Encouraging Parents in the Spiritual Growth of their Children
By Brad Gurgel
According to a study of the spiritual health of young adults carried out by LifeWay research in 2017, the top two predictors of spiritual health for young adults were whether or not the young adults read or had the Bible read to them regularly when growing up and whether or not the young adult regularly spent time in prayer with their family as a child.
These findings I’m sure aren’t surprising to you. Rather, they reflect God’s infinite wisdom and plan for wanting these types of faith-building activities as a central part of family life from the very beginning:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9.
God makes it clear that spiritually healthy homes are places where God’s Word is constantly discussed and actively lived out by parents and their children. God paints a picture for us of a Christian home as a place where His Word guides and impacts all aspects of a family’s daily life.
As WELS teachers, we serve in a nation where only about 30% of American Christians read the Bible regularly. This means that the vast majority of children in our classrooms are not regularly immersed in the Word of God in their homes.
To effectively care for the spiritual needs of the students in our classrooms, a major part of our role as teachers must, therefore, be to encourage parents to take the lead role God desires them to have in the spiritual upbringing of their children. When parents embrace their responsibility as their family’s primary spiritual leaders, then God’s Word changes from something students occasionally interact with at church or school into something that truly becomes the central part of the family’s life as the Lord desires it to be!
Helping Parents Understand Their Vital Role
The findings of a study done of Christian families for the book Becoming Soul Mates with Your Child by Robert and Debra Bruce have proven useful to me in helping parents appreciate more deeply the profound impact they have on the spiritual lives of their children. This study looked at the percentage of children who remained faithful in church attendance later in life compared to the church attendance habits of their parents. For families where both parents attended church regularly while the child was growing up, 72% of the children continued to faithfully attend church years later as young adults. When just the father attended church regularly, the number of children who remained faithful to church attendance later in life dropped to 55%. If only the mother attended church with the children, just 15% of the children remained faithful. Not surprisingly, if both parents only sporadically attended church, a mere 6% of children attended church faithfully later on in their lives!
I have found a sports analogy to also be a powerful discussion starter on this topic with families. When a young child is a die-hard fan of a certain sports team, it usually isn’t hard to understand why. What is likely true is that team is regularly watched, passionately discussed, and read about within that home by one or both of the parents on a regular, consistent basis. The children in that home pick up on how important this team is to their parents, feed off of their enthusiasm, and make it a priority in their own lives to cheer for this team as well. Imagine the spiritual impact parents would have on their children if God’s Word was given the same high priority in our homes that we often give to our favorite sports teams!
Fathers, especially, may feel insecure in their ability to lead a family in the Word of God. Pointing out to fathers that the love their children have for the family’s favorite sports team is proof that they do have the ability to instill a deep enthusiasm and love for something in the lives of their children! Applying this same enthusiasm for the Word of God in their home will have a profound spiritual impact on their children! (Note: If the family isn’t a big sports family, this analogy also works well for just about any favorite family activity including hunting, fishing, camping, or horseback riding, etc…)
Finally, more powerful than any study or analogy is sharing directly from scripture God’s clear plan for parents to take the lead in the spiritual upbringing of their children. Ephesians 6:4 is a great passage to memorize for use in discussions encouraging spiritual leadership in the home.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Supporting Families in Developing Spiritual Habits
In many homes, a generation or two has passed since family devotions were part of a regular family routine if they ever existed at all. As a result, we must remember that many parents we work with in our teaching ministries will not be familiar with what leading a family devotion looks like nor will feel confident in knowing how or where to begin. Teachers will need to provide training, resources, and regular encouragement to aid families in developing positive spiritual habits in their homes. Need somewhere to start? Try WELS Family Devotions.
Developing a school-wide family devotional plan is one effective way to do this. At Saint Peter Lutheran School in Saint Peter, Minnesota this past school year we created a plan where all of our school families were given a year-long schedule of two Bible stories to read together as a family each week. A generous member of our congregation donated funds to allow us to purchase various levels of Children’s Bible story books to give an appropriately leveled book to all of our school families based on the ages of their children. The plan was able to be followed using any of the Children’s Bible story books handed out or by reading the stories directly out of the Bible for older students.
Home visits by our teachers before the beginning of the school year served as an effective time for our teachers to introduce the devotion plans, hand out the Bible story books, and give the parents advice on how to carry out family devotions and pray with their children. Parent/teacher conferences, held at various times during the school year, served as great opportunities to check in with each family on how the plan was going and give further advice and encouragement.
Having all of our school families on the same devotional plan made regular encouragement to keep faithful with devotions much easier and more effective! Students were encouraged regularly to remind their families to read each week’s stories. The page numbers on which each week’s stories could be found in the various Bible story books were published weekly in our school newsletter, Facebook page, and website. Knowing the two stories each of the students were reading with their families each week gave teachers the ability to talk about the Biblical truths brought out in those stories at school and encourage students to bring home some of those thoughts and encouragements to share with their parents and siblings when the devotions were read that week at home.
Seeing many of our school families begin and stick with a new routine for having family devotions and prayers with their children at home each week was a joy! We hope to build on this success in the upcoming school year!
Helping Parents Encourage Their Children in an Uncertain Time
In this time of much uncertainty and anxiety due to COVID-19, many of the families in our classrooms will likely be struggling with how to talk with their children about what is taking place in the world around them.
John 16:33 is an excellent passage that has become not only a “go-to” passage for me in helping parents talk about challenges with their children, but also a favorite passage for my own personal comfort in recent days:
Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
This passage contains my least favorite promise of Jesus – the promise that in this world we will face hardships and challenges because of sin. However, this truth does not need to lead us into despair. Rather, this passage makes it clear that Jesus has fully defeated the root problem of all the challenges we face in this world – sin! As children of God, we can be fully confident that, no matter what the future holds, we will be victorious in Jesus! What a life-changing truth this is for us and for our children! This means our families don’t have to fret the bumps and challenges that come our way in this life. The final victory we have in Jesus is already guaranteed!
We can encourage the parents of our students in helping their children learn to see the direct connection between this world’s challenges and sin. We want to help parents instill in their children the perspective that the challenges we face are constant reminders that God has a better place waiting for them in heaven. Children can then be led to see the truth that Jesus has fully overcome this problem of sin through his perfect life and innocent death on the cross on their behalf! Through faith in Jesus, they have certain victory over their sin and a home waiting for them in heaven. It is only in Jesus that our children will be able to find true and lasting peace and confidence to face the challenges of this life.
May the amazing grace of Jesus motivate us as teachers to continue to grow in effectively guiding our school families to center their family life on these beautiful, peace-giving truths found within God’s Word!
Brad Gurgel serves as principal at Saint Peter Lutheran School, St. Peter, MN.
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