The One Secret to Spiritual Development of Children
Written by: Pastor Whitney Walters, Willow Hills Baptist Church
Originally Published in Flourishing: Volume 3, Issue 2
As John Maxwell was teaching on his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, a young seminary graduate stood up and, raised his index finger in the air. “What is the one thing I need to know about leadership to succeed in ministry?” Maxwell thought for a moment. He then replied, “The one thing you need to know about leadership, is that there is more than one thing you need to know about leadership.”
We constantly look for the one key to weight loss, a good marriage, and a successful business. But the truth is that there is always more than one thing you need to do to be successful at anything.
This young man was obviously hoping to reduce success in ministry to just one thing. One thing is simple, easy. Anyone can do one thing. I can fit one thing in my schedule. But ministry, like most areas of life, cannot be so easily reduced. But we constantly look for the one key to weight loss, a good marriage, and a successful business. But the truth is that there is always more than one thing you need to do to be successful at anything. We also seek this reduction in developing spiritually grounded children. To do so requires more than one thing.
First it requires a Christian home. Deuteronomy 6 contains some of the most comprehensive instruction to parents found in Scripture. We are told, “You shall teach them (God’s words) 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.” So we have a duty to teach our children to follow God.
However, there are two other facets here that are vitally important. Before parents are able to talk about God with our kids, parents themselves must be well grounded. Scripture first commands us to fear the Lord, keep His commandments and to love the Lord with all our hearts and souls and might. In other words, you can’t build a strong Christian home on weak Christians. Who we are must precede what I do. We can’t pass on what we don’t possess.
More is caught than taught in the home. So we must become what we want them to become. We must let them see us consistently do what we would have them do.
Finally, we are told to pass on our faith as we sit in the house, travel through the town, in the morning and at night. This requires spending large amounts of time with our children. It necessitates being with them and taking them with us so they can see us live out our faith. More is caught than taught in the home. So we must become what we want them to become. We must let them see us consistently do what we would have them do. No one can out-teach a bad example. As we see, spiritual formation starts in the home, but it certainly does not end there.
For many, the idea that the home matters has been distorted to the belief that only the home matters.
Another crucial, but often dismissed element is the church. A great tragedy has been permeating Christian circles for some time. It is the idea that one can develop a strong spiritual life, which honors God, but not be an active part of a local church. The lie has continued into the home with this belief. If parents are committed to Christ their kids will be fine without serious commitment to a church. For many, the idea that the home matters has been distorted to the belief that only the home matters. The Bible presents a very different picture. Not only are we commanded to be a faithful part of a local church in order to minister to and encourage others, we are also warned of the dangers of being outside the spiritual protection of a church.
Paul reveals one reason why being apart from a church is so perilous. In 1 Corinthians 5, we find a passage seldom discussed, perhaps due to the disturbing implications. The church has tolerated a man living in sin. Paul appeals for them to execute church discipline and expel him from the body. Paul says this will “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh …” Paul reveals that being outside the spiritual protection of a church opens one up to Satan’s attacks. We see this in nature. The lions first seek to separate their prey from the herd, then it is easier to defeat. Our Adversary, the one seeking to deceive and devour has an unfiltered access to those outside a church. The reality is that for Paul, church is not an option to those desiring spiritual victory.
I wonder how many well meaning parents have opened their homes and their children to the Enemy’s lies and attacks because the parents, themselves, have been deceived into believing that the church is optional for spiritual development. Building a solid-spiritual foundation requires being part of a church – ministering there, being ministered to, and partaking in the spiritual protection the body brings.
If my children only hear my wife and I, we will not only pass on our strengths, but also our weaknesses.
There is another important parental privilege many fail to consider. As a parent, I am able to select whom else I want to speak into my children’s lives. If my children only hear my wife and I, we will not only pass on our strengths, but also our weaknesses. In a world where multitudes of voices are trying to dissuade my children from following God and hearing from Him, it is vital to have additional voices witnessing and instructing them in Christ.
This is one place where a strong Christian school can be a great ally. While curriculum matters, I believe that curriculum is not nearly as important as character. Teachers speaking into the lives of my children are, I believe, even more important than what they are teaching. Jesus said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nothing which was not in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils. We shall all admit that a man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form.” Christian teachers enable children to see God through science and history and literature. They are a great tool in developing students faith and more. For followers of Christ, who will help children develop their hearts and minds in preparation for service to the King, are a great asset to His kingdom.
Some may ask, which of these elements is the most important for spiritual development? To me this is like asking, “Which car tire do you prefer air in?” Obviously, the answer is all of them. A Christian home, Biblical church and Christian school coming together to develop the hearts and minds of a child is an awesome step in developing lifelong followers of Jesus. Ecclesiastes concludes, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”