Train Up A Child…
Parenting is something I am passionate about.
That doesn’t mean I think I’m the best at it or that I have all the answers because I’m not and I don’t. But I try to be. I believe that this is one of the most important roles a parent will ever play in life. Not that other roles aren’t worthy or worthwhile, but when you are responsible for the well-being, education, moral upbringing, and health of another person’s life, there really isn’t anything that can compare. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest jobs to get. In the movie Parenthood, Keanu Reeves sums it up nicely when his character says, “You need a license to buy a dog or drive a car. You even need a license to catch a fish, but anyone can be a father.” Now he said it in more colorful language, but you get the picture. Some men are great dads but some should never have been one in the first place because it’s a very serious job and there is no screening process to see if you’re qualified or not. Being a dad means taking the life of a child into your hands and affecting that life from childhood until the day they die. It’s hard to believe that any one person can affect a child’s life that much, but the studies are clear. One person CAN make that much of a difference.
Having a father in the home has a multitude of positive effects.
As fathers, we are built with unique gifts to offer our kids and, believe it or not, how we play with our children is one of them. Studies have shown that fathers play with their kids in ways different than their mothers and the way they play can offer children lessons on behavior and important social skills. Rough-housing with the kids, a dad specialty, is not only good for giggles and laughs, but it gives them an understanding of boundaries and self-control. They learn how far to take things, what’s “too far,” and how to manage their emotions. The way we play with our kids also encourages independence and pushes them to self-achievement. In fact, a 2001 study by the Department of Education showed that children with involved biological fathers were 43% more likely to get mostly A’s in school! Children with involved biological fathers were 43% more likely to get mostly A’s in school! How’s that for a positive impact?
But one way that fathers seem to have the biggest impact is in their child’s faith.
God has something to say about that today so we’re going to look at the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 11:18-21. Deuteronomy 11:18-21. Believe it or not, dads play a huge role in whether or not a child stays strong in their faith or not. It’s like it says in the book of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.” “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Again, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can simply look at the facts. If you had the chance to read your newsletters this month you know that a study done in Switzerland showed that the less dad participates in going to church regularly, the less likely his children will as they get older. The numbers go from 33% to 2%. 33% to 2%. Meaning that fathers who go regularly to church with the family will have children who are 33% likely to become regular church attenders themselves whereas dads who don’t go at all will have children who follow suit. Ironically, if dad goes and mom doesn’t children become even MORE likely to go to church regularly. Up to a whopping 44%! With about 70% of children today leaving the church for at least a year or more, it’s still a concern for parents today. Its one of the reasons that God makes such an emphasis about how we should raise our children in faith.
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 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. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
I’ve been a pastor for about eight years now.
And the one concern I hear from nearly every parent is the same, “I don’t want my kids to lose their faith.” Parents who are concerned about the spiritual health of their children will do almost anything to have them connect to God in meaningful ways. They’ll change churches, they’ll change worship styles, they’ll volunteer, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep their kids connected. But God tells us in this passage it takes more than that to steep your kids in faith. First, you have to fix God’s words in YOUR hearts and minds. They have to be so ingrained that it’s simply a part of who you are. That’s what it means when God says that we have to tie them as symbols on our hands “and bind them on our foreheads.” We need to live a godly life. And then we have to teach what we know to our kids. We have to make it evident to them the faith we have in Christ. When God says to talk about his Word at home and on the road, when we wake in the morning and when we go to sleep, he is telling us that this needs to be our way of life. That’s what this passage is trying to tell us, that teaching our kids about faith is more than simply words or books but in how we live it out day-to-day. We will certainly make mistakes, but if we own up to those mistakes and confess when we have done wrong, our children will pattern themselves after us and lead better lives.
Because let’s face it, church by itself just isn’t enough.
For kids to really have a deep and abiding faith, their parents have to have faith, too. And they need to be willing to share that faith with their own children. Reggie Joiner wrote in his book Think Orange about the 3000/40 principle. He said if churches are lucky, church leaders get about 40 hours a year with your kids, while parents get 3000. As great as your church may be, as wonderful a youth leader or pastor as you have, in the scope of things, parents have far more influence than the church ever will. Teaching children about faith has to be a partnership and it can’t be done without you. And it’s never too late to talk about your faith with your children or your grandchildren. One guy who joined a church I was serving at told me about how much of an influence his grandmother was in coming to faith. On trips to the store or to get some ice cream or just after school while they were in the car, she would share with him about how much she loved the church and why she loved Jesus and he said it was because of her great love for Christ that he wanted to know Christ for himself and became a believer. These lessons apply to all of us whether you are 28 or 88. It’s never too late to share your faith with your kids. This lesson was driven home to me by someone in my first congregation and it’s stuck with me ever since. She told me that she wished she had shared more about her faith with her kids when they were younger. She and her husband had decided they wanted the kids to make their own decisions about what to believe and so while they took them to church as young children, they never made them come to church as they got older and never told them why they thought Jesus was important to their lives. Her daughter really struggled once she left home and until she came back to Christ she was really lost. It was only then that the mom told her daughter why faith was so important to her and her daughter said, “If it was so important, why didn’t you tell me?” Those words have stuck with me ever since.
There are consequences when we don’t live up to this standard God sets for us in this passage.
We read about it in Exodus 34:7 when it says that “he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation,” That’s not God taking it out on a bunch of innocent kids. It’s a message to us that our actions have consequences. Children of alcoholics have higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, greater depression, and increased likelihood of being alcoholics. Children who come from abusive homes have greater difficulty in school, have trouble developing relationships, have poorer mental health, are more likely to commit a crime, and are more likely to abuse their bodies through drugs and alcohol. And that’s just to name a few things that result from a household like that. God isn’t punishing us. It’s the consequence of our behavior. Similarly, when we fail to infuse the love of Christ into our children, they are more likely to wander away from faith and we’ve talked before about the benefits of having a strong faith. People who attend church regularly are more honest (3x more honest), less likely to commit crimes, more willing to give and volunteer, are less likely to suffer from mental illness, are less abusive toward their families and more likely to stay married, get better grades, and tend to be healthier.
These are just a few of the many interesting facts about fathers and faith.
And it just goes to show that God’s lesson for us is right. Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. We must do everything we can to give our children the best possible chance at success in this world and there is no greater success than living a life in Christ. That will sustain you when life is beating you down. That will anchor you when you’re feeling emotionally lost. It will be the rock upon which you build your house. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds,” our Lord God says. “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.” “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Being a dad is the greatest gift God has ever given me. It really is the greatest joy of my life. When I was going through a period of doubt in my life, it was when Cassie was pregnant with Emma, and my pastor at the time told me that I didn’t need to worry. Any doubts about my faith would disappear when my baby was born. And she was right. I have never felt greater joy in my entire life and I knew in that moment that I was living for more than just myself now. I had the responsibility but also the privilege of living for my daughter. Sometimes we dads sell ourselves short. Sometimes we don’t realize the role we play in the lives of our kids. We may not have the same gifts as moms do, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t important. Our role in the family isn’t limited to what we achieve in the outside world. Our role in the family is equally important inside the family, too. Share your faith with you kids. Pray with your kids. Go to church with your kids. Like I said, it’s never too late whether you’re 28 or 88 to live up to your role as a father. In the name of the greatest Father of all. Amen.
 Reggie Joiner, Think Orange, David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 2009, p. 85.