When she was around seven, my daughter went through a phase of haphazardly dialing up the thermostat whenever she ran down the hall. When I finally realised who was responsible for the arbitrary heatwaves in the dead of winter, I laid down the law. ‘The next time you do this,’ I warned, ‘no pudding, so don’t do it again.’
But she did do it again and apologised.
That evening I was planning to serve a beautiful chocolate cake and the thought of her not sharing that cake left me sad. I told her as much. ‘You don’t deserve cake, but I’m going to let you have a piece anyway because I don’t want you to miss out. Even though you don’t deserve cake,’ I reiterated, wondering if I was going to regret this burst of benevolence.
‘That’s grace,’ she said triumphantly.
‘Grace,’ she repeated. ‘When you deserve bad stuff, but you get good stuff instead. Remember?’
Where had she learnt that? A conversation at home? A Sunday school lesson or a Christian video? I didn’t know but it didn’t matter. She had taken the mundane and rendered it sacred and it was my job, my privilege, to run with it.
Opportunities to point our children to Christ aren’t always this obvious. When we do spot an open door, let’s seize the moment to evangelise and disciple our children. As parents, we are our child’s number one influencer. Not the church, not the culture, not even peers. And the clock is ticking. We have 18 years to pour into the spiritual life of our child.
While bringing our children up in the community of a church is important, Scripture tasks parents with training their children in the way of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1–4). The chasm between the truths of the Bible and the claims of the world continues to widen. Our children need us more than ever to speak out and to live out our faith, in front of them, weaknesses, doubts, confusion and all. But how?
The good news is, God equips us. His Spirit is at work. And the parent is the world expert on their child. No one else can do it so well. Be confident. Discipling and evangelising our children isn’t meant to be a separate activity from the rest of life. It’s to be woven into the fabric of every day, as we ‘sit at home and walk along the road’ (Deuteronomy 11:19).
Our spiritual road map will change as our children grow.
The world of those who are 7-and-under revolves around their needs and our provision. We give, they take. We speak, they absorb. Children at this stage generally assume everyone is a Christian and accept everything we tell them. We can make the most of this precious time of undiluted influence by:
- Whetting our children’s appetite for God’s word. Tell, read, chat or act out adventure stories like Daniel or Deborah.
- Showing how to pray and worship. Sing praise songs whilst cooking or driving and make it fun. (Those lyrics stick in memories.) Insert prayer into everyday situations: when he is afraid, ask God to comfort. When her feelings get hurt, explain that Jesus understands.
- Proving that being a Christian isn’t one hour on Sunday but affects daily life: we turn to God and his truth in any and every situation, with thanks, with requests and when we’ve done wrong, we ask for forgiveness.
- Giving God credit for his creation: Look how bright God made the moon tonight. Thank you, God, for giving Susie her strong, fast legs.
- We need no theological qualification. We love God. We love our children. In short, simple sentences we offer them more of him. Start early. Keep going.
8–11 year olds
8–11 year olds are processing the world around them. Their eyes are opened to the fact that what they hear from their parents or church leaders can differ drastically from what they hear at school, from friends, and on television. Their once normal family may strike them as ‘weird’; no one else seems to talk about Jesus or pray before meals. As parents we can:
- Agree that not everyone trusts Jesus. Share their shock and sadness. Pray with them for those who are not yet Christians.
- Make the gospel clear and accessible: We all sin, and God offers salvation through Christ. Live that out daily in their mistakes, their defiance and their hurt.
- Encourage questions and discussion. Ask every question back to them to hear their understanding. Whatever the topic, you can always take it back to Jesus. Be their biggest ally by showing no topic is off the table.
- Leave ‘I’m praying for you’ or Scripture notes in their room.
- Live faith. Trust daily. Pray about the nitty gritty of their life and show them how faith connects to family problems. If you need to buy a car, pray about it as a family. When they feel broken, pray for tomorrow to be better. Take the risk. Let God show up in the moments of desperation. And then talk about the answers to those prayers, even when there seem to be none.
Those 12 and over are entering independence and are keenly aware of discrepancies between what we say and what we do. They are ‘testing’ what they’ve been taught against what the world presents. We can:
- Listen to them. Think carefully. Pray. Act wisely. Be Christian. Hold that line.
- Invite other Christians with various backgrounds over for meals. Let your teen see the exciting diversity and unity of God’s family.
- Present and encourage ways to explore their gifting and ways to serve, do mission together and model the better story for life.
- Loosely hold their ‘Christian-ness’. Don’t assume they are (or aren’t) a Christian. Give your teen grace and space to come to Christ in a genuine way, while maintaining your responsibility to raise them in a Christ-centred home.
- Periodically text that you’re praying for them. Ask for prayer requests but don’t expect a response.
- Listen before you speak. Soon they will be independent and they won’t need to ask you first. Let them practise their independence. Let them explain their decisions. Ask them how the gospel affects the situation. Encourage them!
Wisdom and insight
Above all, ask God for wisdom and insight into your child’s heart. As you look for opportunities to show Christ, rest in his sovereignty. Even for the most intentional of parents, there are no guarantees. We are called to live by faith. To surrender all. This very much includes our children.