Spiritually Shaping Your Kids
About the Guest
You enroll them in Sunday school, AWANA and Christian school. But what are your children learning about God at home? Pastors Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope tell how families can become intentional about discipling their children in the faith.
You enroll them in Sunday school, AWANA and Christian school.
Spiritually Shaping Your Kids
Bob: Before we train up our children in the way they should go, we need to make sure that we are modeling what that way looks like. Here’s Kurt Bruner.
Kurt: I think we have overemphasized many times the instructional aspect of discipleship that I need to instill in my children these verses and these biblical principles. We don’t realize it starts with simply being the picture of the gospel that a home is intended to be. You know, by being the picture of the gospel that a loving husband-wife relationship should be, is a huge advantage in forming the character and the faith of your children.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to spend some time talking today about how churches and families can work together to make the faith hand-off to the next generation.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I brought in a copy of this study from the Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Bob: Religion among the Millennials. Do you know who the Millenials are?
Dennis: Right, the younger generation.
Bob: It says here, “Less Religiously Active Than Older Americans, But Fairly Traditional in Other Ways.” I thought, “We need to figure out what the problem is here” and then I thought, “These guys know the answer. They can fix this for us.”
Dennis: These guys are on it. They are leading one of America’s most effective churches in Rockwall, Texas. Steve Stroope and Kurt Bruner join us on FamilyLife Today. Steve, Kurt, welcome to the broadcast.
Kurt: It’s good to be here. Thanks, Dennis.
Steve: Thanks for having us.
Dennis: We’re actually welcoming Kurt back. He’s been on FamilyLife Today now – what Bob? Three or four times?
Bob: Yes, you’re making a lease payment on that chair, I believe, because you’ve been on a few times.
Kurt: Well, I’ve brought my wife in the past.
Bob: That’s right.
Kurt: And I know that’s been the real reason. I brought Steve – not quite as – not quite as –
Kurt: Enough said.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Kurt worked for Focus on the Family for a number of years. He is a graduate of Talbot Seminary, and is Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. Steve Stroope is the lead pastor of Lake Pointe and has really been there, I guess, since the beginning.
Steve: Thirty years, just getting started.
Dennis: A little over 11,000 people attend that church, a great lighthouse there in the east Dallas area, and really all of east Texas.
Steve: A lot of great people. We enjoy being with them.
Dennis: Together you guys have collaborated on a book, It Starts at Home: A Practical Guide to Nurturing Lifelong Faith. Before we came in here, Kurt, you said that families are really looking for the church to equip them to do discipleship at home.
Kurt: Absolutely. In fact, some of the studies we’ve seen where they poll people who attend our churches and they say, “How are we doing on helping you become disciples?” Well, as it related to the family, one of the topics that came up was, listing out all of the programs and all the objectives the church may have of trying to equip families – and of course we have children’s programs, right? And we ask you to serve in our children’s programs. So we’ve asked families, “How do you feel about how we’re doing?”
“Well, you’re doing great. You’re doing almost too well in asking me to serve in the children’s ministry, but you’re doing great there.” When it comes to the issue of “How are we doing in equipping you as parents to do what you need to do in the home, which can’t be done at the church,” there’s a high desire for that kind of equipping, but the grade is pretty low as a church. That’s one of the issues that we at Lake Pointe tried to address head-on. We asked, “How can we make it easy for families to do the right thing?”
Bob: Steve, I want to ask you about this, because I’m talking to a lot of Christian parents who are doing their best. I say, “doing their best,” – they’re trying to put their kids in the Awana program at church; they’ve got them going to Christian school. They’re really trying to do all they can, and yet they’re watching kids – maybe they’ve homeschooled them all the way – they’re watching them hit 17 or 18 and they’re just kind of fading.
Steve: Yes. I think the problem is that they think that Awana or the Christian school is going to do their job for them. People look at our youth program or our children’s program, which is done with excellence, and they say, “Well, those people know a lot more about my kids than I do. They know a lot more about theology than I do.” So what they’re doing is dropping them off.
What they don’t understand is if they’re not doing their job at home it doesn’t matter what we do at church. It doesn’t matter what the Christian school does. We don’t have their kids long enough to undo all the bad things that are going on at home if they’re not living out the gospel in their home.
Bob: The constant barrage of what they’re getting from the culture – the kids, I’m talking about – you’ve got to have at least an equal barrage coming from mom and dad to counteract that. It’s not enough to get a couple of hours a week coming from the church.
Kurt: Well, I’ll say this though: you do have the advantage of God’s design. By being the picture of the gospel that a loving husband-wife relationship should be is a huge advantage in forming the character and the faith of your children. It’s funny – I think we a lot of times go directly to how to disciple our children in terms of the Scriptures, but I want to back up a second and talk about how you form your children starts with simply being the picture of the gospel that a home is intended be, even if you never say a word.
Bob: Okay. Now, thirty percent of the audience just went, “I’ve already blown that.” These are the blended, broken families, the single parents who say, “Our picture got busted a long time ago. So I’m in trouble from the get-go.”
Steve: Yes but I think what happens, though, is you take where you are today.
Steve: And you put that in the hands of the Lord, and you honor the Lord where you are today moving forward. What you’re really doing is you’re showing your kids how to respond to a bad situation even if that bad situation was created by your past disobedience.
Kurt: I’d also say that the church steps in here. This is part of what we’re trying to emphasize with the churches: helping families become intentional. I believe every child deserves and needs to have a regular exposure to the picture of a God-honoring marriage and a God-honoring home. Now ideally that’s happening in their own home, but when it’s not, the body of Christ can come along and provide free samples of what that’s supposed to be.
My wife, Olivia – you’ve met her when she’s been here in the studio.
Kurt: She came from a very troubled, very broken home, very antagonistic to the Christian faith. What caught her heart was going and spending time in the home of a family with a husband and wife who loved one another despite their conflicts. They loved their children, a dad who gave his life day-in and day-out to be there for his family. She saw in that a picture of something that made all of the words make sense when she visited church with her friend. But she didn’t have the picture in her own home; she got that picture from another home.
So I think the wider body of Christ can step in and help in those situations as well. Let’s give free samples.
Steve: One of the things we’re doing is – we’re not just emphasizing disciple your own kids at home, but we’re emphasizing creating something in your home that will disciple your kids. That’s one of the reasons why one of the chapters in the book is on marriage, very frankly. We’re obviously not trying to deal with that whole issue of marriage in that one chapter, but it’s just to say “Guys, the best thing you can do for your kids is to show them the love of God that you’re expressing to one another in that family.
Bob: I want to ask both of you: you use the phrase “spiritual formation.” I’ve typed that into Google and I get all kinds of things back about what a dangerous concept this is, and how you’re going to take people into the mountains and they’re going to do meditation. Explain what you mean when you talk about spiritual formation and what that should look like in a family.
Steve: Basically what it’s really all about is becoming like Jesus. I think one of the things that intimidates parents is they think they have to have a theological degree to take their kids there, or they think that they have to start creating these family devotionals where they sit the kids down and preach at them for two hours out of an old musty family Bible.
The truth is, according to Deuteronomy we are already involved in the activity that will form Christ in our children. It says that “as we walk along the way, as we sit down, as we lie down at night, as we rise up,” you’re doing life with your kids. Be intentional to point them to Christ, to point them to the gospel in the things that you’re already doing.
We have four grandchildren that we really love. One of the things that my wife does as she’s taking Meleah, one of our granddaughters out, is that they’ll collect leaves. As they collect leaves and put them into a little book for Meleah, she points out about how creative God is, all the colors that he created and all the shapes that he created. Marsha is going to be taking that walk with Meleah no matter what, but for her to be intentional and to point to the Creator while she does that – she doesn’t have to create a new activity. She doesn’t have to quote Scripture. She just has to live out her own belief and verbalize that with her granddaughter. That’s making an imprint on that little heart.
Kurt: It’s forming her. That’s what spiritual formation is. It’s those things that form us into the character of Christ. I don’t know that it’s a mistake, but I think we’ve overemphasized many times the instructional aspect of discipleship that I need to instill in my children these verses and these biblical principles. So we move into more of an instructional, academic mode and we don’t realize the purpose of the home – what the home can do, that the church cannot do and cannot be is that forming context.
It’s like the flowering pot, alright? Take four little flowers and imagine that their roots are dangling here. I hold those flowers up in front of you and I say, “These are like my four children. I desperately want them to embrace the gospel, so I bring them to the church. The church has the living water of the gospel, and the church pours that water onto the lives of my children.” Well, what happens to the water? It just drips off.
But if I stick those same four flowers into the rich soil of a God-honoring home and I pour the water of the gospel into the soil, now those roots have the opportunity to absorb the meaning of the gospel. I think what happens is, we have the water. The church can pour the water and can do a great job of teaching the truths, but what that church can’t do is become the soil, that life-giving, nurturing soil that a God-honoring home is intended to be.
Dennis: I was with a businessman who has attempted to raise his children like you’re talking about. He was just talking and sharing with me how he thinks his most important lessons in life that he’s passed on to his children have not come around his successes, but around his failures, and how he processed trusting God and getting back up off his face after he’d fallen down and miserably failed.
This is the environment we’re talking about here. It’s not just, as you described, a bunch of dutiful children seated around a table listening to dad, as you talked about, read the Bible. But it’s about them observing you do life in the deep end of the pool.
Dennis: You’re swimming, you’re calling them to swim, and you’re making an impact for Christ. You’re making mistakes; you’re training them how to handle their mistakes, because they’re going to make a lot of mistakes over their lifetime.
Kurt: That’s right.
Bob: Well, I’m thinking back to my own experience of raising kids and we’re still in the midst of some of that. I’m thinking that from a modeling standpoint we’ve been far from perfect, but I think we’ve been fairly consistent. I think when we’ve failed we’ve modeled what grace looks like, what forgiveness, what repentance looks like.
From an instructional standpoint I’ve been less effective than I think I’ve been from a modeling standpoint. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve done as good a job instructing as maybe we’ve done modeling. Now if I were to take both of those and say, “Which would I rather win at?” – if I were to say to you today, “You know I’ve been a great instructor and a lousy model,” – that’s going to drive the kids away from our Christianity.
Steve: Yes. They’re not rejecting our theology, they’re rejecting our hypocrisy.
Bob: But the point is we really ought to have both going.
Steve: No question.
Bob: We ought to have both the modeling happening -- that’s the foundation on which then healthy instruction can happen.
Kurt: I remember when my older boys were real young. I was not from a home – I didn’t grow up in a family where my dad played with us a lot. He had seven kids, always worked two jobs, so it wasn’t natural for me. I remember when the boys were about five and three. Olivia just had an instinct on this – sure, we would try to do some things like family night activities, where we would instruct them – but she would say every night when I got home from the office, “You need to go in the other room and just wrestle with the boys on the floor.”
We would do that every night, and what I came to realize is the wrestling on the floor was actually what made them want what it is I would talk about. If I talked about it but I didn’t do the wrestling, well, then they don’t want what I believe. It doesn’t matter how effectively I or how effectively the church does at instructing them, if they don’t want what it is we believe. So creating that context is really about giving them a desire, a thirst for what we’re about and who we are.
Steve: But I think one of the things that the church needs to do, is the church needs to help equip the parents to do the instructional part. They need to help the parents know what to say to the children at what time in their development, what are the basic values that need to be covered, what is the basic theology that needs to be shared? I think kids want to know what their parents believe.
Dennis: Okay, let’s go to the basics here then. Let’s say we see a young couple who are just starting out their journey as parents. They ask you, “What are the fundamentals?” I’m not talking about theological fundaments, but “what are the very basics or the essence in the truth about God that I need to pass on to my children? How can I introduce my kids to God?” Where do they begin?
Steve: I think it begins with the very simple thing that God is our source. We talk to them about God being our Creator. Then I think at some point it moves beyond that to begin to talk about that he not only is the one who created us, he’s our source, but he wants to be involved in our life as we continue. He’s the one who sets the boundaries; he’s the one who provides resources for living. Kurt has done a great job in our book talking about what concepts to present to the kids at what ages. Kurt, you might say a little bit about that.
Kurt: Well, there are a lot of materials on that. Our book is just a reminder of those basics. But, things like, “Who is God?” “Is there a God?” We used to call these things the creeds, and catechisms, and Sunday school lessons—the basic truths like there is a God. I am made in his image. I am fallen. He has redeemed me. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There aren’t as many as we might think that are essential elements, that are those basic truths of the Christian understanding, but all of those things become irrelevant if the picture doesn’t exist. Remember, these are all allusions to and metaphors of what? A God who is a loving heavenly father.
I had a young lady who came up to me after a sermon. In the sermon I just briefly said something to the effect of “How we view God is heavily influenced by our relationship to our parents and especially our fathers.” It wasn’t the point of the sermon; it was almost a throw-away line. She came up to me after the sermon, very nervous about talking to a pastor. She had been visiting our church with a friend, 28 years old. She said, “Do you do appointments?” I said, “Would you like to talk about your faith journey?” “Yes, I would.” “Okay.” So my wife and I set an appointment with her later that week.
Her name was Maria. Maria came in and the only thing she could do to express what she was experiencing, what she was feeling and hearing sitting in our services was she brought her journal where she had been writing her notes. She began to read it to us.
As she read, I looked over at Olivia and I wondered, “I think Maria came from a home like you did, Olivia.” The further she read, we could tell. She had one line that just grabbed me. She said, “I don’t understand what they mean when they talk about God gave his only son. Why would he do that to his son?”
I looked again at Olivia and I wondered, “Did she have a father who would say, ‘Take my kid. Don’t take me?’” Which she did. She had a very self-centered father. He abandoned his marital vows. He left the kids in harm’s way, very manipulative. So the words she was hearing, which are the most profound, meaningful words in all of Scripture, that God would give his only son – she didn’t hear them as the greatest sacrifice. She heard them as an act of cowardly selfishness. Why? Because the picture was warped. What she was experiencing in her home in an incarnational level was messing up the words of Scripture.
So we sat down and talked about the fact that, “Listen, I have four children, Maria. You can threaten my life and that’s one thing. You say you’re going to come after one of my kids? No, you’ve gone too far. So when I hear that God gave his only son, I’m hearing the ultimate sacrifice, but you’re hearing a self-centered deity.”
Well, it turns out that Maria desperately wanted to be married and she’d been hanging out with some friends who had a God-honoring marriage. She saw in that the picture of something that her heart deeply yearned for. We began to talk about, “You know, Maria, the main imagery used in Scripture of the gospel – do you know what it is? It’s marriage, and God wants you to be his bride.”
She went through that imagery and very quickly, within a few weeks, said “I’m ready to be a believer. I’m ready to be a believer.” My wife and I had the privilege of holding hands with Maria and praying with her as she accepted that marriage invitation from God himself.
I say all that to say this: Maria’s experience I think is becoming normal and normative in our culture. They don’t have images and pictures of what a father who lays his life down for his children is about. So when they hear the words of Scripture, it’s not sinking in, it’s not making sense, it’s not connecting.
So we underestimate, I think, as married couples and as parents how simply being what it is we’re called to be creates that life-sustaining, life-nurturing soil. And then within that context we do things like family night activities, bedtime blessings, and all the things that are practical and easy to do.
I had a dad tell a story the other day. He took one of our activities out of the “Just Add Family” kit that we worked with FamilyLife on where he’s standing at the top of the stairs and it’s time for family night and he tells his kids, “Alright, we’re going to have ice cream tonight if you can figure out the family night challenge.” “We’re in – family night challenge.” “Alright, I’m at the top of the stairs, I’m like God in heaven. I want you where I am. But you can’t touch the stairs and you can’t touch the railing. You have to get up to here where I am. Go.”
The kids are looking at each other like you are right now, saying “How are we going to do this? Can’t touch the stairs, can’t touch the railing.” So the daughter is getting rather upset as she’s down at the bottom of the stairs, realizing that she’s not going to get ice cream. Her brother is backing up, running and diving, hitting step four, and there’s no way he’s going to make it to the top of the stairs. She sees that this is just impossible and she’s getting angrier and angrier saying, “You have to make this easier and I am serious” because she wants the ice cream. So finally he says “Okay, okay. Here’s a hint. You can’t touch the stairs and you can’t touch the railing, but I can.” Oh – h – h.
“Okay, Daddy. Can you come down here and carry us up the stairs?” “Well sure I can. You haven’t asked me that, so sure.” “Well, would you come down and carry us?” “Yes, I will.” He walks down the stairs and carries the kids up to the top. And in two minutes he explained to them, “You know, nothing we can do can get us to God or to heaven. That’s why Jesus Christ had to come down and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” He simply carried them up the stairs and had ice cream. The whole activity took, what, five minutes? Now he could have done a two-hour Bible study with his children.
Dennis: Oh, yeah.
Steve: On substitutionary atonement.
Kurt: There you go. Yes, exactly. And they would have been bored to tears. But they had a great experience with mom and dad in the home that had a profound impact.
Kurt: We did something similar with our kids. I remember my son slipping into our bedroom a few hours later after really thinking this through and saying, “Mom, Dad, I want to receive the gift of salvation.” So it’s those kinds of moments. It’s not as hard as we think it is, and in fact, it can be great fun. So we try to provide some of those ideas and some of those suggestions of how to do it.
Dennis: The thing that you’re trying to help parents to understand, both of you as you’ve written this book, is that it’s the parents’ privilege as well as responsibility to take their child’s hand in theirs and to begin to introduce them to God, and ultimately, as God reaches down to impact their lives, place that little hand in God’s hand, ultimately to introduce them to Christ, which is what you were just talking about there. We had that privilege with a number of our children. You don’t take them to church for the church to lead your kids to Christ.
Dennis: You should go to church to get equipped, to know how to be a mom, a dad, a husband, a wife, and yes, for your children to find out more about who God is and how to swim in the deep end of the pool.
Steve: Yes, and I would say this, too, that it’s good to remember that not only do we have the church as a partner in this, but we have God as our partner, and the Holy Spirit helps us do this.
Dennis: And we have the Scriptures which are the ultimate blueprints for knowing how to do it, too.
Bob: Well, I’ve told parents for years, “Your kids know there’s a God. They know there is. It’s stamped on their hearts. It’s in their conscience. Creation screams at them. All you have to be is a little child, and it’s obvious to a little child there’s a God. You don’t have to convince them there’s a God. What they don’t know is how to have a relationship with that God who they know is there. The impulse of their own heart pulls them away from that. Their sin nature pulls them away from that. So what you have to do is teach them how they can have a relationship with the God that they know is there.”
I think what you’re suggesting to us is that it’s something that we can partner together on. Parents and churches can work together in this area, and it’ll be more effective if we do. That’s where the book you’ve written, It Starts at Home, lays out a template, a blueprint for how churches and families can work more carefully together on presenting Christ to our children.
We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book It Starts at Home: A Practical Guide to Nurturing Lifelong Faith by Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the book.
While you’re there, check out the resource that Kurt and his wife, Olivia, put together that we worked with them on called Just Add Family. These are recipe cards for family devotions that use ingredients you have already around the house. They don’t take a lot of time to prepare, but it’s just a great way for a mom or a dad to quickly, easily provide an opportunity for spiritual engagement as you raise your children.
There’s information online about the Just Add Family recipe box along with Steve and Kurt’s book, It Starts at Home. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call us for more information, 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Our focus here in the United States this week is on Thanksgiving. One of the things we’re most thankful for here at FamilyLife is those of you who listen, who pray for us and help support the ministry. We appreciate your partnership with us, and just want to take this opportunity to say thanks for tuning in.
I had a chance this last weekend down in San Antonio to talk with a number of our FamilyLifeToday listeners, those of you who listen regularly and a number of you who support the ministry. We just want to say thanks for that partnership. We couldn’t do this without you, we’re dependent on you, and we hope you have a great Thanksgiving celebration as a family this week. We just want you to know how thankful we are for the part you play in making FamilyLifeToday possible.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow as we’re going to continue our conversation on how we make the spiritual hand-off to the next generation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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