by Mike Heinz
Adapted from an article for “Home Base” January 2011
In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus’ disciples prevent children from coming to Jesus. It is clear that this had been going on for some time before Jesus intervenes. The Greek indicates that parents “kept bringing” their children and the disciples “kept rebuking” them. Jesus was indignant!
What happens next reveals as much about the heart of God as anything, anywhere in Scripture: “And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:16).”
Imagine this happening in your church, the pastor comes into the world of children’s ministry and personally engages the children. He blesses them. Would that turn around the statistics in our churches that indicate we are losing the children? In my church body, 55% of children are no longer in the church by the time they turn thirteen. In fact, most of those who leave are gone by the age of four!
The mission of the church is at stake! There is no ministry in the church more important than nurturing the faith of children. So what is the solution to the problem? That our pastors would focus their attention on children’s ministry? That would not hurt! But it is not THE answer.
THE answer does not take place at church. In most instances, it takes place at home. Faith is most effectively transmitted through close, loving relationships. The family is the best incubator for such closeness. That is why God puts forth this decree in Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (NIV).”
But Deuteronomy 6:4-5 captures the heart of the matter. For centuries, Jewish families have literally inscribed these words of on the walls of their homes:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (NIV).”
The goal is more than just reading Scripture together or having devotions as a family. The goal is for everyone in the home to fall deeper in love with God! It starts with Mom and Dad. You cannot take kids any deeper into the things of God than you yourself have gone.
The first principle for family faith nurture is Be intentional.
Without intentionality, everything and everyone around us will set the agenda for our lives. Make personally growing in faith one of the highest priorities in your life.
Here are some ways for you to take your own faith walk deeper:
- Establish a specific time for personal Bible reading and prayer. Give yourself grace when you miss the time, but keep at it. There are numerous Bible reading schedules and strategies on the internet.
- Pray with your spouse. In our marriage preparation classes at church, we close the first class by inviting engaged couples to go off by themselves and pray together before they leave the building. Most have never prayed together before. When they return for the second session, they invariably smile as they recount how good it felt to pray together. My wife Francie and I pray together before getting out of bed every morning.
- Start a small group with other parents from church, including single parents. Ask your pastor what books he would recommend and be sure to make time for prayer at the end. Nothing will deepen your faith more than having a support group of Christian friends who you pray for and who you know are praying for you.
- Start a faith journal. As you read God’s Word, jot down insights for living that day. Later, when you look back, you will be able to see where and how you have grown. You will also see patterns that need changing. That is when God’s grace and mercy become even more precious as they give us the courage to not give up.
Our children need for us to be intentional about cultivating their faith walk as well. A key principle here is Begin with the end in mind.
Envision now what kind of young man or woman you want your child to be when they head off to college or start working outside your home. Here are a few ideas for growing your kids into champions for God’s kingdom.
- Pray for your children’s faith and character development. Bob Hostetler has matched thirty-one character traits with verses that you can pray for your children. Praying these Scriptures over your children will grow their faith and as well your own. Order or create bookmarks with these Scripture prayers on them and give them out to your friends. Start a faith-at-home movement in your church! (31 Biblical Virtues to Pray for Your Kids by Bob Hostetler)
- Do not just pray for your kids in your quiet time, away from everyone else. Pray directly over them, using Scripture as your source. They will begin to value God’s Word and his power to shape their character as you pray. One mom in our church speaks a prayer over each of her children before they leave for school every day, whatever is on her heart that day for her child. Her kids are already spiritual champions!
- Make bedtime a time for prayer. Light a candle and lie down next to your child. As you snuggle and pray together, you can train them about what is truly important. Reading one verse of Scripture during these times will also train their hearts to look to God’s Word for guidance and strength. If you share with them how that verse comes from your own quiet time reflection, it will mean even more.
- Give your two-year-old a picture Bible. Read from it daily, together. Set him on your lap and watch how quickly he will start to memorize the words and “read” along with you.
- Create a worship kit with your young child. Buy a heart-shaped box at a craft store and have your child decorate it. Fill it with items that create a worship atmosphere in your child’s room: a glow-in-the dark cross, a special worship candle. One four-year-old put rocks from a recent walk in her box as a reminder of the beauty of God’s creation. Another four-year-old cleared off her dresser top and put her worship kit there, declaring that from now on they were going to read from her picture Bible every night.
- Have regular devotional times as a family. This will be hard. Our culture screams that there are so many important things to do that the most important things often get crowded out. One family sets an alarm and when the alarm goes off, everybody knows it is time to put down whatever they are doing and gather for family devotions.
- Schedule a little more ambitious weekly Family Night. A great resource for family nights is Kirk Weaver’s Family Time Training books. Your kids will actually look forward to these and invite their friends!
- Share highs and lows around the dinner table: “What was a high for you today? What was a low?” These highs and lows then become the subject of your family prayer before you leave the table.
- As your kids get older, have them (help) lead the devotions. Take them aside and challenge them to set a positive tone for their younger siblings. Younger siblings will catch the spirit of faithfulness from their older brothers or sisters. And your older children will grow from being challenged in this way.
If you approach your family faith-walk with these two principles: Be intentional and Begin with the end in mind, you and your children will be blessed in ways you never anticipated or imagined. God bless you as you pass the legacy of faith to your children!
Mike Heinz is director of family ministry at King of Kings Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He and his pastor partner Roger Theimer are co-creators of the Faith Legacy video series by Kids Kount Publishing, which helps families grow spiritually while seeking to transform the culture of the local church into a faith-at-home culture. This article is Adapted from an article for “Home Base” January 2011.