Parents, are you spiritual homeschooling?

The most important lessons you’ll ever give

As a children’s minister, I can sometimes foolishly believe that it is my job, and my job alone, to communicate the love of Jesus to children. And for some kids, this is the reality. But in most instances, as this COVID season has reminded me, spiritual education is primarily the responsibility of parents.

We live in a society that employs specialist educators: soccer coaches, music teachers, tutors and, in the faith arena, youth and children’s ministers.

No one has more potential to influence a child’s relationship with God than a parent.

We can sometimes mistakenly believe our job as parents (I have three daughters, aged 10, 12 and 14) is to simply get our kids to the door and then let the specialists handle it.

Our Western culture also highly values children’s academic education. As a result, spiritual education often can be overshadowed by schooling, as well as an endless procession of extra-curricular activities.

In our rush to provide our children with the best possible start to life, we sometimes consider their spiritual needs last. But the reality is, there is nothing more important than someone’s relationship with God, and no one has more potential to influence a child’s relationship with God than a parent.

One of the positives of COVID-19 isolation, I believe, has been the opportunity for parents to increase their involvement in their children’s education – not just academically, but also spiritually.

I’ve had the chance to sit alongside my daughters as their youth group is livestreamed. Our family has been worshipping together during Sunday morning’s online church (something we rarely get to do). My wife and I have helped the kids read along with the sermon passage in their Bibles; and we’ve had some discussions later on about the sermon message.

There has also been time to answer some of the kids’ “big questions” which arise from the online kids’ services our church creates. And to get off the couch to dance together to kids’ worship songs and do the actions for Bible memory verses.

These experiences are all helping to build the spiritual foundations for my children’s lives – foundations I hope will continue to hold them in a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.

Consider “what spiritual disciplines do we want to build into our family life?” and “what eternal goals do I have for my children?”

Alongside more time to engage in our children’s spiritual education, COVID isolation has also offered another golden opportunity: the chance to re-evaluate our activities and priorities.

In this period between isolation and re-entry to our “old lives”, I urge parents to consider decluttering their children’s – and their family’s – lives. Before rushing to pick up old activities and habits straight away, why not spend some time re-evaulating your schedule and your priorities – especially those that have eternal significance. Consider “what spiritual disciplines do we want to build into our family life?” and “what eternal goals do I have for my children?” Also consider “what have I been simply outsourcing to other people in terms of the upbringing of our children?”

Deuteronomy 6:6 says: “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.”

This passage reminds us that the ongoing spiritual development of our children is: 1. Our primary concern and, 2. It should be a constant focus for us.

If we as Christian parents want an eternal future for our children, we need to take every opportunity to teach our kids, by example and in our words, about the love of Jesus. Through prayer, and more prayer, we can present this desire to God who will sustain and equip us through his Spirit in this magnificent endeavour.

My prayer is that parents will make church, Bible reading, prayer and worship into pillars of their households. Out of this unusual and challenging season, I pray we will see the fruit of hope, faith and love growing in our kids.

Listed below are some of the ways in which parents could start – or continue – their role as spiritual educators. These ideas are based on observing parents who have stepped up as the primary spiritual carers for their children. All of these examples require parents to get involved. They are not all necessary and not all are suitable for every family, but perhaps they will encourage you to get involved.

Parent in partnership

Praise God, we live in an affluent, educated, technologically advanced country. Most of us have access to quality sermons and worship, either locally or globally produced. We also have access to ministers who feed us and sustain us through the word of God. We often have specialist youth and children’s ministers to guide us. Praise God for our faithful Scripture teachers who take on the unenviable task of communicating God’s love to children in our schools. Parents, make time to get to know the people who are your co-spiritual educators. Ask them questions about your child’s spiritual understanding and progress. Find out what your kids are learning about in Scripture and kids church, and chat to your kids about this when opportunities arise.

On-the-front-foot parent

These parents are the ones who have seen an issue and set about finding a solution. Worried that your tweenager is missing her church friends during COVID isolation? This parent seeks out ways to establish a safe video chat for these church friends, fostering their fellowship. You could also use social media and other platforms to encourage other parents with ways you’re sharing the gospel with your kids, such as Bible-themed chalk drawings and worship singalongs around the fire pit (or heater!).

The “I-don’t-care-if-it’s-silly” parent

So much of engaging kids with the word of God revolves around gaining their attention. I’m talking to dads in particular here. Dads who are prepared to dress up and sing a memory verse, and use their God-given ability to tell dad jokes, will go a long way to engaging their children with the word of God.

The prayerful parent

The prayerful parent takes any opportunity to pray. Arriving at soccer, they could pray: “Lord, we pray for safety in today’s game.” Around the dinner table, they say a meaningful grace. As they tuck kids in each night, they pray with their child – expanding the length and depth of prayer points as kids get older. The prayerful parent also prays for their child’s spiritual growth, intimately knowing their challenges, temptations and concerns.

The role model parent

The role model parent reads their devotional at the breakfast table; models repentance by saying sorry for losing their temper; sings during online church at home, despite the awkwardness of couch worship; and discusses the sermon they’ve all just heard – how that challenges their own behaviour, as well as asking their children about their thoughts and comments.

The informed parent

Knowing what’s going on in your child’s life affords you the opportunity to speak Jesus into it – whether that’s telling them about the comfort of a loving saviour when they are sad or reminding the kids of our gracious Father in times of triumph. The informed parent allows their kids to ask tough questions and gets help to answer them.

Kym Abbott is children’s minister at St James Anglican Church, Turramurra, in northern Sydney. He is also fortunate enough to be married to Eternity writer Rebecca Abbott and is dad to their three beautiful daughters, aged 10, 12 and 14.