In the previous article, we talked about the very first thing to do when you want to build in spiritual conversations into your family life: you. How are you feeding yourself spiritually?
As a parent, we would never consider keeping a 3-year-old on milk alone, but for a newborn, that is truly all they need. A young adult would be embarrassed if their parent was still cutting up their food for them to eat. We move from milk, to pureed food, to small bite-sized pieces onto teaching them to use utensils and eventually cutting up their own food. It’s a process, but one society expects us to do as the parent. Step by step, children learn and grow until they don’t need their parents to instruct them what and how to eat any longer (we hope they learned that McDonald’s isn’t appropriate for every meal!). Why not approach discipling our children spiritually the same way?
Starting a Family Devotional Time can be a great place to start opening up space to have spiritual conversations. Spiritual conversations can happen anytime, but when your family has created space to grow together spiritually, your children understand that this is important to your family. A Family Devotional Time will look different for each family and at each stage of your children’s life but it is never too early to start! It may seem strange to set aside this time with your baby or toddler, but it will create space for deeper conversations as your child grows and gets you into the habit. It will be easier to implement the time when they are younger than when they are older. If you are starting this when your children are older, consider having a family meeting to discuss why you want to start prioritizing a Family Devotional Time and include them in selecting possible material and content.
Here are some simple ways to “sow seeds” into your children’s lives in age-appropriate activities for starting a Family Devotional Time:
Babies: Sing worship music and dance with them in your arms. Pray over them. Look through a Bible-based board book or cloth book.
Toddlers: Let them grab their board Bible and read a story together, pointing out different people and characteristics of God. Find out what worship songs they sing in Sunday School and sing a song together (if you can learn the hand motions, even better!). Begin to show them how to pray simple prayers. Include them with older siblings in Family Devotional Time by getting out a few Bible-themed toys or letting them mimic the older ones.
Preschoolers: Include hand motions and a worship song in your Family Devotional Time. Encourage them to sit in your lap to look at pictures while you read a Bible story or Devotional to the whole family. They won’t be ready to answer many questions but they can begin to learn what the purpose of this time is and what activities are appropriate during this time.
Elementary-aged: Let them pick a favorite devotional that includes interactive questions after it. Start to get beyond just Bible stories and into things like the names of God or the characteristics of God. Share the Gospel regularly and discuss how sin impacts our daily lives and what Jesus did about it. As a parent, you can begin to be more real about how you sin and how that makes you feel and how thankful you are for the Gospel.
Pre-Teens: Can begin to lead younger siblings by reading parts or all of the devotional books. This is a good time to start applying Biblical knowledge to everyday life. Devotionals that include a scenario with several choices to pick from will help make the Bible knowledge applicable. If you haven’t already, get them their own Bible and ask them to find passages and read them directly from the Bible instead of the devotional book. Consider using a chronological reading plan but approach it with the goal of general knowledge, not necessarily trying to apply every story to their lives.
Teenagers: Continue to build upon the ideas already presented in the younger ages. And while teenagers may seem aloof, they have a lot of questions. By this time you should be moving away from devotionals and into reading the actual Bible, discussing it, applying it, and beginning to study it. If you have younger kids still, let the teenagers apply these skills and occasionally lead Family Devotional Time. Depending upon your child, this can also be a good time to introduce books on Christian apologetics because they will naturally begin to have more questions. And if they have become interested in other religions from interactions with their friends or what is happening in the world, offer to learn more about those and compare those to the Gospel with them. Naturally teenagers are looking to begin sprouting from their parents and will look around to see what other adults and teenagers their age are doing. Connecting them to a solid, biblical youth ministry or spiritual mentor allows them to see how others are prioritizing eternal things outside their nuclear family. In the next article, we will talk more in depth about this.
There is no bad time to start.
Our family does our Family Devotional Time after the kids are ready for bed but before we tuck them in. Other families do it right after cleaning up the dinner table. Some families do it over the breakfast table each morning. The point is to create space and rhythms out of this time, not to be perfect at it. Find a time that works for your family five out of seven days a week and then tweak the other days. For example, on nights we are out later, we do a quicker prayer time together instead of a full devotional. And on nights we have a movie night or go on a family walk, we try to weave a discussion together from that family activity. The goal is to give space and time to have spiritual conversations and let those times grow as your child grows. Don’t be afraid of a little chaos and don’t be afraid to be creative or change things to find what works. It will change as your children grow and change.
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