When it comes to being raised in a Christian home, my friend Anna was far from it. Though her mother grew up Catholic, Anna recalls going to Vacation Bible School once. That was the extent of her religious education. It wasn’t until she was seven months pregnant with her third child that she even searched for religious answers.

“God wasn’t a part of our lives or social circle,” Anna told me.

She discovered she was expecting the day her family moved cross-country, away from the city and family she’d grown up in. Her husband was traveling four days a week, and they’d endured a humiliating conflict with a neighbor. The compounding stress found Anna resorting to old family patterns—like yelling obscenities at her children.

“Something needs to change,” her husband told her. He wasn’t leaving her, but she needed to get help either from a counselor or by going to church, which he’d begun attending.

My friend did both. And after joining a small group, Anna was eventually baptized, sealing her commitment to Christ.

But now, with three children trailing her, what did it look like to shape a Christian home?

“I need examples,” Anna told me. “And I didn’t have any from my childhood.”

Maybe you can relate. If you’ve grown up outside of a Christian home, it can be straight-up intimidating to try to raise your children to follow Jesus. Time and again, Anna feels like her toolbox for raising Jesus-loving kids runs on the scarce side.

Truth? I grew up in a Christian home with great examples. And with my own four rowdy kids, I’m still frequently trying to yank this crazy train back on the rails (“No! ‘Speaking the truth in love’ does not include the word ‘stupid’!’”).

With our oh-so-real families, how do we raise kids who want more of God?

A Christian home starts inside

It’s easy to think developing a Christian home is about checking all the right boxes. But Anna realized a critical principle.

“I can’t roll it out to my kids if I’m not experiencing it,” she shrugged. “So my husband and I started thinking differently. Then doing differently.”

Her thoughts echo Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Rather than doing all the right motions (“Come, children! Let us worship the Lord!”), the most foundational transformation starts in a genuine, thrumming relationship with God. Your intimate times of living, breathing prayer. Your confession and heart-tending. And your absorption of God’s Word.

To be honest, some of my most destructive moments of trying to raise kids who love God are when I’m far from God in my own heart. Maybe I’m seeking my own spiritual “achievement” through my kids or feeling afraid of raising bad kids (and what that says about me). Maybe I’m motivated by shame.

My kids have a Spidey-sense of what’s hollow, emotionally unhealthy, or even controlling or manipulative. Do I want to convey that the ultimate message of Christianity is “try harder”?

So rather than just modifying our (and our kids’) behavior, our first priority is guiding genuine heart change. As Jesus warns the Pharisees, “You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).

Shaping a Christian home: rhythms to keep the soul of your house

Keep in mind creating a Christian home is actually making disciples, as Jesus instructed His own disciples before He left Earth (Matthew 28:19). Deuteronomy 6:6-7 puts it this way: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

So start inviting God in to your everyday. Ready for a few steps to try? Tip: Like a new workout regimen, don’t try to incorporate all these at once. Work up to a healthy pace that works for your own family!)

Knead Scripture into life

I’m not saying wield Scripture like a medieval cudgel to scare your kids into being better. We communicate the loving, life-giving power of the Bible and its power to know us and change us. It’s like a Swiss-army knife for life!

What could this look like?

  • Play Scripture-memory music, like Seeds Family Worship, in the car.
  • Write a verse of the week on a message board.
  • Have a Scripture-memory competition between you.
  • Get a family pack of temporary Scripture-memory tattoos (totally a thing!).
  • Read a verse (Proverbs are great!) for kids to chew on before they walk out the door in the morning. Then, pray with and for them.
  • Choose a worship playlist to get your family going in the morning.
  • Talk about Scripture whenever you see a way it applies to life.
  • Read a Bible verse after dinner. Ask kids what it tells us about God, about truth, about us. What could this verse look like in real life?

Loving well matters more than activity

If my kids memorize Habbakuk and I sew the costumes for the school play, but I berate my kids and don’t really listen to them—do they experience love? Have I succeeded in the real goal of a Christian home?

First Corinthians 13 reminds me I can be gifted, sacrificial, intelligent, and involved in every activity—but without love, it’s worth nada.

A Christian home is constantly maturing in its emotional intelligence. We’re improving our ability to be present, listen well, and truly respond to and care for one another—setting aside personal agendas. We’re learning to speak with truth and love rather than manipulation, control, or caginess. And we’re moving deeper into humility.

What else could this look like? Pressing into—rather than avoiding—grief, loss, pain, anger, or fear; we’re pursuing self-awareness and self-control as we navigate emotions. And we choose interdependence, working against isolation.

We’re actively working to love better, to make love sincere (Romans 12:9).

Make the most of moments together

The dinner table and travel time (to school, to soccer) can be the rough equivalent of elementary school “circle time.” And in that, prime discipling time.

What was your high and low of the day (parents answer, too!)? Ask questions to find out how kids are really doing, and take time to empathize or pray with them.

You might try family devotions. FamilyLife has a hands-on devotional (with engaging, easy object lessons) covering seven days—or try just one night a week.

Captivate your kids with God’s Word.

Keep on praying

Create a non-hokey culture of prayer. If you’re thinking, This feels awkward—it likely will, at first. (So was talking to your spouse-to-be, maybe, on your first date.) It helps me to remember to keep my tone real and conversational rather than trying to pray the “right way.” Or worse, having a “prayer voice,” which my kids totally said I had, once upon a time. Gah. Apparently it’s more husky?

I prayed with my 16-year-old son this morning about stress he was facing. Our family stopped and prayed in the kitchen last week for a hospitalized friend. Pray with your kids after nightmares, before a sports game, when a friend leaves them reeling, when they don’t know what to do.

Or maybe at bedtime, you use the Operation World app to pray for the nation of the day (we’ve purchased a scratch-off map to keep track of countries we’ve prayed for).

Be with God together, connecting Godward dots as a family throughout the day.

Make the most of conflict

In conflict, we’re replaying all over again what Jesus did for us—going the distance and sacrificing Himself to bring us close.

What could this look like?

  • Creating an “I’m sorry/I forgive you” culture in your home, getting real about what we’ve done wrong and how we’ve harmed others, rather than covering up.
  • And in apologies, acknowledging the hurt caused, the action done—and the heart attitude beneath it: “I’m sorry for what I said. I wanted revenge. Will you forgive me?”
  • I like having my kids start conflict resolution by owning their own contribution to the conflict (Matthew 7:4-5).
  • But we’re also all learning to overlook an insult, and return a blessing instead (1 Peter 3:9). If you can master this one, this carries the gospel at its heart.

Help preserve a Sabbath

On this day, think about refraining from shopping, work catch-up, kids’ activities … maybe even social media, bickering, or worrying. Nix what’s not truly life-giving.

Take care to protect your kids’ souls

It’s easy to let screens “watch” our kids, entertaining them and giving us a chance to cook something that doesn’t come from a box. But like the proverbial frog in boiling water, media is also a great way to saturate our kids in unbiblical worldviews … and lies.

Set time and content limits on your kids’ media—looking not just at what’s allowable, but what’s Kingdom-oriented for their developing minds and souls (see 1 Corinthians 10:23). Will they be able to resist conforming to our culture (Romans 12:2)?

As kids get older, perhaps move away from censorship and more into discussion of lyrics, movies, etc. (Some parental media sites offer discussion questions!) This needs to be their own decision—like removing training wheels so their faith can ride on its own.

Shaping a Christian home starts with making our kids’ hearts a priority. What kind of home will you create?

Copyright © 2021 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.