Training the Next Generation for Spiritual Success
The Scriptures are full of stories of godly faith being passed from one generation to the next. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2Tim 1:5). Or the psalmist’s cry, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps 145:4). But there are also plenty of stories of the faith failing to be transferred to the coming generation. As I have been reading The Story, I am amazed at how often a godly father raises up an ungodly son (David-Absalom; Hezekiah-Manasseh) or how often the Scriptures record things like, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, 10).
Recently, these words have served to warn my heart as I have been reflecting on what it means to train up my children in the ways of the Lord, not just so that they know the faith, but so that they are capable of training their children in the faith. My grandchildren, who aren’t even born, could be the ‘generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done.’ As parents and grandparents, one of the great dangers we can succumb to is thinking that because our children know the right answers, that they know how to communicate those answers to others or that they even know why those answers are correct. It isn’t enough that our children know the truth, they need to know why it is true. It isn’t enough that our children can give the correct Sunday school answers, they need to be able to show why the other answers are false. It isn’t enough that they can use the right jargon, the right Christianese, if you will, they need to understand what those terms mean in every-day English.
Recently, this was struck home to me in a number of ways. Let me share two of these experiences. The first experience was when two of my daughters asked me what it means to be reformed. They knew that our family was reformed, and that their dad was a reformed minister of the gospel, but they didn’t know how to define reformed or what made reformed different from other Christian churches. The second experience was when I asked one of my sons what righteousness meant. He was using the term to describe God, even quoting passages of Scripture like ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:20). But he couldn’t describe the term in a sufficient manner. He wasn’t sure what kind of all-surpassing righteousness he needed. (That doesn’t mean he didn’t know the gospel. He was very aware that people need Jesus to be saved. But he didn’t have a more robust understanding of the faith-works division.)
With both of these interactions, I recognized a great hole in my parenting and training of the next generation – if they don’t understand the faith and its language and can’t talk intelligently about it, the most likely scenario is that their children, my grandchildren, will be the generation who quits walking with God. So, what steps are we taking in order to fill in the gaps and prepare our children to train up their children?
First, we are going back to the basics. For every religious word that our children use, we are making them define it in simple, common English. If they are unable to define it simply, we are taking them to a concordance and showing them how to look up the words in their Bible and study the passages in order to come to a definition that they believe fits with the meaning of the Bible. When it comes to understanding God, our boys are writing a paper every 2-3 weeks answering questions such as: Who is God? What does God do? How does God relate to the world?, etc. We are asking them to search the Word and articulate Biblical doctrine at an age-appropriate level.
Second, we are committed to learning theology as a family. To do this we have reinstituted a family Bible study time where we dissect a single passage of scripture or a story and help our kids to learn the inductive method of studying the bible – asking the who, what, where, why, and how questions of every passage. Additionally, we purchased a copy of John Frame’s Systematic Theology for each of our older children and are planning to read a section each week and discuss it with them after (I like Frame’s theological style, and he has discussion questions at the end of each chapter) they have written out answers to the chapter questions.
Third, and most important, we are asking our kids why these teachings and practices are important. But we aren’t stopping there. Throughout the day, Jen or I ask them why we do this or that thing. It may be: Why do I make bread this way? Why do we read the Bible after meals? Why do I fix broken things in the house right away? Why do we …? You get the picture. Far too much of what we do hasn’t ever been adequately explained to our children and so they are in danger of rote repetition without understanding the deeper motivations for why we homeschool, have family devotions, go to church, read our bibles each day, flirt with our spouses, ask our kids to learn hard things in school, believe that people are sinful and separated from God, etc.
So, whether you are currently parenting children in your home, grandparenting, or even if you have grown children, never stop training the next generation. Depending on your situation, all three of these tools might not be available, but use the ones you can and never stop training the next generation for spiritual success.