWS FLASH!!!! We are not perfect.
Demonstrate humility to your kids when you goof up. If you responded to them in anger or shouted at the “idiot” driver who cut you off, go to them, admit you were in the wrong and ask them for their forgiveness. It demonstrates to them that you are trying to live rightly, that you are not self-righteous, and it provides you with an opportunity to explain God’s grace and mercy.
It’s difficult for kids to accuse us of hypocrisy in the face of true humility.
#10: Make willing sacrifices.
If you are a parent, you’ve got a job. That job is building children of character and it’s no task for cowards or the selfish. There will be times you’ll have sacrifice things you enjoy because your child needs you. There will be other times you’ll sacrifice things you enjoy because your child needs to be disciplined. When you make a sacrifice for the former, don’t moan and groan, do it cheerfully. When you do it for disciplinary reasons, stick to your guns. A good parent makes willing sacrifices for the right things.
I highly recommend Kevin Leman’s book “Have a New Kid by Friday.” It sounds gimmicky, but it’s got some of the most practical parenting advice I’ve ever read. He emphasizes building character, integrity and responsibility and it all begins with—that’s right—the parents example (and demands sacrifice!).
I haven’t really addressed mentors and teachers in this article, but I think that if you are involved in a child’s life, many of these same principles apply to you—guarding your heart, praying for help, being consistent, keeping your word, etcetera. My child had a teacher once who told her that she would get to keep the maracas they were using in class that day. That same hour the teacher collected all the items and told my daughter that she couldn’t keep them because they needed to use them again. I was absolutely floored. (And by the way, the kids never got to keep them.) My child had very little respect for that teacher afterwards. She obeyed, but no longer trusted. You can decimate a child’s trust by poor example. If you are a mentor, teacher, relative or friend, watch yourself!
It all comes down to being imitators of Christ. We need to be like him. Willing to correct, offering grace, showing compassion, enduring with patience, full of steadfast love and faithfulness. Are we shining forth Christ or reflecting a distorted image?
Do you want your children to follow in your footsteps? Is your example one worth following??
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