My father was a professional photographer. He loved photography and he was good at it. My brother has inherited his ability, but he is not a professional photographer, nor is my sister, nor am I. If my father were alive, I wonder if he would be disappointed that none of his children became photographers?
I have been a minister all of my working life. One of my sons is a part time pastor to youth. If he should not be a youth pastor one day, I would not be disappointed because following in my career is not the greatest passion I have for my children. What is my greatest passion for my children is that they love Jesus and that they serve Him with their gifts.
Job is a great example of a man who was deeply concerned that his children be in a right relationship with God. We read in Job 1:5 that whenever his children would have a period of feasting, “Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’”
I don’t know what your greatest desire for your children is, but I suspect that you too want them to follow God faithfully. If so, is there anything that we as parents can do to help our children move in that direction?
Near the end of March a group of people from this church attended the “Faith at Home” conference. One of the issues addressed at this conference was that of passing faith on to our children. We were invited to ponder, “Who has the greatest influence on the faith formation of children?” “How can families be well equipped to pass faith on to their children?” “How can the church help families fulfill this important role?” These are the questions which I would like to think about with you this morning. We will look at Scripture and other sources to learn that the home, not the church, is the primary place where faith is passed on. We will see that a living example is the most powerful teaching tool and we will think about some of the practices which help parents fulfill their role in nurturing faith. In that context, we will invite you to fill out the survey which you have received this morning. It will be a way for us to find out which skills we need to emphasize in order to be better able to pass faith on to our families.
I. The Home Is the Primary Place Where Faith Is Passed On
In 1994 a group in Switzerland conducted a survey to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation and, if so, what, if any, were the critical factors. They discovered that there is one overwhelming critical factor: the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from the church of the children. www.trushare.com/83APR02/AP02LOW.htm
In the book, “Building Faith at Home” Mark Holmen quotes a survey in which mainline protestant youth in grade 12 were asked the question “what has been the most significant religious influence in your life.” Of those who responded 75% identified mother as one of the top five answers, 51% had fathers, 49% mentioned pastors, 34% - youth group. Friends came in at 31%, the Bible was mentioned 26% of the time as one of the top 5, the churches Christian Education program was in the top five 25% of the time, camp and Sunday School teachers came in at 23 % and grandparents at 22%. The overwhelming evidence of this survey was that the most significant influence towards knowledge of faith and adherence to faith is the home.
We put a lot of emphasis on the role of our Christian Education programs like Sunday School, AWANA and youth programs, and they do have an important place, but the evidence strongly indicates that parents are the most influential. What we need to remember is that these survey results refer to grade 12 students. Although the results were not much different among younger grades, it is interesting to note that at a time when we often assume that parents are losing influence on their children and when peers and youth leaders may have a greater influence, the most powerful influence towards faith was still parents.
The Bible teaches us that this is the way it should be. The Bible teaches us that we are to teach one another, but when it comes to children, the Bible always puts the responsibility of training children in the ways of God on the parents.
One day when God was having a conversation with Abraham, we have a glimpse into the mind and purposes of God. We read in Genesis 18:19 what God says about Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” God chose Abraham so that he would teach his children the way of the Lord so that He could bless Abraham and his descendants.
The same theme is found in Deuteronomy 4:9, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
In the New Testament Paul instructs disciples of Jesus in the same way. For example, Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
George Barna writes, “A majority of churches are actually guilty of perpetuating an unhealthy and unbiblical process wherein the church usurps the role of the family and creates an unfortunate, sometimes exclusive, dependency upon the church for a child’s spiritual nourishment.” That is not to say that there is no place in the church for Christian Education, but Scripture is very clear when it teaches that parents bear primary responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their children.
I believe it is important for us to acknowledge and recognize that. When the church pretends to be more important in Christian training than the parents, it takes on a role that it has not been given by God. When parents assume that they are unskilled and unqualified to pass faith on to their children, they abdicate a primary responsibility. We need to affirm and honor parents in their role as spiritual teachers and we need to challenge them to this task.
II. Children Learn To Live What They Observe
Some parents, when they hear that, may be filled with fear. They may wonder whether they have the skills to effectively train their children. How is this enormous task to be done? How is it to be done well? The answer to that question is very simple, but extremely challenging. The simple answer is that children learn what they live.
Proverbs 22:6 is right on the mark when it says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Whatever children are taught is what they will most likely follow in life. But what is important to note is that they will follow not what they are taught in the formal setting of a classroom or the times when we sit them down and instruct them in the right way to live. What they will learn is what they see us live.
Deuteronomy 6 is so clear about this strategy. In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 we read, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 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."
In this passage we notice that the starting point must be our own love for the Lord. That which is of primary value in our lives is that we must love the Lord. That love must be a complete love – a love that is in our hearts, which goes down to the depth of our soul and is displayed with all our strength. If that love is not first of all in us, not as a museum piece which is put on display at breakfast and on Sundays, but which permeates our whole life, how will it be passed on? If love for God is deeply rooted in our life, then the second part of this strategy will be second nature to us. When it is second nature to us, we will naturally and strategically talk about God when we sit at home and when we are walking about and late in the evening and first thing in the morning. Love for God will not be a show we put on, but a life we live.
The effects of the example of a life of faith well lived are seen in the story of Samuel and his parents. The story is found in I Samuel 1-3. Elkanah, Samuel’s father, was a man who led his family in regular worship. The place of worship for the people of Israel at that time was the tent of meeting at Shiloh. That is where sacrifices were offered for sins and where God’s presence was and was therefore the place they went to worship. Every year Elkanah took his family there in order to worship with them. Elkanah demonstrated the importance of worshipping God by his regular practice of going and also in taking his family to worship.
Since Hannah did not have children, life was very difficult for her. One of the years when they went to the temple, she was particularly agonizing in her heart about her barrenness. Since this was the place where they could seek God, we find that that is exactly what she was doing. It seems she was offering a very animated prayer which was also a prayer of desperation. It seems that she lived with “bitterness of soul” but it also says that "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord." Her difficult situation was cause for her to lay it all out before God. It was in her heart to recognize that help comes from the Lord and that is where she went. We also see an attitude of faith in her so that when the priest answered she accepted the answer as from the Lord and was at peace. We read in 1 Samuel 1:18, "She said, ‘May your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." When God answered her prayer we read that she responded with praise to the Lord, as recorded in I Samuel 2. After her son had been weaned, we read a further evidence of one who loved the Lord in that Hannah fulfilled her vow to give Samuel to the Lord and he went to live with the priest and began to serve him in the tent of meeting. The early years of Samuel were lived in this home where faith was not only a theory, but central to life. It was a home in which the family worshipped and in which faith was expressed and lived in the trials of life.
What became of Samuel? The first story we hear of his response occurred when he was living in the temple. One night he heard a voice and because he had had no previous experience, he did not know what to make of the voice. Eventually the priest, Eli, informed him that it was God speaking to him. Samuel responded by listening to the voice of God. He became a man who lived his whole life in obedience to God. The faith life he had seen in his parents was certainly one factor in influencing him to follow the Lord. That is not to say that there is a guarantee or that it is inevitable, but it is to say that the influence of parents in bringing their children to faith is very important.
Others who study these things and have written about them have found the same thing.
Mark Holman was the presenter at the Faith at Home seminar which we attended. He writes, “…no matter how good a Sunday School or youth program is, if children don’t see godly living modeled and hear issues of values and faith discussed in the home, any faith they gain at church probably will not stick when they grow older.” He also says, “Faith is not something that can be taught; faith is something that must be caught.”
Tim Kimmel has written the book, “Why Christian Kids Rebel” and he also has some important things to say about this. He writes, “If we trade our passion for Christ for a convenient Christian experience, it’s going to be very difficult for our children to develop a deep intimacy with God – at least not through our example.” “…it is extremely easy for the children of Christian parents to connect to God through the traditions surrounding their beliefs rather than through an authentic relationship with Christ.” “Christianity, at its core, is not just something we do or something we know; it’s Someone we love.” “Kids today are more inclined to believe God’s truth and embrace it when they have seen it embodied in a changed life. They especially give truth weight when they see it lived out under stress.” “The biggest determining factor as to whether a child’s Christian education will be stuck in his head or hidden in his heart has to do with the home he comes from and how passionate his parents are about Jesus Christ.”
“There is a major problem in many Christian homes, and it feeds a child’s inclination toward spiritual rebellion. It’s the presence of a faith that doesn’t cost much. It’s a belief system that fits comfortably into our personal agendas.” “Kids want to see more in the Christian faith than mediocrity and convenience.”
I John 1:1-3 says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."
Although this passage isn’t about parents and children, it is about passing on faith. It gets to the heart of the primary principle of passing on faith, whether from one person to another or from parent to child. It begins with a personal experience. John speaks of what “we have seen with our eyes” and what “we have looked at and our hands have touched.” As they proclaimed the gospel, they were proclaiming what they had personally experienced. Their goal was “so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father.” Our goal for our children is that they may have fellowship with us and with God. The way to achieve that is to communicate in life and with word what we have touched and seen and heard. Our children will learn what we live.
III. Displaying Faith Practices
This is sometimes tough to do. If faith is in our hearts and we are living it, it will pass on to our children. But living faith before our children involves specifics. What are some of the specific things we can do to let those in our home see our faith?
In the Old Testament there are some examples of what the people of Israel did to pass faith on to their families. God instructed them to do these things exactly for this purpose.
One of the things which the Israelites used to pass on faith was the Passover celebration. Once a year they were to participate in this meal of remembrance. In Exodus 12:26, 27 we read, "And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’”
Ceremonies which remember God’s salvation are good ways of teaching our children about faith. They are tangible expressions which raise questions and require discussion. Therefore it is good to have children present at communion and as soon as they are Christians to instruct them in the participation in communion so that they can participate in remembering what Christ has done.
In Deuteronomy 6:20 we read, "In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’” The Israelites lived according to the Word of God. Because of the presence of this book in their midst, children raised questions and were directed to God. The presence of the Word of God in our life will be another way in which those in our family will be brought to see God. What will be the impact on our children if every day at a particular time they see us sitting in a certain chair reading our Bible and if afterwards they notice a well worn Bible on the table beside that chair? It will bring them to ask, what is the meaning of such a dedication to this book? If they also see us submit to the words of God’s book and realize that we are not only reading it, but living by it, it will have even more of an impact.
Joshua 4 tells the story of how Israel came through the Jordan River. When they did, God instructed them to bring stones out of the middle of the river. We read in Joshua 4:5-7, "Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
What are some ways in which we can set up stones of remembrance in our life to remind ourselves and our family of the things that God has done for us? When we lived in Manitou our children were in their growing up years. We had a wall in the garage on which we marked their height. Each year about the time of their birthday they stood against the wall and we marked their height and dated it. It was always interesting to see how much they had grown. Do we ever make markers of spiritual growth? Over the years, I have heard people talk about how they have not had assurance of salvation at a certain period of their life. I heard about how one family addressed that issue by writing on a post in the basement the date on which members of their family accepted Christ. It helped them know that they had made the decision and affirmed the decision they had made. If we are willing to mark our house with indicators of God’s work, surely the people in our house will see God at work.
These are some examples of how faith was passed on in the Old Testament. What are some other of the specifics of living faith before the eyes of our children?
In a survey done by George Barna he writes, “We discovered that in a typical week, fewer than 10% of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together(other than at meal times) or participate in an act of service as a family unit.” Scripture reading, prayer, worship and service are excellent ways in which to demonstrate faith to our families.
Dr. Tim Kimmel writes about some of the practicalities. He suggests, we “…shouldn’t let our academic study of the Bible be a substitute for our personal study of it.” We “…should be doing more than just attending a local church. We should be serving in one.” We “…should be developing relationships with people outside the safe confines of our Christian peer group.” “God…placed a passion in each of our hearts…we need to act on that passion and turn it into a ministry.”
Mark Holman points to four keys to nurturing faith in the home. They are: caring conversations or faith talk; devotions in the home; family service in the neighborhood and community and rituals and traditions in the home.
Do you as a parent feel well equipped, to pass faith on to your children?
Even though I have been a pastor for many years, there have been many ways in which I know that I did not do what was best for passing faith on in my home. For example, although I prayed, Carla and I have not always prayed together. We all struggle in various ways and as a church we want to help equip the families in this church develop good habits of passing on a living faith. In order for us to understand where you struggle in this matter, we have put together a survey. Our hope is that as you fill out this survey, we will discover some of the ways in which we as a church can help you live your faith and “showcase” your faith for your family in order to help keep lived faith before your and their eyes. We invite you to respond to the survey you received at the beginning of this service. This is for everyone, not just people with small children, so we ask that everyone fill it out. The definition of family is not just those who have young children in their home, but any home in which there is more than one person. We will give you a few moments now to fill it out and then if you would put it in the box provided in the back we would appreciate it.
In Psalm 145:4 we read, "One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts." May that be the intention of our heart! May what God has done pass on from generation to generation.