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Dad’s Unmatched Spiritual Influence

Steve Watters recently caught up with Bill Farley to ask about the need for family discipleship, for dads to take the lead as spiritual example and guide, and the challenges dads can expect to face and what to do about them. Farley is a retired pastor, father, grandfather, and author of Gospel Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.

Steve Watters: What is the significance of a dad’s leadership in family discipleship?

Bill Farley: The big significance of a father is very simple: he is the one who is called by God to do it. The Bible repeatedly commands fathers to raise up children in the way they should go. That command is rarely ever, if at all, given to the wife or the mother. Her role is to be supportive. His role is to take responsibility and to lead the family spiritually. No one can substitute for that. Nothing is as effective as dad taking up his position as the leader of his home.

In Gospel Powered Parenting I cite a Swiss study that looked for any correlation between a father’s devotion to Christ and his children’s devotion to Christ. After studying hundreds of couples and their children, researchers came to the conclusion that the fathers’ involvement in religious activities was crucial.

When a dad attended church regularly along with his wife, 33% of the kids ended up attending church regularly. When the dad was non-practicing, but the mother went to church regularly, only 2% of the kids ended up going to church. When dad went to church irregularly, but his wife was non-practicing (she didn’t go to church at all), 25% of the kids still went to church.

The most interesting finding was that the greatest number of kids—fully 44%—who ended up as churchgoers came from homes where the dad went to church regularly and the mom was not practicing. In other words, when the kids saw their dad pushing through the obstacle of having a wife who did not want to go to church, and he went anyway, that had the biggest impact on the children. Dad’s involvement is crucial.

SW: Are family devotions the full extent of a dad’s responsibility to raise his children in the fear and instruction of the Lord? Is there more to that expectation than just family devotions?

BF: Family devotions are just part of the package. A father’s own spiritual example is crucial. How his kids perceive his relationship with Christ, and whether it’s driven by passion or whether it’s driven by religious duty, is crucial to the kids as they grow up. Kids are watching all the time. The kids are also picking up from mom and dad that religion is for men, or something only for women and children. When kids pick up that it’s also for men, the boys grow up more likely to follow Christ and the young ladies grow up more likely to choose husbands that will be men who will follow Christ. There’s a robustness that comes to the family when the dad is the one who is the spiritual leader in the home. And when dads are the spiritual heads of their homes, everything changes.

SW: What are the core elements of family devotions?

BF: Bible reading and prayer.

In our experience, family devotions don’t need to be long. 15 minutes is fine. When you’re doing family devotions you’re teaching your children the Bible, but you’re also modeling for them, and the modeling is essential. Every time you meet for family devotions, you’re saying to your kids, “This is the most important thing. Our home revolves around Christ—not our children, or our felt needs—and that is a stake that goes in deeply and stays with kids for a lifetime. I’ve never said to any of my grown children, “you need to do family devotions.” But they have all married Christians and they’re all doing family devotions without us ever saying a word. They know it’s important because we set that example for them. It would be hard for you to overestimate the long-term impact of consistent family devotions with your children.

SW: Many dads know they should lead in family discipleship, but studies show there’s a gap between those who know they should lead, and those who are consistently leading in something like the family devotions you describe. What challenges have you seen that are causing that gap?

BF: I think one of the big challenges among men is a feeling of inadequacy. Men look around and think, “You know I’m not perfect, how could I lead my kids?” Or “my wife knows the Bible much better than I do; maybe she should lead the family.”

The other problem is he’s distracted. Dad just doesn’t see the long-term impact of family devotions. Maybe he’s thinking, “Oh, this is just a religious duty and it’s not going to have any big impact. My kids are just going to grow up and they’re going to think, ‘I don’t want to be involved in that same kind of legalism that my parents were involved in.'” But our experience is just the opposite. If it’s a loving home, and you lead by example, and occasionally do things that are fun during family devotions, that will have a long-term impact on your kids and they’ll want to do that when they grow up and have their own families.

I often tell the story of a 70-year-old friend, Tim, whose mother died when he was a boy. He was the youngest child of five kids. After all his older brothers and sisters were grown and gone, his mother died choking to death on a piece of food while she was standing in line at a bank. He was left alone with his father.

His father was a janitor. His father could barely read. But every night his dad got out the old, big King James Bible with his son and they sat at the dinner table and Dad and Tim would read the King James Bible together. It was his father’s example that had a huge impact on Tim for the rest of his life. He raised his kids the same way his dad raised him. It’s not how much you know. It’s that you’re willing to learn as you study along with your kids, and communicating to your kids that God is the center of our family.

SW: Did you run into any practical challenges as you worked to have a consistent devotional time with your family?

BF: Of course! For devotions to work, you need to have a time during the day when your whole family is together. It’s usually going to be dinner, or if dad works the night shift, it’s breakfast. But there needs to be some time when the family’s all together. Our biggest obstacle was when the kids got into junior high and high school: sports, tennis lessons, drill team lessons and on and on and on; music lessons, piano, flute, etc., etc. It was hard for us to gather the family for a dinner hour. Somebody was always gone. So, I put my foot down and said, “We’re not going to be gone during the dinner hour. We’re going to be here. None of this other stuff is nearly as important as our family being together and family devotions.”

I’m sure it’s much worse today than it was when our kids were younger, in terms of distractions. You have to be really committed or it’s never going to happen. If you don’t protect the time, you won’t have a family dinner (or breakfast) hour and if you don’t have a regular family hour, you’re probably not going to have family devotions.

SW: How would you apply a passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:14, to encourage men who say they’re having difficulty leading their family spiritually?

BF: That passage says, “Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient with them all.” That’s a classic example of what it looks like to parent children!  Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient will all.

It’s the same thing for dads. You may start out saying, “I’m going to do well at this. I need to do this, I’m going to get on the wagon. I’m going to. I’m going to be faithful.” And you do lead for three or four weeks, and then you wake up one day and realize it’s been two weeks since you’ve done family devotions. One thing after another has happened and there have been distractions, and activities, and on and on. You just need to get back on the wagon. Recognize from the start that this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be two steps forward and one step back.

If you do family devotions three or four nights a week, you’re doing really well. We’re not talking about doing every night of the week because for most families, that’s not sustainable. Aim for at least three or four nights of the week. Meet together as a family around God’s word.

SW: How do you get the kids talking about the passage you read?

BF: I used the Socratic method, which means I’d ask questions. We’d read a paragraph, maybe one of Paul’s epistles, and then I’d say to the kids, “What’s this text about? What was that paragraph about?” You know, I’d get all kinds of blank stares. So I would ask them more questions; draw them out and get them involved in the text. It’s not a matter of you just lecturing your children.

When your children are really little you can use Bible picture books. You can read Bible story books designed for kids at various age groups. Bruce Ware has a good book to help with this: Big Truths for Young Hearts. There are all kinds of aids you can use to help with family devotions. The important thing is, whatever you do, work consistently at it, and together, with mom and dad on the same page together.

SW: Is there a book in the Bible you encourage dads who are new to this to start with?

BF: I might say the book of Mark. It’s simple in its organization into sections with subheadings. Start at the beginning and read one section and talk about it. You don’t need to have all the answers. Your kids may ask you questions you don’t have the answers for. That’s great. Say, “Hey, next time we meet I’ll get the answer to your question and we’ll talk about it.” You don’t have to be a know-it-all. You just need to get the text in front of your children. When you do that, you’re saying to them, “Our family revolves around God, not around our kids, or our kids’ activities. And the Bible is how we connect with God, and the Bible is really, really important.” Your honoring of Scripture, your honoring of God, will have a huge long-term effect.

SW: Any final encouragements?

BF: There are only two texts on parenting in the New Testament and they both say similar things. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, and Colossians 3:21.) Both passages are to fathers. If you read through Proverbs in the Old Testament, you’ll find pretty much the same thing with a few exceptions. In the various places where parenting is discussed in the Bible, it’s assumed that the dad is the chief parent in terms of leading their children’s spiritual instruction.

To every dad reading this, pick up the mantle and your Bible, gather your family, and by faith, go forward.

                                                           

Our newly-released interactive family devotional, Glorious God, Glorious Gospel, is designed especially for dads who are ready to take the lead in the spiritual formation of their children. The book is divided into 15 chapters that use Scripture to explore God’s character, what God requires of us, God’s solution to our problem of sin, and what it means to follow Him.

Glorious God, Glorious Gospel answers questions like:

  • Who is God, and what is He like?
  • Why do I exist? How am I to act toward God?
  • What is my greatest problem and need?
  • What has God done to solve this problem?
  • How Can I be saved?
  • How should I now live?

It includes suggested schedules for breaking each chapter into smaller units, based on the ages and attention spans of your children.

 

Summer Reading

As school winds down for a longed-for summer break, teachers and librarians everywhere are urging kids to use the less-scheduled days reading books. “Read for fun! Read for retention! Read for prizes!” It seems there’s no shortage of incentives to make the most of free reading time.

As fun and beneficial and wonderful as leisure reading is, it matters what children are reading. A mix of book types: biography, fiction, nature, informative, poetry, and more can make up a healthy well-rounded reading diet. But there is one area that is often overlooked, yet most necessary: books for spiritual formation.

Truth78 is committed to helping parents pursue the God-glorifying vision of leading their children to walk in the truth. As we’ve said, one way parents do this is by carefully prioritizing and maximizing their children’s spiritual instruction. And one of the key ways to do that is to guide children in their book choices.

In addition to teaching your children how to have a regular, daily time reading their Bible, summer is a good time to encourage them to also read devotional books for spiritual growth. Books that work well for family devotions can also be spiritually edifying reading for older children with more time available for reading in the summer. Revisiting a book that you’ve read together, in order to work through it on their own, can be like hearing new stories while visiting with an old friend.

If you’re looking for a gentle way to introduce grade school children to personal devotional reading, consider the Making Him Known series. Each book focuses on what Scripture teaches about one aspect of God’s deeds: God’s Promises, God’s Gospel, God’s Wisdom, etc. Each chapter of each book reveals some aspect of His “glorious deeds, his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4). Each chapter also includes a section, “Learning to Trust God,” which calls children to respond by setting “their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7) through Christ.

To read more about the Making Him Known series, and to order your copies, visit our online resources page.

Celebrating the Miraculous Time of Christmas

Children Desiring God Blog // Celebrating the Miraculous Time of Christmas

It’s often said that Christmas is a “magical” time for children. But a more accurate description should be that Christmas is a “miraculous” time as we ponder the miracle of the incarnation. So as we think and plan toward how we will teach about and celebrate Christmas with the children in our home and church, let us consider the importance of the doctrine of the incarnation. Consider these words from Jared Wilson from his article “The Christmas Miracle of the Incarnation of the Omnipresent Word.”

Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the Incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through Spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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A Strange Question

Children Desiring God Blog // A Strange Question

It is not an unusual question. Most of us have probably heard it as a means of examining our hearts toward God: Do you love the gift or the Giver?

But I think it is a strange question. It assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. However, in my mind and heart, they are tied together. Let me explain.

In my kitchen cupboard is a treasured mug. This mug is really quite ugly, but it does say “Mom: on it. It is the first gift my daughters gave me without “cause.” It wasn’t my birthday, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. My girls were in grade school and had been visiting in a nursing home when they spotted the mug in the gift shop…and got it for me, just because I am their mom and they love me. (more…)

What Will the Next Generations Stand Upon?

Children Desiring God Blog // What Will the Next Generations Stand Upon?

Imagine your children 20 years from now. What do you want them to “stand upon” and have full confidence in? What will provide the only unshakable bedrock for them in the midst of the world’s changing norms and values? What will they hold fast to as they are bombarded with more and more information in our digital age? How will they be able to discern truth from error in a world of competing ideas and beliefs?

In the past few weeks, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has been highlighted and celebrated. We would do well to pass on to our children and students the importance of this historic event. The very essence of the Gospel was at stake as Luther and the other reformers reaffirmed the eternal truths of Scripture. One of these truths was the importance of the authority of Scripture alone. For Luther, it was truly a matter of life or death. Here is an excerpt from an article titled, “Here We Stand” by Albert Mohler:

Martin Luther’s great moment of theological clarification came at the climax of a command performance. Facing the threat of martyrdom and execution, Luther appeared on trial at the Diet of Worms before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Asked on what authority he dared to defy the Pope and the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther famously replied: (more…)

Are We Hindering Children from Coming to Jesus?

Children Desiring God Blog // Are We Hindering Children from Coming To Jesus

In his message “Let the Children Come to Me,” Pastor John Piper examined Luke 18:15-17 and made the following statement,

Disciples of Jesus should remove all hindrances that keep children from coming to Jesus.

He then went on to spell out some hindrances that we should try to remove in ministering to children. Here are excerpts from four of these:

1. Pride …If you are receiving the kingdom yourself like a little child, then you will not do anything to hinder little children from coming to Jesus. But if you are trying to enter the kingdom some other way than by receiving it like a child, then you will probably be a hindrance to children. If you are not childlike toward God, children will probably be beneath you and not worth your time.

So there is a very close connection between your own humility and your ability to lead children to Jesus. The great hindrance to effective ministry to children is pride, and the great gift for ministry to children is humility.
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A Summer Praise Walk with Children

Children Desiring God Blog // A Summer Praise Walk With Children

When I was a child, and even into my teens, I spent most of my free time outdoors. Whether playing active games with friends, exploring the neighborhood woods, or simply laying in the grass and trying to identify different shapes or figures in the clouds, we spent much of our summer disconnected from media or other electronics. Now that I am an adult, I have found I still benefit from enjoying the outdoors, as it evokes praise and admiration of God as I experience first-hand the wonders He has created.

One way we can encourage our children to meditate on and give God praise for His wondrous works is to go on a “Praise Walk.” How? First, read together Psalm 148. Help them identify all of the created things in the verse that are to give praise to God. (more…)

Give Your Children the Gift of Pondering + Free Lesson

Children Desiring God Blog // Give Children the Gift of Pondering

Back in the days when I taught science classes to homeschooled children, I used to emphasize the importance of careful observation. As an example, I would have each child choose a flower or a single leaf, and have them quietly study it for at least 30 minutes and record everything they could about it—size, shape, colors, texture, fragrance, etc. It’s amazing what comes to light about something when you really stop to ponder it. “Ponder—to think about, give thought to, consider, mull over, contemplate, meditate on…” The word “ponder” is not often used anymore in this fast-paced, sound-bite, digital media culture. So a verse like this is often readily passed over:

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Psalm 77:12, ESV

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Resources to Help You Pray for the Next Generation

Resources to Help You Pray for the Next Generation

Thank you for joining us in our Praying for the Next Generation challenge over the past week. We hope that this time of praying through Scripture has been an encouragement to you as you have sought God’s guidance on how to build a spiritual foundation for your family and have prayed for God’s redeeming work in your children’s lives. As this 10-day challenge comes to a close, may this be the continuation of treasuring God’s Word as you come before our Father on behalf of your children and the coming generations.

Here are some resources to help you integrate prayer into different areas of your life, both at church and at home, and to help you teach your children about prayer.

 

A Sure Foundation Nursery CurriculumA Sure Foundation Nursery Curriculum

For churches
The verses and designs from this challenge are an element of our newly refreshed and expanded A Sure Foundation: A Philosophy and Curriculum for Ministry to Infants and Toddlers. It is designed to help you transform your ministry to infants and toddlers into an integral beginning—a place of prayer for young children, a place where they hear foundational Bible stories, and a place where children learn simple truth statements and begin to memorize Scripture as they form their language skills. Emphasis is placed on creating an environment of prayer for babies and strategically praying for each infant and toddler by name each time they are in your care. (more…)

Imparting Truth with Exultation

Imparting Truth with Exultation

In his sermon, One Generation Shall Praise Your Works to Another, John Piper challenges us to not only pass on biblical truth, but to also do it in a manner that testifies to the greatness and worth of God.

It is the Biblical duty of every generation of Christians to see to it that the next generation hears about the mighty acts of God. God does not drop a new Bible from heaven on every generation. He intends that the older generation will teach the newer generation to read and think and trust and obey and rejoice. It’s true that God draws near personally to every new generation of believers, but he does so through the Biblical truth that they learn from the preceding generations. The Spirit comes down vertically (you might say) where the truth of God is imparted horizontally.
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