Parents, we’ve gotten pretty good at forming the athleticism of our children—sign them up for sports (maybe more than one), drive them to practice, attend every game, and celebrate the championship. It’s the arena that many parents, especially dads, feel most at home. But spiritual formation? That’s where we tend to drop the ball—passing it off to “professionals” at church. Yet which is more important for the lives of our children, forming their bodies or forming their souls? Perhaps we’ve abdicated our role as “spiritual coaches” for our children. Perhaps it’s time to get in the game.
Are parents called to lead their families in spiritual matters? In Deuteronomy 6:5-9 we read “Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love Him with all that’s in you, love Him with all you’ve got…Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” (The Message)
So what about this command from God to teach our children about Him? The command isn’t directed to the Sunday School teacher. It’s a message for parents! One reason we may not have entered our children’s spiritual lives is that we may not be taking our own spiritual lives seriously. You remember the old adage—you cannot give away what you don’t have. So the first step in helping form our children’s spirituality is to simply become authentic worshippers of Jesus ourselves. Seeing their parents pray, and hearing them talk about faith matters, paves the way for children to have spiritual discussions and interactions with their parents. Living out your faith in front of your family can be especially challenging for fathers. According to George Barna, only four out of ten men attend church on a given Sunday. Dan Erickson and Dan Schaffer write, “The typical adult male in our society is more likely to spend his Sundays watching sports on TV that attending a church service.” But there is a trickle-down effect for families when men neglect their own spiritual lives. One source states that when a mother comes to faith in Christ, the rest of her family follows 17 percent of the time. But when a father comes to faith, the rest of the family follows 93 percent of the time. Fathers can be a powerful influence in leading their children to God. The role of both parents is vital, and men need to step up to the plate.
Where do we start?
The Puritans, like earlier Jewish families, understood the great soul-forming power of the family. They perceived the home as “the church in miniature” and therefore a place to pray, worship, and focus on God. If “worship at home” is a new concept to you, you’re not alone. According to a poll conducted at my own church in 2008, only 27 percent of families had a regular time of worship together in the home. I’m not suggesting that parents conduct formal mini-church services at home. But there are an infinite number of ways to bring spirituality into your home, in both structured and free- flowing activities. Following are nine suggestions for family worship (and spiritual formation) that might sound like more fun than you expected.
1) Sharing meals together. Let each person share high points and low points of the day. Remember to bring yourself to the conversation, sharing appropriately the challenges and joys of your life. Speaking about how you trust God during a difficulty at work, or praising God for life’s blessings will model spiritual language for your young ones. You’ll be delighted to see how they enter the conversation as well!
2) Sing the Doxology at mealtime:
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
3) Pray Aaron’s Blessing over children at bedtime. Taken from Numbers 6:24-26 “The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon
you and be gracious to you; the LORD
turn his face toward you and give you
peace. Amen.” (NIV)
4) Read Bible stories together as a family. This can be a daily or weekly activity, based on the age of your children.
5) Recite the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and/or pray over the children. We also ask them “how can we pray for each other?” They learn that there are no silly prayer requests, that it all belongs.
6) Pray about world affairs. News events affect children more as they age, so let conflicts, disasters, and other news stories become an opportunity for prayer.
7) Create and use a Blessing Cup. After reflecting on a passage of scripture and praying, young and old alike drink from the blessing cup. This expresses praise, celebration, and unity on special occasions.
8) Honor the life of a family member by reminding them that they are special, especially on birthdays. In our family, the celebrated family member eats from a “You Are Special” plate, and we remind the child that he/she is valuable to God and our family.
9) Sponsor a child via World Vision or some other agency. We allow our kids to sponsor a child with the same birthday as their own. This is a great way to develop compassion in your children and allow them to pray for others.
You may have excelled in sports as a young person. You can excel as a spiritual leader in your family in your adulthood. If you focus a little time and creativity, you’ll find your skills will expand quickly. This is what you are called to, and God will empower you to answer this call.
Glenn McClure holds a Masters degree in Worship Studies and is co- founder of Abba’s Way, http://www.AbbasWay.com, a ministry dedicated to drawing the hearts of fathers to their children. Abba’s Way hosts sold-out Fathers Heart Weekends for fathers and sons each summer. Glenn lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with his wife and three young children. His new musical project, Songs From the Father’s Heart can be purchased on iTunes.