Podcast episode 016: Training our children in the way they should go
“It takes a village to raise a child”, so the saying goes—which may mean that the rich web of relational networks that a close-knit community provides is essential for giving children the social world their upbringing requires. Or it may mean that unless you have someone close by you can offload the kids onto occasionally, you’ll go crazy.
Either way, as Christians, we’re aware that raising and training children in the ways of the Lord is not just a parental responsibility, but a communal one. It’s something we do together as a church. At most baptisms or dedications, we promise as the congregation to be part of this.
But do we take that responsibility seriously? And what does it mean in practice—for both parents and churches—to “train up a child in the way he should go” (as Proverbs 22:6 puts it)?
Peter Tong joins us on this episode of the CCL podcast to answer these questions.
Links referred to:
- Good kids Bibles:
- The Action Bible (Serio Cariello).
- The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden (Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark).
- The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm and Gail Schoonmaker).
- The Garden the Curtain and the Cross (Carl Laferton and Catalina Echeverri).
- The Jesus Story Book Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago).
- The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Marty Machowski and AE Macha).
- Some other useful resources for training children in the faith:
- Stories for Little Ones by Stephanie Carmichael and Jessica Green: four beautifully illustrated picture books that teach some basic Christian concepts through simple stories.
- Books for Little Ones by Stephanie Carmichael (series 1; series 2): these short photo/picture books for one to four-year-olds teach children important lessons about God. (16 pages each, full colour, 6 books). There are two series, with six books in each series.
- For a wide range of excellent children’s ministry resources for churches to use, also check out Sandy Galea’s excellent site,
Runtime: 39:40 min. Subscribe via
Tony Payne: One of the many fascinating insights raised by Os Guinness at his visit to the CCL in late May was that if freedom is to be sustained in our Western culture, there’s a need for transmission: the transmission of the virtues and ideas and foundations of freedom from one generation to the next. And without that transmission—without those ideas being sustained and nourished—freedom will whither and die in our culture and our societies. And that’s what he observes actually happening—that freedom is in ser—under serious threat in Western culture. And it’s largely a matter of the fact that the foundations of freedom have not been passed on—have not been nourished and spread from one generation to the next.
It was one of the many fascinating points he made in his talk at the CCL on May 30, and on that note, stay tuned for a special podcast with excerpts of Os Guinness’s talk. That will be coming up soon.
But his point about transmission leads into today’s episode, which is about the transmission of the Christian faith—of passing on Christian belief and Christian practice to the next generation—to our children.
Now this, of course, is the role of parents. But it’s not just the role of parents, and in today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about how raising and training the next generation is not just the responsibility of parents, it takes a church to train children in the way they should go.
Hello, I’m Tony Payne, and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. Our goal in this episode—I think we’re up to episode 16—is the same as in every one: it’s to bring biblical ethics—the framework of how the Bible thinks about the way we should act and live and be—to bring that framework to the everyday issues we face as Christian people in the world. And the issue we’re going to bring it to today is the raising and training of children—something that we’re very aware of if we’re parents, but also something we should be very aware of just by virtue of being members of the Christian community. That’s the point that our guest today wants to make about the raising and training of children.
But before we get to that, let’s introduce him.
Peter Tong: I’m Peter Tong. I work at Moore College on the faculty for two days a week. I teach in the New Testament department, and mostly teaching this year first year Greek. I do that on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then the rest of the days in the week, I work as a minister at St Andrew’s Wahroonga. And there I look after the night service, I share with the preaching, help with kids church and youth group, and a whole range of other things.
TP: Peter, we’re talking today about raising godly children—raising godly kids.
TP: —passing on the faith to the next generation. Why is this a passion of yours?
PT: Well, it’s a passion of mine some of the time. A lot of the time through the week, it’s not a passion at all. I get up early on a Sunday morning and I think of kids coming to kids church, I’m prepping my Scripture class and picturing all the questions and the chaos that can sometimes reign. It’s not always a passion. But when you see the gospel click for kids, it can be a passion.
TP: So if it’s not a passion, is it more like a … a job, a task, a chore, a responsibility? How would you—
PT: I think a res—
TP: How would you characterise it?
PT: Yeah, I think a responsibility’s a good way to put it. I remember—and this—this clicked for me at a conference on kids ministry about five or six years ago: we’d come to a discussion group time in the conference, and we were each introducing ourselves, and just the—where I was sitting in the group, I was going last. And so I listened to 10 or 12 people go around the circle: they introduced themselves and said, you know, “Hi, I’m Cindy and I’m passionate about kids ministry and this is why I’m at the conference” and then there’d be “Hi, I’m John. I’m passionate about youth ministry and this is why I’m at the conference”. And that phrase kept kind of ringing a little bell in my head, and so by the time it came around to my turn, I thought, “I’m going to make a point here,” and so I said, “I’m Pete and I’m not passionate about kids ministry, but I’m here because it’s my responsibility as a minister—responsibility as a father—to think carefully about how to train the next generation in our church to know the gospel, accept the gospel and to trust God.”
I think when we talk about, say, children’s ministry or youth ministry or any kind of ministry in terms of “passion” or “not passionate”, it can create some difficulties with how the rest of the church views that kind of ministry. And that language is right through kids ministry—that people who are passionate step forward, they’re the ones who volunteer. And if you were at the end of one year to say, “We need to grow our kids ministry team. We want people who are passionate about kids”, straight away, a good number in the church will switch off and they’ll think, “Well, that’s fine. That’s not for me. I’m not passionate about kids so I don’t need to do that.” And then—
TP: Especially if you’re a parent, your phrase might be more, “I’m utterly worn out by kids—”
PT: That’s right.
TP: “—as opposed to being passionate about kids!”
PT: A parent or a teacher!
PT: Who are with kids all the time.
TP: Oh, “Last thing I want to do is more kids!”
TP: Yeah yeah.
PT: It also creates trouble for those who are passionate at the time they sign up. But then as the year goes on, or two—three—years go on, and their passion for kids tends to wane, the first thing they think is, “Okay, well, it’s time for me to tap out and let other passionate people come in.” So in my church and in the ministry conversations I have, I try and talk about responsibility. And I think that’s a much more helpful way to frame this discussion. And it probably is for lots of areas of ministry as well—evangelism, this case, raising kids, youth ministry—we have a responsibility as adults who know and trust the Lord to raise the next generation to know and trust the Lord as well.
TP: Intuitively that sounds right to me, Peter. But biblically, where would you anchor that to say that we have a responsibility not just as parents, but, you know, as adults—as a Christian community—to raise the next generation?
PT: Well, let’s—let’s start with the parents first of all, because I think the primary responsibility does fall on Christian parents. And, you know, that pattern comes from the Old Testament—Deuteronomy—there’s several passages there where they’re talking about the scenario of children asking their parents, “Why do we do these things? Why do we have this festival? Why do we, you know, eat this food, follow these laws?” And that’s the occasion for the parents in the context of the household to explain to the children what God has done in the past.
That—that comes through into the New Testament as well: fathers are to train their children in the knowledge of the Lord. It’s up to Christian parents to raise their children to know and love the Lord. I think that’s still the primary responsibility, rather than farming it out to a school to do that or farming it out to kids church leaders to take that place. It still is beholden upon parents.
But when we emphasise that a lot, and I think that has been emphasised—especially in a lot of the discussions that I’ve had and the people who have trained and taught me—what we can also miss, then, is a wider generational view and responsibility. And so I’ve been struck by Psalm 78: Psalm 78 is really taking the whole generation of adults and encouraging them to tell the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord to the next generation growing up. And I wonder if that’s something that—that we might—just might have missed a little bit more recently in our church life—that all the adults have a role to play in raising all the children as Christians.
TP: Psalm 78’s a very long psalm, isn’t it. And it—it’s—it’s not the kind of happy positive story that we imagine passing onto our children about—about the faith. It’s actually quite a negative story of how the previous generations messed things up so totally and were so treacherous, even, to—to God and all that he’d done. It’s an interesting model of what it means to “pass on”.
PT: Yeah, well, it is—Psalm 78, and there’s other passages as well, remind us that it is just possible for people to know what God has done—perhaps even experience or see firsthand what God has done—and then at another time in their life, down the track, to turn away from God or to forget it—to not obey—to walk away and worship—worship other things. And so this psalm comes at a time in Israel’s history where people had seen firsthand the Exodus, but they come into the desert and they grumble. They see what God has done even in the desert, but they turn away from God.
And it’s why the first—the first third of the psalm is the application: it’s telling the generation to pass on the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord to the next generation, and there’s a few little clues in there about why that’s—or—or how do it. So it’s not just passing information; there’s the phrase in there, “So that they would put their trust in God”. I think that’s a helpful one for us to remember: we’re not just passing Bible stories to our children, but we need to teach them and raise them in such a way that they actually come to trust God, and it’s a relationship. Then it kind of develops a little bit more: “that they would trust him and they would keep his commandments”. So it’s not just a relationship, but it’s a relationship that will be expressed with faith and obedience. And then the—sort of—the last two thirds of the psalm are: “Well, let me tell you about what’s happened to previous generations: they’ve seen stuff, they’ve experienced God’s grace and his power, yet they’ve walked away.” And that’s the big warning.
So I think of the families in our church. I think of the kids who are in our church. There’s a sense in which they know about God—they know some Bible stories—and we need to do much more than just stop there: they know the information about God. They need to … hear about God in such a way that they trust him and so that they will obey him so that—and, you know, coming from Psalm 78—so that when the time comes, they won’t take a backward step in the—in the day of struggle—in the day of temptation—in the day of persecution and whatever it is—that the relationship with God is there.
TP: So what sort of things are we wanting to pass on? You’re talking there about knowledge and about response: you’re passing on a knowledge of the faith—a knowledge of who God is and what he’s done—but you’re also passing on that this knowledge of faith requires response—requires repentance and obedience. Thinking in concrete terms: what sort of things are we passing on?
PT: Well I think fleshing out the idea of that they would trust God. And I think that comes in two layers in the Christian life: of course it starts with the gospel—our receiving the gospel and coming into God’s family—coming into God’s kingdom. Many times, though, we can see children become Christians, or teenagers become Christians, and then we breathe a big sigh of relief and then we sit back and think, “Okay, our main work is done: they’ve expressed some kind of faith in God.” And that—that always needs to be the first step. So explaining the gospel of grace and mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But many—very often, in God’s mercy, he’ll give us many many more years with that individual—perhaps in your family or in your church. It could be decades to come after someone has expressed, kind of, faith and trust in God through the gospel. So then we think about how do we grow a Christian, or how do we help a young person grow in their trust and knowledge of God? That, I guess, two of the bread and butter ways are learning to pray and learning to read the Bible for themselves. And they’ll go hand in hand: they’ll bounce off each other, they’ll grow and develop, that—they’ll interact with each other. But they’re probably two of the bread and butter ways that any Christian grows. We know that with adults. It’s true for children; we just need to think a little bit more carefully about how to actually apply that in the world of a—of a child who’s growing and developing at quite a rapid rate at different times.
TP. So we’ve got those two basic areas: learning to read the Bible—learning to, you know, absorb God’s word for ourselves, learning to respond to him in prayer. Why don’t we start with reading the Bible? If you’re wanting to train that next generation and pass on what that means to kids, how would you go about that—teaching them to read the Bible?
PT: Yeah, well I’ve, I guess, stumbled upon a way of training people to—to do things that’s quite wholistic, and I think it’s because I’ve tried one thing and it hasn’t quite worked, and so I’ve tried Method B and I’ve tried Method C, and then circled back to Method A. Looking back and thinking about that, I think probably the three key aspects in training anyone to do anything involve a little bit of instruction, a little bit of modelling and example, and then some training—some actual practical work to do.
So let’s say you’re learning to ride a bike: you might need some instruction. You know, “Put your foot here. Press here. Turn the handlebars here.” But if that was all it was, you couldn’t expect a child to jump on the bike and ride off. So they might need to see it in practice. And so, you might jump on the bike and ride around in front of them so they’ve got something to model on. But then the time will come when they have to sit on the seat and turn the pedals for themselves. Now, to go from nothing to riding instantly, of course, is a huge leap. So we think of lots of training things we can do—training wheels were invented to—so that kids learn by the doing.
So I try and apply those three areas of learning to training kids to read the Bible. There’ll be some things we instruct them on: what is God’s word? What does it contain? But that enough won’t motivate, really, anyone to—to actually get into God’s word. They need to see examples of—of other people reading God’s word and feeding on God’s word—being changed by God’s word.
Then when it comes to actually opening up this book—this big book—could be an intimidating book for kids—“How do I engage with this?” “Well, let’s give you a tool—a tool that helps you as a child learn by the doing of it.” That’s where kids Bibles come in—that—they’re really tools like training wheels on a bike—so you can learn the habits, you can start turning the wheels and riding around in a basic way, so you’re learning the habits of how to do it later on.
And so with those three categories, I see it and I talk to parents at church—I talk to our kids church leaders—and we think in those three categories: “What can we do creatively, but also faithfully, and use each of them together to train young children from three, four, five, you know, right through to teenagehood, out of school and so on, to read the Bible and, by the end, be loving God’s word and learning how to feed themselves on God’s word?”
TP:Now, you may be wondering at this point, “Yes, I do want to read the Bible with kids”, but which Bible? There are just so many childrens Bibles; how do I choose? Peter’s going to make some comments about what makes a particularly good kids Bible in just a moment as the interview proceeds. But we also asked him to make some specific recommendations for kids Bibles that he thinks are good and worth using, and we’re going to put those in the show notes for this episode. So go there to see links to some good kids Bibles.
We’re also going to put some links there to some other really useful resources, storybooks, childrens books and so on, that you might want to check out as well, and kind of in lieu of a book special this month, that’s where you’ll find those information—in the show notes.
Now, if you don’t know what show notes are, there’s a page for each one of these podcasts on our CCL website. So if you go to ccl.moore.edu.au—to our website—and scroll down a bit, you’ll find that this episode—episode 16—is featured there on the homepage. And if you click that link and go to the—the page for this particular episode and scroll down a bit, you’ll find all sorts of information about the episode, including all these links.
And you’ll also find a transcript of the whole episode. I’ve been hearing from people that they didn’t realise that we did this, but there’s a transcript of the whole episode also available on that page for this episode.
But back to childrens Bibles: I interrupted Peter just as he was about to talk about what really makes for a good kids Bible.
PT: The marks of a good kids Bible, I think, are ones that keep in mind the whole story of the Bible. So there’s a thorough thread of biblical theology running all the way through. And I think this is one reason why the Bible can feel like a—an intimidating or foreign book. One of the barriers to Bible reading is actually not being able to connect up different stories, and so you dip in one day and you’re meeting David and Goliath; you dip in the next day, and Peter’s in a boat. And children can find that really confusing to fit that all together. And some Bibles are so episodic that there’s no connection between them. Now, there—there might be a role for them to teach those individual stories. But a goods kid—a good kids’ Bible will run the thread all the way through, and many many are doing that.
That—that—I mean, that’s one thing. I think good kids church—good kids Bibles, as well, might build into the—into the Bible itself some reflection. So some might have a prayer beforehand. And that’s really important, because it’s training children to pray before you read the Scriptures. This is a spiritual book: 1 Corinthians 2 says we can’t actually understand God’s word without the Spirit. There might be, after the story, questions that help reflect and apply. And those are the things that take the Bible from just one other book that we read—one other story that children encounter through the week at school or on TV or online—and shows that this book is different: we need to pray to the author of the book—our heavenly Father—to help us understand. And once we’ve finished reading, we need to apply this story in a way we don’t apply other stories.
So a good kids Bible will have biblical, theological application—application that takes it from wherever it is in the Scriptures within the context of the overarching story of the Bible and the Old Testament pointing in through Christ, and then applying that in—in relevant ways.
TP: As you say, it’s a parental responsibility. How does a church or a Christian community as a whole exercise that responsibility—to help the growing generation learn to read and absorb that story in the Bible for themselves?
PT: Yeah, well, I think that—there come—there comes a point developmentally where kids might believe things simply because that is their family. That’s the family they’re growing up in, and they’re at a point or an age where they just don’t know any different. There comes a time developmentally where it becomes really important that what they’ve learnt in their family is validated by seeing other families—other adults—other significant people—believing the same things. And this is where a wider church family can play a really crucial role in the raising of godly kids, and when I say “wider church family”, I mean that in the widest possible sense: other adults, other adults of the generation above (perhaps, you know, grandparent generation), people who are adults without children, married couples, single people, teenagers (if that is—that is slightly older)—all of them together can play a huge role in raising kids—raising godly kids and helping them to read the Bible.
At the level of example, example can passed in lots of different ways: I can be reading my Bible in front of you, and you happen to walk past and see me, so you’re seeing that—that—that physical example. There are other ways I can demonstrate a life lived under the authority of God’s word, and that is just as vital as well. So as you introduce your children to a church community, there you want to have lots of adults—some in the nuclear family, many outside of the nuclear family—who are demonstrating a life lived under the authority of God’s word.
And then it’s up to the church community to think creatively about how do we make the most of these sorts of examples? So who’s teaching kids church? Are there are a variety of people in there? What do we do if children start in the church service for 10 minutes—15 minutes? What are they picking up from how adults are interacting with each other? What is said from the front? All of that can be used as opportunities to share examples of this broad thing called living under the authority of God’s word. When you do social things—when there’s hospitality—all are possible opportunities for adults to demonstrate life lived under the authority of God’s word for the younger generation.
So there’s that. There’s also—there is the—the—seeing adults doing it. And so when children walk into church, are they seeing the Scriptures as central to whatever happens in the time they’re in there? In kids church, there is the instruction from God’s word. And so on, and so on.
TP: I think it also say—when children see adults relating to one another outside the church gathering, and I don’t just mean in the morning tea afterwards; I mean in our homes, in our lives, in our everyday lives—when they see Christian adults engaging with one another and speaking about the things of God, talking about what they’re reading, applying some aspect or discussing some aspect of the word with one another, that presents a very powerful example that this word that we regard as so shaping of everything is actually something that’s on our lips all the time. It’s not just we—something we do in church on Sunday. Or even something we might do devotionally at the beginning of the day for 10 minutes. It’s … it’s the word that’s constantly on our lips.
PT: Yeah. And it should be the most natural thing for Christians—one to another—to share what they’ve read about, thinking about, challenged by in God’s word. And whether it’s around lunch table after church on a Sunday, where kids and adults are all sharing the meal, why not be talking about God’s word? Through the week, sharing with your children: “I read this this morning, and this is how it’s going to make a difference in my life.” Or “I’ve been thinking I’ll go have—this question: I can’t get quite get to the bottom of it; what do you think?” All of those are opportunities for modelling. It should be the most natural thing to do. For some reason, this barrier of awkwardness has crept up. We like to compartmentalise our faith on Sundays, and sometimes even from our children, but they—that is the very way in which children learn this—some of these powerful lessons about the place of God’s word in somebody’s life.
TP: I suspect it’s compartmentalised for us because, even in our own heads, as—as adults—as believing adults—those two stories run in parallel very often: a story where God is sovereign and created the world, and revealed his word, and saves and redeems the world through the Lord Jesus Christ—that story, the story that gives the world a particular shape—and the secular story that we just live and breathe every minute of the day in—which is a godless story—
TP: —a story where humanity creates its own future, gives value to its own world, creates its own values and actualises its own self—
TP: —a world in which God is entirely absent—is a—is a non-factor.
TP: Thatstory is in our heads all the time too, and so we flip between the two of them in our heads, and we get to this—we get into this mode where we just live and talk and act as if God is not there, while all this time—while obviously actually believing that he’s there. So we sort of—seems to me that we slip in and sat out—in and out of these streams.
PT: Yeah. And I guess you could see raising children as two competing stories coming through—raising Christian children: there’s two competing stories coming through their minds and hearts. One has a lot of airplay: it comes through school, online, media, friends. That’s the worldly story. And then there’s God’s story. And we need to work double time to allow that story to have, you know, anything near the airtime that the story of the world—the stories of the world. And that’s why if we equivocate as parents in living out a life under God’s word, what hope can we have—Psalm 78: “for the next generation”? How will their faith go in times of testing if they see us equivocating between these two stories? And, you know, children pick up everything: they pick up so much. I mean, you know this as … if you’re a parent—
TP: Unfortunately they pick up everything.
PT: That’s right! You’re having a conversation in the kitchen or in the front of the car, and they’re listening back there. But they pick up positive things as well. And this is where, again, the church community can play a really positive role.
So are we creating opportunities for adults—mature Christian adults—to be interacting in a variety of ways with the younger generation? Some are—might be formal teaching in a kids church setting. But there’s, you know, a whole host of other ways you can make that happen, and that’s up to you and your churches to be creative in—in how to do that.
TP:We’ll we’ve ended up talking for quite a while about what makes for a good kids Bible and how we train children in not only reading the Bible, but responding to God’s word. We need to get onto the other main topic that Peter wants to get to, which is prayer.
Before we do that, though, a quick reminder about two things. The first is about our next CCL event, coming up on August 20th called “Spirit-inspired Christian living” . Phillip Jensen is going to be our speaker. And let me just read you something from the kind of introductory blurb that we’ve put together about this event:
What does the Spirit want Christians to do? What does the Spirit enable Christians to do?
There are two common errors in answering these common questions: at one extreme, the humanistic Christians have no place at all for the Spirit, but lay burdens of morality upon us; at another extreme, mystical Christians expect the Spirit to magically solve all our problems.
But what does the Spirit-inspired Scriptures tell us to expect about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
It’s a really important question, and just putting it like that, you realise it’s something that perhaps you haven’t thought through as fully as you might have, and that this would be a great event to come to. Phillip Jensen is doing a lot of thinking about this at the moment. He’s in the middle of writing a book about the Holy Spirit, and he will speak on “Spirit-inspired Christian living”—what it really is and, more importantly, how you can live it, on August 20th at Moore College. And for all the details, go to ccl.moore.edu.au. And you can get tickets there and register for the livestream as well.
The second quick thing to remind you about is just to remember to spread the word about this podcast. If you’ve been enjoying listening to these episodes, then there’s a couple of ways you can pass on the—the good news: you can rate this particular podcast on iTunes. That helps to surface it and make it more noticeable to others. Or, of course, you can just share it with your friends: share the link to the podcast on Facebook or by—just send the link via email to one of your friends. Don’t keep it to yourself; tell other people about this podcast so more people can benefit.
But back to the next topic of our conversation, which is prayer: how can we teach our children a dependent attitude of faith that’s expressed in prayer?
PT: Well, I think in the same categories. And it’s because I’m—
PT: —I, you know, I need to be concrete in the way I—I kind of approach these things. And so I think instruction: what do we teach children? What do we actually teach them from the Bible about what prayer is? And this is where you might raise questions of who do we pray to? What’s the content of your prayers? Why do we pray? There’s instruction. Depending on the age of the children, though, modelling—they might learn much more from modelling than what they’re told in terms of being instructed. And then, because prayer—although it should be natural, children suffer from all the barriers in praying that adults do as well: they are sinful, they are forgetful, they are busy, they are tired, their minds aren’t shaped by the word of God, so those priorities are not lined up with God’s purposes—all those things that—that tangle up an adult’s prayer life, tangle up a child’s prayer life as well. And so we need to train them: what are some basic tools we can put into a child’s hands and lips to help them learn what prayer is—by the—by the doing of prayer?
I think Jesus teaches prayer in these categories. There’s—there’s probably others, but there’s at least these three. So sometimes he will tell his disciples specifically, “When you pray, do this. Say this.” That’s instruction. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray through modelling: at the end of Mark 1, people are coming from the villages around for healing, and Jesus goes to a quiet place to pray: he’s modelling that in the busy-ness of life, there is another priority: there is his relationship with his Father and his own faithfulness and obedience to his Father. He models, in John 17, praying this great high priestly prayer for believers, and he’s doing that within earshot of the disciples. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he is praying. So the disciples learnt a lot about prayer just by sitting back and watching and listening. That’s the example.
But then, Jesus also gives them a tool: I guess this is what the Lord’s Prayer is—one way of thinking of the Lord’s Prayer. They—the question is, “Lord, teach us to pray”, and he doesn’t give them instruction; he doesn’t say, “Well, you sit there and listen to what I do.” He says, “Well, when you pray, pray like this.” The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t cover every possible conceivable prayer. But it’s a prayer that he puts in their hands that they can pray. And as they pray that prayer, they’re learning about what prayer is: they’re learning about the priorities of God’s kingdom, God’s name, God’s glory. They’re learning that as they’re praying.
So, thinking about children, whether the—you think of the age of the child, but what are the tools that you can give them? It might be just a basic couple of initials for different topics of prayer—Thanks, Praise, Confession—those sorts of things. It might be some prayers that you write for your children—that you write for your Scripture class. You might write the prayer out, because in Scripture, they may not be used to praying or prayer—so “Here: pray—pray this prayer”. It might be a little bookmark that you put in with your Bible—that as you finish reading the Bible story, the bookmark, then, helps us think about what do we pray for in light of God’s word? They’re just tools—that’s all they are. But they’re tools that help children learn by the doing. And as they’re doing that, they’re watching your example, they’re listening to the prayers in church.
This is why I think if your church is one that has children in for the beginning or the end, or at some point, you need to be really careful about everything that happens in that time, and so, if there are prayers within that time—a prayer of confession or a prayer of praise, or even just that introductory kind of welcoming prayer—it all needs to be accessible, because if the children are there, they’re learning something. Now, are they learning “When we’re in church, there’s a long prayer and I don’t get what it means”? Maybe. Or are they learning just some of the basic building blocks of what prayer is? They’re always picking it up.
It doesn’t mean that all the prayer within a church service needs to be in that frame of mind, ’cause they might go out, and then you can pray different kind of prayers. But whenever they’re in, you need to have an eye to the example that the children are picking up.
TP: So if you decided that a simple model for teaching prayer might be, you know, the old “Thanks, Sorry, Please”, for example, you could model the prayers that happen in that early part of the church service when the children are there, just model them on that pattern so that it’s being reinforced all the time—that that’s what prayer means: it’s a response of thanksgiving to all—for all that God has done for us, it’s always responsive, it comes to God acknowledging that we’re sinners and it comes to God trustingly asking for what is necessary for the body as well as the soul, as it says in the Prayer Book.
PT: Absolutely! And when—and when a minister does that, or the person leading does that, it’s not condescending to the kids; it’s actually loving to them. It’s not con—a quaint way of starting or a cute way—“I’ll start with this kids way”; it’s actually loving to the children. If you’re asking for them to be part of church, we need to communicate in ways that they understand.
As an extra benefit, if your church has people who are not Christians or they’re trying to work out what the Christian faith is, or they’re exploring, or they’re new Christians, breaking things down into very clear modelling practices helps them enormously as well. So we do them because they’re loving, and we do them because that actually trains up the next generation. Sometimes we think, “Oh, you know, it’s a little bit … you know, it’s just quaint or cute to do it this way.” But it’s actually a really helpful way to do it if the children are there, or if you have visitors there.
TP: I guess I want to conclude by asking, everything you’ve said is really helpful and—and encouraging. It’s almost making me feel passionate about children’s ministry—
PT: I don’t want to be doing that!
TP: No no no! But it’s helping—it’s certainly helped me see that the responsibility for raising the next generation is something that’s shared broadly within a congregation, and that con—that it’s multi-faceted: it consists not just of instruction, but also of setting an example, which is a huge part of it—that we can all be involved in all the time. And of particular training tools.
But I imagine that many listeners will be feeling a little bit like I feel—not only as they look at their current efforts or past efforts as parents, or their efforts to be involved in this as a church community—will feel inadequate or feel like a bit of a failure—that we haven’t done as well at this as we would have liked. And that we also look at our children and the children of our congregation, and we see that despite our efforts, some of them don’t grow up to follow the Lord, don’t go up to be readers and prayers, and don’t choose that path. How do we respond to that? How do we deal with the challenge that this is also—not only something we might begin to be passionate about, or certainly feel responsible for—but something that’s hard and something that … that sometimes doesn’t take with our kids?
PT: Yeah, well I guess raising children to trust Jesus is easiest to talk about when none of them are near us right now: we’re in a room and we can just talk about all these ideas. And from time to time, I—I—I think through little seminars like this for church, and I can make it—I can get all my best ideas and put them down and present it. But it can be discouraging. So I just—when—when parents feel that, or ministers feel that, and ministers realise, “I’ve actually left a large part of ministering to my church to one side, because I’ve not thought about kids ministry for a long long time, but actually that’s part of raising the family of God as well”—when we get to that point, we need to realise that all ministry is bigger than us, and it’s easy to talk about it in neat categories; it’s talk about being deliberate and intentional; and in our best moments, let’s pray that we are.
TP: It’s important to be.
TP: It’s important to talk about those things and to wondering “How can we do better in these things?”
PT: But. We’ve got some great models right through the Scriptures, where God is showing us in his story, again and again, that he’s the one in charge. And if raising children as Christians was as easy as following a bunch of steps, even if there was a lot of steps, we would do it, because we love our kids and we want them to be Christians at the end.
But this is a spiritual battle. It’s one reason why reading the Scriptures is difficult. It’s because the devil wants to take God’s word out of a listener’s ear: that’s what we learn in the parable of the soils: he plucks the seed away. So it’s a spiritual battle here. And so, we need to be praying for our children as we read the Scriptures with them and train them. We also need to take that bigger step back that Paul does in 1 Corinthians 3 and say, “In the bigger picture of the life of a person, who is the one that’s going to make things grow if they are to grow?” And that’s—that’s, of course, God. One might be the—the planter, one might be the waterer; in the end, God makes things grow. And I think that’s a really helpful dynamic for us to remember: it takes us right back to full circle.
The starting point in any Christian journey is receiving the gospel of grace. Sometimes we can think that, well, the growing as a Christian is where I take over, or where the—where I encourage the individual to take over. And, yes, we—we participate in our own growth as Christians; we want children who become teenagers and become adults to participate in their own growth. But it is still by the grace of God through the Spirit.
TP: It never ceases to be his work.
PT: Never ceases to be his work! And that’s—that’s probably the best place to bring a discussion like this to an end, because it means that we trust God when it’s going well and we never pat ourselves on the back and say, “Oh, isn’t—isn’t that great!” and when things are not going well, we are continuing to trust God as well.
That applies for your own children, but it doesn’t take too many steps to apply that to all the people in your network that you’re trying to minister to. You might just be planting the seed or watering the seed. But we are relentlessly praying and trusting God, because he is the one that makes things grow.
TP:Well that’s all for this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast. Please subscribe to our podcast at iTunes or Stitcheror Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Leave us a comment or a review: that’s always a helpful thing to do. And if you have any questions or topics that you want to raise with us—either questions about this podcast that you’d like us to answer or topics that you’d like us to deal with in other podcasts—please get in touch and give us feedback. We always really enjoy hearing from you. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, go to our website, ccl.moore.edu.au, for notes, for links, transcripts, for the show notes for this episode, and for lots of other great resources that are on our website as well.
Thanks for joining us today! I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now!