It can often seem as if the task of providing spiritual leadership to children is daunting for Christian parents. When time-poor mums and dads are a little hazy on some classic stories of the Bible and feel ill-equipped to step up, it is simpler and less awkward to back off and then understandably hope that others will fill the gap. What I have found, though, is that self-imposed expectations of grand discipleship plans are not realistic or achievable, anyway. It is better to look at what we can do than to be side-tracked by what we can’t do. Here are a few tips that work for me.
- Seize moments. My children will sometimes have an unhealthy obsession or attitude which I can challenge with a well-placed question. They sometimes have questions of their own. These offer opportunities for practical discipleship that is relevant to their world, and this matters. I might ask them what God thinks about their issues (but will rarely ask a question I don’t know the answer to). Alternatively, I pray with my children that God would reveal His intentions when they are unclear on what to do and then have them read a short portion of the Bible and identify which verse might stand out as giving helpful advice. It’s amazing how many times they then find their own relevant insights and this grows their faith incredibly.
- Celebrate small wins. Be grateful when your kids allow you to share a story with them, or for answers to prayer that they recognise. (But don’t dismiss hard questions or non-answers to prayer, as these can help develop a genuine faith or persistence). I once challenged my daughter who was asking whether God cared about drought to pray about the fact that we hadn’t had rain for ten days. She finished and there was an immediate downpour; it was short-lived, but long enough to amaze her that God cared about a little girl’s concern. Some might call this a coincidence, but when we stop praying there are fewer coincidences!
- Role-model what you can with intentionality. Maybe you don’t read the Bible all the time, but do it deliberately sometimes with a big fat Bible in a public room in the house so that your kids get the message about what is important. Maybe you miss church occasionally, but make a statement about taking the kids deliberately when they might express another priority. Lead the way in prioritising habits that create helpful contexts for encountering God. Also, keep a consistent standard about what you will watch or listen to and explain why you sometimes need to utilise the ‘off’ switch on the TV or radio (the resulting silence can be deafening)!
Parenting is often a battle in which the will is not easily engaged. Doing what you can leaves more of a positive impression than you would sometimes believe. Our kids primarily admire us more than others, even as teens, but especially when we demonstrate love and understanding with consistent standards. We don’t easily fall off the pedestal just because we don’t measure up to others or to our own ideals. Sometimes we just need to get back on the bike and ride on; it’s our bike after all!