When You Sit in Your House: Engaging God’s Word in Families (Part One)
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
According to the scriptures, the primary responsibility to impress the word of God on children belongs to their parents. It’s not mainly the duty of Sunday School teachers, children’s pastors, directors of children’s ministry or youth pastors. These people play an important role in teaching the word of God to children, but God has assigned this concern first and foremost to parents.
For many of us though, things have been the other way around. Many parents want their kids to receive a good introduction to the Christian faith through the church. Teaching Christian truth is something they view as the responsibility of a church. Parents see their responsibility as “taking the kids to church.”
When I was growing up my family attended church every Sunday. It was an iron rule. Our parents attended worship. We kids went to Sunday School. At the end of second grade, I was awarded a Bible, signed by my pastors and the Sunday School superintendent. I did not read it.
As a child I was a poor reader. I was born with an astigmatism in my eye and an overgrown muscle that caused me double vision. I did not like to read books much unless I had a special interest in the subject. I liked to look at books with pictures of military airplanes, books about collecting coins and professional football players. That’s what interested me as a boy. No one in my family read the scriptures or talked about them.
I did hear something about the Bible in Sunday School. I remember hearing about Abraham and other ancient Hebrews wandering in the desert in search of water. I thought those patriarchs must have been dimwitted to be out in the desert looking for water. We had plenty of water in Connecticut, and I didn’t see why people would go wandering in a desert when they could have lived where we did.
I can remember hearing the Ten Commandments in Sunday School. They made a deep impression on me. I heard that there is only one, true God and that He alone was to be worshipped. I heard that it was against God’s commandment to kill people, to go to bed with another man’s wife and to steal.
I loved to hear the story about the birth of Jesus from the second chapter of Luke which was read in our church every year at Christmas. I remember one year our family went to church on a Christmas Eve when there was a blizzard. Up in the warm church balcony, just before midnight, I fell asleep in my father’s arms. I woke up to hear the distant voices of the choir singing “Silent Night,” from the snow filled courtyard of the church. How wonderfully comforting that moment lives in my memory.
The point is that while my family passed on to me the culture and ethos of Christian faith, there was hardly any conversation about it. What little exposure I had to the Bible as a child all came from our church, not my family. I heard the words of the Bible only in Sunday School or church.
I am very grateful to my parents for introducing me to the life of the church, but my experience doesn’t align with the order of things set forth in Deuteronomy 6 where God commands parents “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.” (The Message)
In the summer of 1976, when I was 18 years old, God grabbed hold of my life. I began to read the Bible. In the Bible I discovered a strange and mysterious world I had not known where God is at work in powerful ways. I continue to experience God’s great power and abounding love in the words of the Bible to this day.
Our children also grew up going to church and Sunday school. After all, I became a pastor, so my kids had to hang out a lot in churches. When we served as missionaries in Russia they attended a Christian school. So they heard the words of the Bible from many sources. It was my concern that they should hear it from me also, because I knew this was God’s commandment.
It was not easy for me to figure out how to teach God’s word to our children at home. A family is not a Sunday School class. To my children, I am dad, not a pastor. But my wife and I did what we could. We did it by fits and starts, not in any way systematically. By God’s grace our children have grown up to serve Jesus and are following him.
I’m writing all this because I want parents to take on their responsibility to impress God’s word on their children. Maybe you are thinking, “I’m not qualified to teach the scriptures to my children.” I say, “You don’t need to teach them. You need to learn them with your children.” Or maybe you are thinking “My pastor and the staff of our church can do this so much better than I can.” Actually, they can do it best when they do it with you rather than for you. Here’s why. No one has more influence in the life of a child than the child’s parent. Children notice what is important to their parents. What’s important to parents becomes important to children. If your children see that hearing the words of scripture is important to you, it will become important to them. Maybe your are thinking, “My spouse won’t support me in reading the Bible with our children.” I say, “There is a way you witness to God’s word in your family. Let’s look for the best way.” Parents, of all people on earth, you are the best persons to do this. God has assigned this business to you. If you don’t do it, your kids are much less likely embrace the faith you want them to live by.
There are many things that make it difficult for parents to teach God’s word to their children. In the upcoming postings, we’re going to address s
ome of these difficulties and how we can overcome them.
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