You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Linda Massey Weddle is a children’s author and regular contributor to publications including Women’s Day and Christian Parenting Today. She develops Bible-based curriculum for young people and has been involved in children’s and youth ministry for the past twenty years. She has two grown children and six grandchildren and resides in suburban Chicago.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $16.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
A Journey Worth Planning
For parents like you…in churches like yours…this book is practical guide for a child’s spiritual
development—a journey in which parents and churches work together to raise kids who know, love, and serve the Lord.
Much of the vision and purpose for such a journey is discussed in my friend Larry Fowler’s book, Raising a Modern-Day Joseph. The book you hold in your hands—How to Raise a Modern-Day Joseph—focuses more on the practical side of that. It gives parents a workable plan for putting this vision and purpose to work in their everyday family life.
Like Larry’s book, this one is needed because we’re in the midst of a crisis. The statistics stagger us as we read about, hear about, and see young people walking away from their faith.
We surprised that this could be happening, since after all…
• our churches provide nurseries, Sunday school, vacation Bible School, Awana, youth ministries, and every other kind of kid or youth program imaginable.
• our children’s ministry curriculum is more entertaining, colorful, and professional looking than ever before.
• the market is flooded with “Christian” action figures, mugs, pencils, wallpaper, wallets, posters, linens, T-shirts, and toys, many decorated with clever “Christian” sayings.
• radio stations play Christian music twenty-four hours a day, and television channels broadcast a never-ending selection of messages from both local churches and polished, smooth-talking televangelists.
And here’s an even tougher dilemma: Why does a kid from one home walk away from the Lord while a kid in another home stays true to Him—yet the families in both homes have attended the same church, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, Awana clubs, etc.?
What happened? What’s the difference?
Before going further, I need to say this:
no humanly written book,
can absolutely guarantee that a young person will not walk away from what they’ve been taught.
God works with His people individually, and each individual must make the choice to trust Christ as Savior. Each one chooses to walk with the Lord or to walk away from Him. After all, even with the first two kids we read about in the Bible, one had a criminal record.
The absence of such a guarantee is due to sin.
Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised,
being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
So yes, unfortunately, children don’t come with guarantees.
But God’s Word does come with a guarantee: If we trust the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior,
believing that He died and rose again, we’re promised…
• the forgiveness of sin (bridging the separation between imperfect people and a perfect
• eternal life.
• a future in an unimaginably perfect heaven.
That’s some guarantee!
No, we as parents don’t have guarantees, but we do know that children who grow up in strong, Christ-centered homes—where God’s Word is both taught and lived—are more likely to live godly lives as adults.
But lets take a glimpse at what’s typically going on in many families.
A Church and Pastor Problem?
I grew up as a preacher’s kid, and as an adult became a preacher’s wife—I know firsthand how often the preacher and the church get blamed for parental failures.
I remember one Sunday morning after the church service when my husband was shaking hands with people filing out of the auditorium. Suddenly a mother stormed into the lobby, yelling and visibly upset. She said her son had been knocked over by other boys in the parking lot.
My husband’s first reaction was to call an ambulance, but the mom said that wasn’t necessary; her son just scraped his knee. “But,” she shouted, pointing to my husband. “This was your fault.”
“Why?” he asked. He could see our own two kids talking with friends nearby, so it wasn’t them who had knocked down the woman’s son. So why was this his fault?
“Because it’s your church,” the lady screamed. “And so they’re your responsibility.” (Well, that wasn’t true either; the church belongs to the people.)
But that true story is a picture of what many people do spiritually.
Just as many parents leave the physical well-being of their children up to the church (the drop-them-off-in-the-parking-lot syndrome), so many parents do the same with their children’s spiritual well-being, training, and guidance: Drop them off in the parking lot and let the church do the nurturing (whether or not the parents are even in the same building).
Maybe you feel this way too—at least to some extent. After all, you make sure your children go to church for every kids’ activity possible, so you figure the church’s pastors, teachers, and leaders are covering that spiritual training part of your kids’ lives. You’re busy doing other things, like working long hours to provide for your family, which is your responsibility.
Deep inside, you hope those people at the church are doing it right. And if your kids walk
away from the Lord someday, you’ll certainly have something to say about the church’s failure,
since spiritually raising your kids is their job.
From the Start
Let’s review some essentials of what the Bible says about the family.
The Family Is the First Group God Created
The family came before towns or countries, and before churches, youth programs, basketball
teams, or Facebook. God immediately created the marriage partnership—in fact, by the second
chapter of Genesis, God had already established marriage:
For Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:20-22)
And already by the fourth chapter in Genesis, we learn about children.
The Family (Marriage Partnership) Is a Picture of Christ and the Church
Paul says it this way:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:21–27)
Family “Rules” Are Listed Throughout the Bible
Here’s an example:
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-21)
Family Members Need to Encourage Each Other
Paul pointed to family encouragement as a model for the entire church:
But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11–12)
The family has the primary responsibility in the spiritual training of children. But families also
need the church to come alongside them to nurture their kids, to provide Christian friendships
from likeminded families, and to give complementary spiritual training. (We’ll look at all that
more closely later.)
Someone Who Knew, Loved, and Served God
The goal of Awana (the ministry I serve with) is to train children and youth to grow into adults who know, love and serve the Lord. We’ve come to see that this is also an outstanding goal for parents in training their children.
And as a biblical example of a young person who grew up to know, love, and serve the Lord, it’s hard to beat Joseph in the Old Testament. Not that he came from a perfect family.
Most children know about Joseph. They know he received a unique coat from his father—and our perception of that is a knee-length coat with rainbow-colored stripes. But why would grown men (his older step brothers—see Genesis 30:1-25) care about their little brother’s multicolored coat? The Hebrew word here for “coat” refers to a full-length tunic—sleeves to the wrist, the hem to the ankles. This was the style of coat worn by rich young men. They didn’t have to work (they had slaves or servants to do that), and they had a position of honor both in the home and in the community.
Joseph’s full-length coat was probably made of white linen, with bands of colorful embroidery as trim. By contrast, working men wore looser fitting, shorter garments so they could climb over rocks and take care of their sheep—they needed to move quickly and not be hindered by long clothing. So the brothers weren’t jealous of the colors of Joseph’s coat, but rather the implied position Joseph held in wearing such a garment.
Joseph lived in Hebron. The word Hebron means “community” or “fellowship.” Joseph had fellowship with his father, but this wasn’t a family who had a lot of fellowship with one another. I don’t think dinnertime conversations were leisurely discussions about the price of sheep feed or the Hebron weather.
The truth is, Joseph came from a dysfunctional family. This is obvious when you read in Genesis 30 about the intrigue involving his mother, his mother’s sister, their servants, and drugs (mandrakes—which were seen as narcotics or aphrodisiacs). Rachel and Leah were both jealous women who were willing to have their servants lie with Jacob so they could win the who-can have-the-most-sons race. And when Rueben brought home some mandrakes, Rachel desired them so much she was willing to “sell” Leah a night with Jacob to get her hands on them.
This of course isn’t part of the biography we read about in Sunday school, but these events are worth noting here. Out of this mess, the Lord brought Joseph, a young man who never wavered from the assurance that God was with him; a young man with a true heart-desire to know, love, and serve the Lord.
We know that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and he ended up in Egypt. We know he quickly gained power and influence in Potiphar’s house, then quickly lost it when fleeing the temptations of Mrs. Potiphar. Yet even when put in prison, Joseph knew God was with him, and he remained faithful. Later, because he interpreted the king’s dream, he was made a VIP and placed in charge of the entire land of Egypt. In that position, he was able years later to publicly forgive his brothers.
Through it all, Joseph concluded that it wasn’t his brothers who sent him to Egypt, but God. God had a plan for him, and Joseph listened to God and fulfilled His plan—something he was later able to testify about to his brothers: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).
Joseph’s life in particular reflected five godly character qualities—we’ll call them “master life threads”— that were woven into the very being of who he was and how he lived his life.
• Respect for the awesomeness and authority of God (Genesis 39:6-9.
• Wisdom for living life, based on a knowledge of God (40:5-8).
• Grace in relationships with others (41:51-52).
• A sense of destiny and purpose that came from God (45:4-10).
• A perspective for life based on the sovereignty of God (50:15-21).
These master life threads are also desired characteristics in the lives of our own children—as they learn to know, love, and serve the Lord.
We know that Joseph knew about the Lord. God was the God of his father, Jacob. As Joseph’s life continued in surprising new situations—as head of Potiphar’s household, as a prisoner, and finally as the man in charge of all of Egypt—he continued following the Lord. Over and over in the biblical account of Joseph’s life, we read that the Lord was with him, as in Genesis 39:21: “The LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.”
We know that Joseph loved the Lord because of the way he lived his life, refusing to be drawn into the temptations of a rich and powerful household, and because of his exemplary forgiveness toward the brothers who had wronged him: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).
And we know that Joseph served the Lord—by making righteous choices, by administrating the seven years of plenty, and by giving food not only to the people of Egypt but to other countries as well. As the famine intensified, and “the people cried to Pharaoh for food,” Pharaoh responded, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you” (Genesis 41:55).
What Christian parent wouldn’t want their child to grow up to be a modern-day Joseph—a young person who reflects those five master life threads, and who knows, loves, and serves the Lord?
For many parents (and maybe this includes you), their children are already becoming Josephs. They do excellent jobs spiritually nurturing their children. They daily teach their kids God’s Word by guiding them toward recognizing the need to trust Christ, praying with them, reading the Bible together, encouraging Scripture memorization, explaining difficult words and concepts and talking about the qualities of the Christian life. Then they live out God’s Word in everyday life. They take their responsibility seriously.
Then there are other parents simply don’t think about their child’s spiritual training. These parents flounder through life, not learning much themselves about what the Bible actually says, and they couldn’t begin to explain the difference between Genesis and Galatians. Yet they’re law abiding citizens and church-attending Christians. They figure their kids will turn out okay. After all, they get their kids to Sunday school and even sent them once to a Christian summer camp.
But the majority of Christian parents are somewhere in the middle. They desire to be spiritual nurturers of their children, but they don’t know how. They might be intimidated that they might not say the right words. (What if my child asks me to explain eschatology or something?) Or they don’t know where to find a plan that shows them how to be a spiritual nurturer. (They may not even realize they should have a plan).
Furthermore, you probably know some adults who grew up without any spiritual nurturing in the home, yet who are now pastors, missionaries, church leaders, or shining witnesses in the secular workplace. The Lord used someone besides a parent to mentor that child, or gave the child a desire for Bible study that transformed her into someone who truly wants to know, love, and serve the Lord.
Goal and Plan
If our destination for our children is having a child who develops Joseph-like characteristics—knowing, loving, and serving the Lord—what’s the itinerary or plan for that journey?
The lack of such a plan often becomes the roadblock in our children’s spiritual development—and getting past that roadblock is what this book is all about. This book is not a step-by-step itinerary, but more of an atlas where you pick and choose which stops to make in your own family journey—because we know all families are different, with different schedules, different interests, and different personalities.
Our desire is to give your family (and your church) ideas—lots of ideas for helping to spiritual nurture your children. But as the parent, you need to devise the route.
It’s a plan that involves both parents—and the church as well.
The father is the head of the house and the God-ordained leader of the home. Dads and moms need to work together to spiritually raise their children.
A spiritually strong dad will…
• pray with his children.
• lead the children in Bible study and worship.
• take an interest in what the child is learning at church.
• teach his children Bible verses, Bible concepts, and Bible truths.
• discuss challenging questions, cultural events and concepts with his children.
• model a Christlike attitude in his daily life.
Unfortunately in too many homes, Mom is by herself in doing all of this. Dad might drive the family to church, but he doesn’t take any real responsibility in the child’s spiritual development.
If you’re a father, know this: God has given you a job to do. Your responsibility is to do it. You can’t expect your child to grow into a God-honoring adult when he sees you ignore the Bible, find every excuse possible to avoid church, and live a life that’s inconsistent with what God says in His Word.
Children need both parents involved in their spiritual training, and that’s the basic scenario presented throughout this book. It’s a sad situation when Dad is faithfully living for the Lord, but Mom doesn’t want any part of it.
Mom needs to be an active part of the praying, teaching, discussing, and modeling too. For example, sometimes Mom’s the one who spends a half-hour before or after school helping her children work on a memory verse, and when Dad gets home, he can enthusiastically listen to the children recite the verse. This is a joint effort. Both parents are huge influencers.
You might be a single mom and already feel defeated because you don’t have a husband to help you out. You can still teach your children from God’s Word and live an exemplary life. In your situation, the partnership of the church may be more important than usual. Hopefully your church has good male role models teaching younger children, so your children can profit from a masculine influence.
A good example of one parent spiritually training a child is that of Eunice and her son Timothy (2 Timothy 1:4-5). Eunice did have the help of her own mother, Timothy’s grandmother, but she didn’t have any help from her unbelieving Gentile husband. Timothy’s mom and grandma taught him the Old Testament Scriptures and exemplified godly lives. When the apostle Paul came along and taught Timothy about the Son of God and His sacrifice on the cross, Timothy was ready to trust Christ as Savior. Timothy became Paul’s son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2), and Paul recognized of the foundation which Timothy’s mom and grandma had laid.
Many single parents do great jobs in spiritually training their children. If you’re a single parent, or your spouse isn’t interested in God and His Word, you need to surround yourself with likeminded adults who can give you and your children support and encouragement.
Fitting into Your Schedule
When, where, and how do we spend time spiritually training our children?
The following verses from Deuteronomy give clear instruction that our entire daily lives should provide teaching opportunities to spiritually train our children:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)
In a real sense, spiritual training in the home is ongoing and never-ending. It’s really a part of everything you do.
But we also need to set aside specific times when we come together as a family to pray, honor, and worship the Lord and to study and memorize His Word. Some families enjoy singing or playing instruments together. Others read a page from a devotional book.
One teenager said, “Our family wasn’t musical, so that wasn’t part of our activities. But we did other things, such as making rebuses of Bible verses.”
You might set aside a time each day for spiritual focus—at the breakfast or supper table, or before bed. Or you could plan family nights when an entire evening is dedicated to a lesson, an activity, and a special treat. (Be careful you don’t present the activity as more important and fun than the lesson. Bible study can and should be a great experience.)
Maybe your family’s schedule is so complicated that you can’t have a regular set time for spiritual focus, but you can still conscientiously meet together as a family to pray, worship, and learn about the Lord.
A couple considerations in all this:
• Sometimes families are diligent in having family devotions, but that’s the only time their children hear about the Lord. Because Dad prays and reads a page from a devotional book, he feels he’s taken care of his spiritual leadership responsibilities. Five minutes later, the children hear him swear when opening the gas bill, or see him confront a neighbor because the neighbor’s dog messed up the lawn. What he verbally taught is negated by the way he lives his life.
• Families are different. One guy diligently teaches his kids from the Bible, helps them with their memory verses, and consistently lives a godly life, yet he feels guilty. He knows of another family that spends thirty minutes of concentrated training at the supper table each night, but his irregular work schedule doesn’t allow him to do that. He is, however, doing a great job. We need to focus on our own families, not on what someone else is doing.
We as parents need to work together to develop the itinerary for our own families, keeping
our eyes on the goal of raising children who know, love, and serve the Lord.
Whether large or small, your church is your best partner in raising your children.
In fact, the size of the church doesn’t really matter. Mega churches have the money and staff to provide exciting programs for both parents and children, and those programs can be good. But smaller churches can be better at giving a child a sense of security, family, and nurturing that you don’t always find in a larger church.
So church size isn’t important. What is important is the attitude of the church and the pastor toward kids. Does your church leadership really care about kids? Do they see the value in children’s ministry, and provide necessary resources to spiritually disciple children? Do they occasionally visit children’s or youth ministry times to give the lesson, answer questions, or simply greet the children or youth? Do they make an effort to learn the names of the kids, or do they know your three teenagers (who have been attending the church since birth) only as the Hansen kids?
If your church doesn’t see the importance of encouraging families, maybe you could be the catalyst to begin the initiative.
After this book’s Part One (which focuses on giving parents specific age-appropriate suggestions for their child’s spiritual development), Part Two will focus especially on practical ways the church can partner with you in this task. Be sure to explore what’s presented in Part Two, and become familiar with ideas of how churches and families can work together.
Planning Your Family’s Spiritual Journey
The ideas in this book are suggestions. No parent can do everything, just as no church can do everything either. Our goal is to give you plenty of ideas to help get you started and keep you going.
So let me lay out what you’ll find in each chapter in Part One, which is especially geared for you as a parent. (Keeping the journey idea in mind, most of these components have travel-related labels.)
Each chapter targets a different stage of a child’s life, and will focus on an appropriate life thread
(reflecting a quality that Joseph displayed in his life).
Here are these life threads for each age category:
Preschoolers (ages 2-5) Respect
Early Elementary (ages 5-8—kindergarten to second grade) Wisdom
Older Elementary (ages 8-11—third through sixth grades) Grace
Middle School (ages 11-14—seventh and eighth grades) Destiny
High School (ages 14-18—ninth through twelfth grades) Perspective
At the beginning of each chapter, you’ll find listed again the life thread to focus on for that stage in your child’s life.
By the way, if you’re looking at this list and thinking, “Great, but my child is already twelve years old!”—that’s okay. Yes, you’ve missed some prime training opportunities, but you can catch up. Review the sections for preschoolers and elementary age children, and teach the principles to your child using explanations and activities appropriate for a twelve-year-old. Instead of regretting what you missed, focus on the present and look to the future. These concepts are good for all ages—including adults.
What They’re Like
Early in each chapter, this section lists ten characteristics about that particular age category. Understanding these characteristics will give you a great head start in helping your child grow spiritually.
What They’re Asking
This section in each chapter lists the kinds of questions that kids in this age group typically ask about God and the Bible. You’ll also find suggested answers to a few of the questions.
These questions came from a “Biggest Question Survey” sponsored by Awana. A few years back, we asked 4,000 children and teenagers, “What’s your biggest question about God and the Bible?” These children and teenagers all had some Bible background (though, after looking at their questions, we surmised that some didn’t remember much of it). Then we determined the most-asked questions for each age group.
But don’t stop with reading what other kids have asked; ask your own children for their biggest questions about God and the Bible.
What You Can Do
In this section of each chapter you’ll find a wealth of practical suggestions for what you as a parent can do to help in your child’s spiritual growth in each stage. This begins with a short section about helping your child make the all-important decision to trust Christ as Savior.
Bios and Verses
Here you’ll find appropriate Bible biographies and Scripture memory verses to explore and learn with your children.
(At Awana, we substitute the word “biography” for “story” to emphasize that what comes from the Bible is true and not fictional. We explain that a biography is a true story about someone.)
What Not to Do
Sometimes we hinder more than we help. Each chapter includes this section where you’ll find common errors to avoid in each stage of your child’s life.
Each chapter also includes a checklist of basic attainments to look for in your child’s spiritual development.
Finally, the section in each chapter labeled “Family Itinerary” is a worksheet to help you develop your plan and goals for your child’s spiritual journey in each stage.
Here are a couple of samples of completed itineraries from two families, one with younger children and one with teenagers:
A Sample Itinerary for a Family with Young Children
Our spiritual goals for the year are:
1. Teach Emma and Jacob that God created the world.
2. Teach Emma and Jacob that God loves each one of us.
3. Teach Emma and Jacob that the Bible is God’s book.
4. Teach Emma and Jacob that Jesus is God’s Son.
5. Teach Emma and Jacob that we’re to obey God.
Our family verse for this year is:
We’ll also study the following six additional verses (one every two months) about God and His character:
1. Psalm 33:4
2. Proverbs 3:5
3. Matthew 28:20
4. Romans 3:23
5. Ephesians 6:1
6. 1 John 4:14
We’ll also study the following six Bible biographies (one every two months):
6. Christ’s birth
We will also do a more extensive study on this person in the Bible:
Heman in 1 Chronicles 25:5–7. We’ll learn how he and his family sang in the temple. We’ll learn a song together and sing at church.
Here are other activities our family will do together to learn about Bible characters:
1. We’ll watch a series of DVDs on Bible characters (a set we were given that’s factual).
2. We’ll visit Grandma and Grandpa and look at their pictures they took in Israel.
3. We’ll study Josiah and other Bible characters who served God even though they were young.
4. We’ll do several crafts using natural materials from the outdoors as we talk about God’s creation. These will include leaf-tracings, pictures on sun-sensitive paper, and drying flowers.
5. We’ll teach Emma and Jacob to identify five birds and five flowers, explaining that
they were all created by God.
Here are some themes for family fun nights we would like to do this year:
1. We’ll build a birdhouse together and learn about ten birds in our area of the country, and we’ll talk about creating a wonderful variety of birds.
2. We’ll make a mural for the basement wall of David watching his sheep.
3. We’ll invite Grandpa and Grandma to family night so they can hear Jacob and Emma say their verses.
4. We’ll make a book of all the different Bible biographies Jacob and Emma have learned at church this year.
5. We’ll visit the zoo.
6. We’ll make cookies for the lady down the street who’s homebound.
Our family has completed this year’s family itinerary and met our spiritual goals.
(Signed by each family member)
A Sample Itinerary for a Family with Children in High School
Our spiritual goals for the year are:
1. Study the book of Ephesians together.
2. Encourage Andrew and Amanda to teach and mentor their younger siblings.
3. Discuss biblical worldview and what that means as Andrew and Amanda head off to college.
4. Have open, honest discussions about difficult cultural issues.
5. Encourage Andrew and Amanda to write down any questions they may have about God and the Bible and to work through those questions as a family.
6. For Andrew and Amanda to serve by singing and playing guitar at the rescue mission once a month.
Our family verse for this year is:
This year we’ll do the following family research project:
On creation. The project will culminate with a week at creation camp this summer.
We’ll memorize this chapter from the Bible:
We’ll read (either as a family or individually) the following books:
1. Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
2. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
Our family service project this year will be:
Serving at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Our family has completed this year’s family itinerary and met our spiritual goals.
(Signed by each family member)