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Why Children Need Spiritual Instruction from Their Parents

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6.4-9, ESV

When we resumed homeschooling for the 2018-2019 school year, we took a different approach than in years past. We joined a local homeschool group called Classical Conversations, which meets once a week for 24 weeks using the classical model of education. It was a group unlike any other I had tried in years past.

During the early years of education (ages 4-11), children spend nearly 3 hours with their tutor on what we call “community day.” In small groups, they learn new information that they are supposed to practice memorizing at home with their parents. My 7, 9, and 11-year old are all learning the same facts at the same time but with different tutors. New information includes geography, latin, math, science, history statements, timeline, and english. Part of the instruction time also has children making 3-5 minute presentations, participating in Fine Arts (music theory, artists, drawing, and/or listening to music) and “Hands-On” Science. Children ages 10-12 take an additional course on Essentials of the English Language (writing, grammar, etc.) for 2 more hours.

The tutor not only presents the new information, but models how this information can be practiced at home. The parent—as their child’s main teacher—is responsible for reinforcing, reviewing, and supplementing the information during the remainder of the week. We are in our final 6 weeks of the program and I have observed that children who get review regularly are able to recite the previous week’s information at top speed, while those who do not are uncomfortably silent.

Here’s the thing: The tutor only instructs the children for 3 hours on a single day during the week. The parents are supposed to instruct their children for the rest of the week! If instruction isn’t happening at home, the children will retain little in the long-term regardless of how talented the tutor is. Will they learn something? Of course! But if there is no additional repetition, how long will that information remain in their brain?

I have observed this issue within churches as well.

In the various congregations I have attended, children spend around 45 to 90 minutes in Bible class (45 minutes if they only come on Sunday; 90 if they also attend mid-week bible study). Children sit in worship with their parents from 1-2 hours (depending on whether they attend one service or two). If children attend all services and classes during the week, that’s a total of 3 hours of spiritual instruction outside the home.

There are roughly 98 waking hours during the week, assuming children get 10 hours of sleep, and around 112 waking hours if they get around 8 hours of sleep. That 3 hours of biblical instruction is roughly 3 percent of their waking hours each week—and that’s only if they attend everything. If attendance is less, that number drops to 1.5 percent

We cannot expect our children to cling to their faith with conviction if they are only exposed to God for 3% of their life. Some will undoubtably cling to their faith because the Word of God is powerful whether we wield it or not, but if we neglect to teach our children, history (particularly biblical history) teaches us that only a remnant will remain.

Parents, the job of spiritual instruction was never meant to rest squarely on the shoulders of the Bible class teachers. The responsibility of teaching your children about God belongs to you. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6.4, ESV

Because we are around our children everyday, we have a tendency to take their presence for granted. Subconsciously, we feel like we have plenty of time until they are adults. If the Lord wills, we get to have those children in our care for around 18 years (a very short window of time). My oldest is 11, which means I only have around 7 years left. It will pass in the blink of an eye.

Don’t let the everydayness of the situation trick you into becoming lackadaisical…

In the above passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is commanding the Israelites to diligently teach their children the words of the Lord. The Israelites did not keep this commandment and their nation spiraled into chaos and ruin. Learn from the history of the Israelites. Do what God commands. Teach your children diligently, daily, and devotedly. 

Teach them by example. (Are we reading the Bible daily? Are we making worship a priority? Are we imitating Christ’s example in our lives?)

Teach them directly. Read the Word with your children. Talk about issues they are facing and what God teaches about those issues. Pray with your children.

Teach them through others. Keep bringing them to bible class. Keep bringing them to worship. Ask them questions about what they heard/observed/learned.

Teach them diligently.

An additional note: Just because we get our kids in the pew every week and teach them the bible everyday, does not mean they will choose to follow Christ. Ultimately, every child must decided for themselves whether to follow Jesus or follow the world. Our job is to do our level best to point them to Christ and pray for them, but remember, we cannot save them. God has given us a job to do, so let’s do our part with diligence and love.

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