Children are the future of any group or organization, and the Church is no different. If we want the Church to survive into the next generation, we have to teach children well. Sure, there are plenty of conversions of people who were not raised in the Church and were not taught the faith as children, but along with those adult converts the Church needs people who were raised in a Christian environment and have the Christian faith permeate their being. A healthy Church needs the zeal of new converts and the foundation of those who were raised in the faith.
Deuteronomy shows how important it is for the training of children in the faith:
Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.
It is so important to pass on the faith to our children that we are to constantly talk to them about our faith. We are to have representations of the faith visible in our everyday lives so the children see that it is important to us. And we are to do this because we love God and want our children to experience that love of God that we have.
Parents and guardians of children are the first and most important example of faith that children have. If they see that it is important to us, that our relationship with God is something wonderful and good and holy to us, then it will have a much higher likelihood of being important to them. If they see us give lip service to our faith–showing it only when we are expected to do so and living like the rest of the world at all other times–we should not be surprised if they turn their backs on something that obviously was not important to us.
In the West, we have the mistaken idea that our congregations, Sunday School classes, and youth groups have the responsibility for teaching our children the faith. This is not true. That mentality leads to people who believe religion and faith are for official church events only, and that faith does not impact everyday life. In countries around the world where the Church is persecuted, they know that the home is the first Church children will ever see and experience, and it is up to the family to disciple the children. There is a wonderful, if challenging book, called The Insanity of God that shows this much more clearly than I ever could.
It needs to be pointed out, though, that how we teach our children will greatly shape their understanding of God as well. If we are harsh and demanding, showing judgment and withholding love, they will understand God as a divine tyrant who will not tolerate disobedience. This is not the God of grace in the Bible. If we are open and permissive, allowing any and all action and activity, they will understand God as never making any boundaries in life and everything is acceptable. This is not the God of covenant in the Bible. If we do not allow our children to wrestle with tough questions and encourage them to explore how Christianity measures up to the other various religions, beliefs, and theories in the world we show an immature faith in a God who is not able to handle doubts or questions. This is not the God who is Truth.
Teaching children well is important and difficult. May God give us the grace, wisdom, and discernment to know how to do it.