Christianity is a religion which depends upon a responsible, knowledgeable and informed membership. Though we have our professional ministers and theologians, this does not reduce the necessity for the non-professional members to understand the teachings and principles of the Christian faith.
In my opinion, the best way to develop this educated membership is to follow the Biblical injunction to “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6. Whose responsibility is this training? Most people today seem to assume that the professionals down at the church are the only ones competent and motivated to teach religion. Perhaps this is so, but there are some serious limitations that the church faces in educating children, or even adults for that matter.
The largest limiting element is the time factor. The average person probably spends less than one hour per week in actual Bible study at church. Although procedures are improving in the use of that Bible study hour, it is still only a fraction of time out of a child’s sensory packed week. Obviously, the church cannot be expected to be the only source of Christian education. I would argue that we should not even think of the church as the primary source.
Clearly, the believing community and the home are at least theoretically dedicated to training their children to the point of commitment to Christ and a life of service to Him. Some Christian education literature producers, such as the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, produce materials designed to be used in both the church and home. When both are coordinated in their educational approaches, the child will begin to see a strong identification of the church with the home. Although the church building is not where most children live, her ideas and practices should be.
Christian education in the home should have formal, structured times which are set apart specifically for spiritual matters. Family worship is a recognized way to hold a structured teaching time. It is most effective if the practice is consistent throughout childhood. Christian parents who have suddenly tried to begin this practice with their teenagers have discovered, shall we say, a decided lack of enthusiasm and cooperation. Effective Family worship tends to be less formal than a Sunday morning Worship service. Here is a time both for worshipping Almighty God and for answering the questions of inquisitive children. Symbols and terminology can be discussed and the mystery of “church” can become more comprehensible.
In considering formal educational opportunities in the home, it is wise to remember the ready made ones. I am referring to our annual celebrations of Christian festivals. Popular culture, has spent the last couple of decades revising the content of Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. In their sanitized secular versions they have become Spring Break at Lauderdale, Native American Saviors and Gimmie Time. These festivals contain rich deposits of Christian heritage. Christian parents would do well to invest these holidays with their spiritual meaning for their children. Here is where the beauty of forgiveness, humility, gratitude and charity are obviously taught. A study of the Christian calendar will reveal other days and festivals throughout the year which can be employed to introduce spiritual concepts into our daily lives.
A third form of formal education in the home is good old fashioned personal study in the scriptures. With today’s emphasis on discipleship, surely it is an exciting idea for parents to want to disciple their own children. This requires however, that parents be willing to equip themselves to be competent to lead. In the case of younger children printed church/home literature can be used. Games and activities are the best learning tools for younger children.
For older kids, a weekly assignment could be given. Once a week the child and parent could meet to discuss the results and issues of the week’s study. Admittedly, this third course is probably more than many parents are willing to do. Wisdom would call us to face our priorities. Since we already support soccer, ballet, baseball, swimming and every other cultural activity, shouldn’t we give consideration to helping our kids develop into mature disciples of Jesus Christ?
Not only should there be structured times of learning in the home but parents should also be ready to teach in informal circumstances. Family outings are excellent times to teach from a casual perspective. Outings provide new and different experiences. Children are open to learning at these times. On one vacation, our family traveled out of state. We visited the Grand Canyon. We were appropriately awed by the experience. After a time of roaming over the rocks and risking sudden death on the cliff edges we talked about God’s creation and how majestic it is. Trees, mountains, animals, games, water, ships, trains, planes and stars can all be used to illustrate truth to children. The intimacy of a family outing plus the excitement of unique experiences serve to make these lessons memorable.
Spontaneous moments are treasures to be mined. The death of a pet or the joy of a moment may provide an opening for the alert parent. “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 The fact is, parents teach in these situations, whether they choose to or not. If parents fail to draw spiritual truth out of daily situations it is highly unlikely that their children will. Failure to draw spiritual truths from daily circumstances is an indirect teaching that daily circumstances don’t have much to do with spiritual truth. Deuteronomy 6:7 reminds us that instruction should occur “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In other words, whenever or wherever you happen to be.
PUT YOUR LIFE WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
James Smart says that “It is impossible for a child not to notice what his parents value most in life.” If parents teach Christianity but live materialism, their children will spot the inconsistency, even if their parents don’t. The spiritual maturity and balance of our children’s lives depends on parents being honest both with their kids and themselves. The parents who commit themselves to living honestly will undoubtedly have some uncomfortable moments. Their limitations and imperfections will doubtless shine through, but the children will see integrity undergirding the shortcomings.
Take heart in the knowledge that whatever parents do their influence is not absolutely determinant on the spiritual lives of their children. If you receive Proverbs 22:6 as a unalterable promise from God, what will you do with the children of obviously Christian parents who reject Christ? For that matter, what would you do with the children of non Christians who accept Christ? No, the proverb is not a universal promise; it is common sense wisdom. This is a liberating concept. On the one hand we can release our children to God’s care, while striving to impart our own faith to them. On the other hand, God can move in our children’s lives even though we ourselves may fail miserably.
It must be stressed that whatever parents do they are teaching their children something. Why not sieze the opportunities that exist while the children are still around to be taught? The Christian home has the potential to utterly change the course of society. Christian families who abdicate their responsibility to educate their children call into question whether their home is truely Christian or not.