(This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.)
Yesterday, we covered why we need to teach our children. Today, we will be covering how to teach our children. This is merely an overview. Entire books have been written on this subject!!
For starters, let me make a disclaimer: I am a youngish parent. My kids are all under the age of 9. What I am about to suggest are principles I have learned from older, wiser people and/or have put into practice myself. If you are interested in raising godly adults, I highly recommend that you talk to older parents whose children have a strong foundation in the Lord. Ask what they did with their children. Ask multiple people. (As the Bible says, “In the multitude of counselors, there is wisdom!)
Let’s dive in!
#1: Make time to read from the Word every day.
Elisabeth Elliot has mentioned in multiple books how her family had devotional time every morning. Corrie Ten Boom noted that her father read a chapter from the Bible every morning. In both cases, all the children in their families grew up with a love for the Lord. That tells me that consistent, active teaching is of great value.
When my children were old enough to sit in a high chair, I would use their temporary immobility to sing bible songs with them and read from a very simple children’s picture bible with very abbreviated stories. This is the one I used for them when they were babies:
(You can check it out here.)
The older ones enjoyed the simple stories too. (For their benefit I’d read from a different Bible at breakfast). Once they got into the toddler age, I read various rhyming bibles. If they could memorize Dr. Seuss books, then I reasoned that the rhyme would engage their minds in the same way. They thoroughly enjoyed that. I used these two:
During their preschool/kindergarten years, we used the Ergermeir’s Bible Storybook.
This is hand’s down my favorite “children’s” bible. It has some pictures and the segmented stories follow the actual Bible quite closely.
My eldest daughter also loves the DK Children’s Illustrated Bible.
This one includes pictures of historical artifacts and places connected to the particular biblical account. I love this aspect because it makes them see that these accounts are not fictional fairy tales. These people really lived!
There are so many “children’s ‘story bibles.” I highly recommend visiting a Bible book store and taking time to flip through them yourself to see what you are comfortable with.
Currently, my kids are aged 5, 7 and 8. The past few months, our breakfasts have included one chapter of Proverbs per day corresponding with the day of the month. This month, I decided we’d read the gospel of Matthew. And yes, I included chapter 1 (the genealogy). Here is how we do reading from the actual Bible:
Read with inflection. If necessary, use a Bible version like the ESV which is written in a more modern-english style. Currently, we are using my five year-old son’s International Children’s Bible. This is not my preferred bible version, simply because there are certain phrases that it restates (e.g. Happy are those who make peace vs. Blessed are the peacemakers). The Bible was a gift from his former Bible class teacher for learning all the books of the New Testament. He is thrilled when I use “his” bible, so it’s worth it.
Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask your children what they think something means. For instance, in Proverbs 25.28 it says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
You can ask, “what would happen if our backyard didn’t have a fence?”
Answers include: “The dog would get out.” or “Strangers could come in could get in and take our bikes (etcetera.)”
Your response: “So that means that the fence is protection from harm and keeps in the things we don’t want lost (like the dog). How is that like self-control? If we do whatever we want whenever we want, we will lose respect from those around us. People would be able to harm us because we have not protected our mind or heart.”
Point out important lessons. Ok, you might be wondering why on earth I subjected my kids to the genealogy in chapter 1 of Matthew. It’s actually quite fascinating. Assuming that your kids have some Old Testament background, you can point out figures like Abraham, Rahab (who helped the spies) Ruth and Boaz, David the king, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. It’s a good way to recap their current knowledge and show how the Bible ties everything together. I emphasized that Jesus was descended from kings and yet born into a poor family.
Ask: “Was he intended to sit on the throne of Israel?”
(This was my middle child’s answer): Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.
Praise: “That is absolutely right! Great job!”
Ask: “Is he our king today?”
Answer: “Yes, king of our heavenly kingdom!”
We also recently studied Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus. I asked the kids, “What three words did Jesus use to fight Satan’s enticements?” They thought for a moment. I helped them along: “It is….” They shouted “written!”
I went on, “So what does that show us? If Jesus used the scriptures to fight temptation, what do we need to do?”
My middle child: “Say, ‘it is written!'”
Me: “Yes, but how do we know what is written?”
My oldest kid: “We have to learn the Bible.”
Use some Socratic method to teach your kids. Make them think!
#2: Teach your children to pray.
Part of raising GenNext Christians is praying daily with your kids. I asked an older preacher how he taught his children to pray. His advice was to first lead family prayers so the kids can hear how a prayer ought to be said. Once you’ve established that, start allowing them to say the prayers.
Closed eyes. The reason that kids should close their eyes during the prayer is that it’s so easy to get distracted when eyes are open. Don’t hesitate to tell them that either. My children liked to point out that their brother or sister were doing something wrong during the prayer. Our first question was always, “how do you know?” They would end up stammering, “I saw them do it.” And we would say, “so you were watching them instead of closing your eyes for the prayer.”
Folded or held hands. Like closing out eyes, we fold our hands to keep them still. Prayer is not time to fiddle with toys or your dinner fork!
Prayer lists. I recently started having my kids write down what they were thankful for and the names of people they wanted to pray for. My 5-year old cannot read more than three-letter words, so he doesn’t participate in this yet, but he will! This is a good exercise for all of us. It’s ok to open your eyes in order to read your card, because it’s hard to remember everything we want to pray for. I suggest doing this with them once a week. Another option is to have a chalkboard or white board with a list of prayer requests.
What if my kids goof off during the prayer? Welcome to having kids. It’s going to happen. Deal with it swiftly. Remind them that praying to God is the same as standing before a King or a President. If we were allowed to visit a queen or leader, would we be on our best behavior? Yes. Why? Because they are the ruler of a country—they are important!
Ask: Is God important?
Ask: Is He around us now?
Ask: Do you think He appreciates it when you are goofing off during the time we should be honoring him?
Remember: teaching your kids about God has more to do with honoring God than anything else. Yes, they should be obedient to you, but more importantly, prayer is about God.
#3: BOLO alert!!!! (Be On the Look Out for teachable moments)
BOLO is an abbreviation used by law enforcement, meaning, “Be On the Look Out.” We need to be on a constant BOLO alert for teachable moments. Use every opportunity that arises to reinforce godly principles.
Over a year ago, a young woman sat in the foyer of the church building weeping her eyes out. My oldest daughter, being a sensitive soul herself, was very concerned about his young woman. We knew about this young woman’s past. She had once been a member of the church until she chose to commit adultery and then marry the man with whom she had committed the offense. She had a history of adultery (besides the aforementioned), drug use, homosexuality, alcohol abuse etcetera. How do you explain all that to your seven-year old?
When we got home and were eating supper that evening, we explained it this way: “The young woman you are so concerned about has repeatedly made poor choices. She has not been truthful with either of her husbands, she has done whatever she thought was right or whatever felt good at that moment. When you live life like that, it has consequences. Tonight, she was back there crying because she is desperate. She realized that she has abandoned everyone who truly loved her and has nobody left to turn to but the church family she left behind. She knows that we will always respond with love.”
“It’s important to do what is right, not what feels good at the moment. We need to pray that her sadness turns into a changed lifestyle.”
I don’t know if she understood everything, but it certainly made an impression on her. She still hasn’t forgotten the “crying lady.” And mentions the incident from time to time. Jesus often used examples to teach, whether by stories or through the person who stood in front of him.
#4: Show them the marvels of God’s creation
If you get the chance to go camping, revel in the overwhelming number of stars in a sky unpolluted by excessive light. You and your kids will be amazed at the vast number of stars. I’ve seen many such nights and it never ceases to fill me with wonder. Scientists have tried and given up on counting those stars. As you gaze toward the inky heavens, ask your kids if they can count the stars. Some of them will try, others will simply say, “there are too many!” This is a great opportunity to remind them that God created those innumerable stars and he knows how many there are. He also knows how many hairs are on your head at any given moment.
The complexity and beauty of nature is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the wisdom and artistry of our Lord. I’ll never forget taking my daughter, who was four at the time, to see the Grand Canyon. As we reached the top of the viewing area near the visitors center, she ejaculated, “That’s a BIG CANYON!!!!” The nearby adults chuckled, as did I. She had such an enthusiastic appreciation for the vastness of what she saw. It was an excellent opportunity to talk about God!
Birds, weeds, bugs, our complex bodies—they all open the door to discuss the marvelous wisdom of our creator. He is far more powerful and intelligent than any man.
It’s hard to remember all the things we “need” to do as parents. There will be times when we fall short or slip into less than desirable habits. This is why we need God’s grace and why we need to have these regular reminders to train and teach. Raising children is no picnic, but we can do it effectively with God’s help. It is also important to remember that your children, like yourself, have been given free will. They may choose to totally reject God and all the things you have taught them. God is the perfect Father and yet his children also reject him and go their own way. All we can do is pray and teach, pray and train, pray and love.
What methods do you find helpful in teaching and training your children?
I know there are many who read this blog with older children and far more experience. Please share your insights or ideas in the comments below!
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