In the Kingdom of God, little kids are a big deal. We know that because God made sure to put it in writing. Scripture is full of commands related to the spiritual care of children. We are called to commend the works of the Lord to them (Ps. 145:4), to tell them of God’s covenantal faithfulness (Ps. 48:12-14), to not hinder them in their pursuit of Christ (Matt. 19:14), to raise them up in the way they should go (Prov 22:6), and so much more. But all of the prescriptions in Scripture regarding children fall under the umbrella of the command to instruct them in the Word. This is seen in the fact that directly after summarizing His nature and the Law in Deut 6, the Lord said: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 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. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9)
In every circumstance, the people of God are called to tell the goodness of God to all people, with special attention given to the covenant children. Think about that for a second. The very first thing that God called to Israelites to do after the Shema is to write the Law on their hearts and then never stop talking about it with their kids. Hey, you’re sitting down? Tell your kids about the One True God. Going for a walk? Tell those youngins about Yahweh! Going to bed? Make sure to talk to your little ones about the Lord. And if you wake up, do it again! God takes seriously the instruction of His covenant children.
But when it comes to catechisms, which is the most influential and understandable for kids? Some may argue that the Westminster Shorter Catechism is the best. Or that the Heidelberg is the most applicable. Or that modern ones like the New City Catechism are the easiest for kids to grasp. But while those are helpful tools, they are not the most influential catechisms for children. The most influential catechism for children is how you live your life.
To catechize your child is simply to instruct them in the faith (Luke 1:1-4, Gal 6:6), and kids learn by watching. They learn from seeing how their parents interact with the world in light of Scripture. They learn what their parents value by what they do or do not do. When you talk to them about God being a loving father, they look at how you father them. When you tell them about justification by faith through grace they compare it with how gracious you are in your interactions with them. When you speak about trusting in the Lord they watch and see how you apply that to your own life. Kids are watching how we live out the faith, for better or worse.
Think about it; If you tell your child that church is important and then regularly skip it for a round of golf or their travel baseball games, the church becomes optional in their mind. But if you tell them the church is primary and then regularly commit your family to a local church and worship, they see that you believe and practice what you’ve taught them. How older generations live out and model the faith for younger generations is powerful.
There’s a famous account in Scripture that supports this in Joshua 24. In verses 14-15 Joshua gives one of the most well-known and powerful charges in the Scriptures, and he gives it to the individual houses (families) of Israel: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15
The people respond with a resounding “we also will serve the Lord!” And the book of Joshua closes by telling us in verse 31 that “ Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.” What a legacy Joshua left for the nation! He modeled faithfulness in the wilderness when he called the nation to enter Canaan (Num 13), he led the nation through the Jordan (Josh 3-4), and he led them to victory by the power of the Lord. His leadership modeled faithfulness, and it had a generational impact.
But look at Judges 2:10, “And all that generation [the generation after Joshua’s] also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” All it takes to lose a generation is one generation failing to communicate and model the good news of the Lord to the next.
We can teach our children the Westminster Shorter Catechism. They may be able to quote all 107 Q/A’s. But if we are not living out the truths of the Scriptures we are, in the paraphrased words of J.C Ryle, trying to build a brick wall by placing the brick on with the right hand and taking it off with the left.
So, what does this look like in practice? Well, as mentioned in Deuteronomy 6, it isn’t by doing anything flashy, but rather through modeling simple everyday faithfulness. Here are three things to consider:
1 ) Catechize your Children.
The goal of this article is not to deny the importance of catechisms or to dismiss them as outdated pedagogy. Rather, it’s to point out that when we teach our children a biblically sound catechism and then live accordingly, we highlight the importance of the Christian faith to them. Teaching your children a solid catechism is one of the best things you can do for their spiritual upbringing. Find a catechism that you believe best explains the systems of doctrine found in the Word, and teach them to your children (I’m a Westminster guy myself!) And as you get them ready for school, drive them to play dates, work in the garden with them, and go about your daily routine, ask them the questions and apply them as you go.
2) Be the Chief Repenter in the Home
Repenting isn’t easy. To do it, we must admit we’ve done something wrong. But there is power in repenting. The WSC describes the process of repentance unto life as “a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (Q/A 86). Those who truly repent of their sin, through faith in Christ by God’s grace and mercy, experience new life. And that is what we all want for our kids. If you want to show your kids the power of repentance, repent and apologize to your family when you sin against them. Kids may not be able to grasp the intricacies of soteriology at a young age, but they definitely understand mom and dad saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
3) Rely Upon and Practice the Means of Grace
Catechisms outline the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. They explain the nature of God, Scripture, salvation, the nature of Christ, the end times, and everything in between. They contain foundational truths. It is no surprise, therefore, that one of the chief ways we live our life accordingly is by modeling the means of grace for our kids. Yes, one of the main applications of this article is to read your bible, pray with and for your family, and go to church. Make these the lifeblood of your family. Read Scripture and pray as you prepare your kids for bed. You’ll be amazed how much Scripture you cover with a chapter a day over 18 years! And if you want lifelong discipleship for your child, invest in the church. If they continue to be part of a local congregation into adulthood you, by making church a top priority, have set them up for 50, 60, or 70+ years of Christian discipleship.
If you model the importance of the Word, prayer, and church you will make an impact that long outlasts you. And, of course, we are not responsible for the outcome. That is between our children and the Lord. But we are responsible for raising them in the way they should go. And you can’t go wrong with the means of grace permeating throughout your home.
God works through ordinary everyday faithfulness, and kids see it too. Therefore “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). And let us model the hope we have by living out our faith according to God’s great mercy. Because ultimately, the most influential catechism for kids is how we live our life. They’re watching, show them, Christ.
This was a guest post from David Chambers. David has been serving youth and families in the context of his local church for over 10 years. He is a proud husband to his wife Brittany and a proud father to his sons AJ and Jackson. David is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, where he pursuing a Master of Divinity in hopes of pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).