By Allison Zehnder
I have struggled in the past to know the best way to encourage my kids to follow Jesus. I don’t want it to be like a chore or homework they have to do. Childhood habits are important, and I really wanted to help my kids establish not only good habits for their physical, mental and emotional well-being, but their spiritual as well.
Everyday Emotional Intelligence claims that “our range of emotional skills is relatively set by our mid-20s and that our accompanying behaviors are, by that time, deep-seated habits.” I really wanted to see that my kids are growing in their faith, but knowing where to start and what to shoot for can feel daunting.
The breakthrough for me was when I realized that God had given me these children, and wanted to work with me in bringing them up as Jesus-followers. He didn’t wait until I had it all figured out, until I was some spiritual giant of faith, to give me children. God’s intention was that we grow together as a family in our faith.
Everyone who is raising kids has the potential and capability of discipling them. It’s okay if you are not where you want to be yourself. You can grow with your family. Remember, only God can give your child faith, but you can help grow it. Knowing who you are in Jesus will affect how you parent your child.
Modeling and mentoring your child’s faith as a gift from God is the most important thing you can do for your child. All other aspects of parenting flows out of your own relationship with God. Barna research says that 85% of Christian parents believe they are the number one primary spiritual faith formation person in their child’s life. But when you read a little bit further, very few have any intentionality or plan to disciple their children. In other words, we know we are an important person in our children’s faith journey, but few of us know practically how to lead them.
In light of that, here’s 5 things that you may consider doing in your home to mentor your children’s faith:
- ‘Fess Up.
Be honest with them about your own faith walk. Talk about your highs and lows, and be real with them about your desire to grow in your faith. If you have older children, share with them your past: when faith became real to you, who was helpful in your walk with Jesus, and even some mistakes that God used for good.
- Put God time within an arm’s reach.
Make incorporating faith and Bible story reading easy and ready to use throughout the day. Structured devotionals are great if you have time to do them…but kids do a lot of waiting at the table, in the car, or in the bathroom brushing their teeth (or doing other things!). Keep visuals, books, and written family goals in a highly trafficked area of your home. Keep your kid’s Bibles on the table or counter where you eat and exchangeable memory verses on the mirror or in a frame next to the bathroom sink. Upload Bible-based apps on their devices or tablets and give them extra screen time if they spend some time in their Bible apps. Leave Bible story books or Christian books in your car next to the car seats or boosters.
We’ve all been surprised at how far that reach can get, even with little arms! Keep good content close by!
- Keep it basic.
Start with 5-10 min. We currently have been using 7-8 minute videos by www.BibleProject.com. When you can do it at the house, that’s awesome. But you could also play the video (or audio) in the car on your commute to school or practice. Focus on Bible stories. Our family has gone through the same Bible story devotional book 5-6 times. It’s okay if it is repetitive. As they grow, those stories will become richer and deeper.
- Use the Chuck ‘E Cheese model.
Okay, even though they just filed for bankruptcy, and perhaps you are more of a Dave & Buster’s family, it’s clear that their arcade model mastered the art of giving prizes for good performance in a fun way. As a parent, you can go to one of these arcades, spend $100 on games, and feel like you wasted a bunch of money. But kids, as they leave with a single serving of Haribo gummy bears and a small plush doll feel like they hit the jackpot.
We have two convictions we are working with in our home as of lately:
- We want our kids to know the Bible. AND…
- We want our kids to type well and fast.
So we just incentivized (ok…bribed) our middle school son to help achieve both of those end goals. For every chapter of the Gospel of John that he types out we’re paying him $1. I don’t know if the strategy will work out with him, and this technique may not be for everyone, but incentivizing may be something we all do more than we realize.
Of course, we want our kids to act out of good motives. It is an important and ongoing conversation to have; but we also have to realize that kid’s mental capacity to understand the why behind spiritual habits is a developmental milestone that they may not reach in elementary years. Obedience comes before understanding. A toddler must learn to wash their hands after using the restroom before they could ever comprehend germs and their immune system.
Zach, my husband, was paid $40 by his parents if he read the entire Bible when he was in middle school. He did it in about 9 months and was excited about the money he got at the time, but now as an adult he is grateful for the habit that he established as a youth of reading his Bible.
If you have to have a goal to shoot for, throw a reward in there at the end…tickets and tokens optional!
- Do monthly check-ins with your children.
If they are younger, this may be simply quality time spent together one-on-one. As they get older, you can begin helping them set goals and targets to accomplish in their faith and spirituality. More than anything, listen to them.
Zach always says that if you have targets that you are working towards, and your system is working, then keep going. But if you are one of those parents who knows how important you are in your child’s faith but don’t have a plan, then feel free to use the 5 targets that came from the mouth of Jesus that are featured in Red Letter Challenge.
At monthly check-ins our family goes through the 5 principles of RLC and we ask our children:
1) How are you BEING with Jesus? What habits have you put in your life to help you grow in your relationship with God?
2) What do you need to FORGIVE in others and yourself? Have you done anything that you feel you need God’s forgiveness of? Are you holding a grudge against anyone who has done something to hurt you?
3) When are you SERVING others?
4) Where are you being generous through GIVING in your life?
5) Who are you showing Jesus to by GOING in your life? Is there anyone in your life that you can model and speak about the love of Jesus to?
After hearing their answers, I let my kids set a goal around one of those 5 targets and check in with them the following month.
So just as I ask my kids to pick one goal for the month…which one of these 5 above looks doable for you and your family?