Your Kids Hear More Than Your Words

The Power of Living Like the Gospel Is True

Article by

Director, Campus Outreach, Birmingham

If you are a member of Christ’s body, you are called to help other people grow in godliness:

  • “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
  • “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Maybe this seems overwhelming to you. Maybe the responsibility sounds like it’s above your pay grade. I’ve never had any Bible training or, I don’t know how to talk with others about Jesus or, I think maybe my spiritual gift is being the quiet guy in small group who just soaks up everyone else’s wisdom.

While discipleship and spiritual growth are certainly sobering calls, they don’t need to be intimidating. Whether you are raising kids, or whether you’re discipling college students, serving as a full-time pastor, or simply doing life with your roommate, one of the most helpful principles to remember as you seek to invest in others is this: life-change is not only taught, but caught.

Fill Your Life with God

Deuteronomy 6:6–7 illustrates this principle. The nation of Israel at that time must have been at least a million people strong, if not larger. God spoke to Moses. Moses spoke to the people. But they had no public-address system to make his voice heard by all the people. How exactly were all the people to hear and learn the word of God? We do not know for sure all the ways that God’s truth may have been disseminated to the people, but we do know one primary way: “You shall teach [these words] 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.”

This passage never mentions whether or not mom and dad were gifted in teaching. Probably, most or many of them were not. Nevertheless, God gave a blanket command to parents everywhere in Israel to teach their children the word of God, regardless of their gifts or spiritual maturity.

There is no mention here of a set precedent for formal family worship. Rather, there is the idea that they should so know and love the word of God that it would fill much of their normal day-to-day conversations. God’s law and principles should have rolled naturally off their tongues as they went about their daily activities so that the children would grow up saturated with God’s truth.

It should have been so often discussed that it was continually massaged into their mental and moral DNA. Holy living would be caught, not just taught.

How Much I Missed

My dad was committed to trying to do some type of family worship. One time he bought a Bible trivia board game for us to play. Another time he bought the entire Bible written out in three volumes of comic books. He would read these to my sisters and me at breakfast. He also bought some books called Character Sketches. Each lesson had a Bible story and a story from nature that illustrated a certain character attribute.

After literally hundreds of family devotions, there is only one thing I still remember today, one of the Character Sketches: There was a little boy that had a pet bat (I’m not making this up) and a box fan. When the box fan was on low, the bat flew through the box fan. When the fan was on medium, the bat flew through the box fan. When the fan was turned to high, the bat did not fly through the box fan. What was the point of that whole story? I’m not sure. Maybe something about discernment.

It’s literally the only specific thing I remember from years of my father doing family devotions. I’m not exaggerating, nor am I saying this to disparage family devotions. I do them regularly with my kids. I’m sure that all those times in the Bible laid a foundation in my soul of truth that I cannot fully explain today. But for myself, though I consciously remember almost nothing about family devotions, I remember my dad and his faith very clearly.

What I Remember from Dad

My father was a small business owner who loved Christ. He led me to Christ. I don’t remember much from his family devotions. But I do remember that when he disciplined me, he would quote a verse to explain why. The word of God guided his life and decisions at every step.

I remember that if I ever had a problem, his first response was usually, “Have you prayed about it?” He believed God cared. He believed that God would keep his promises and answer prayers.

I remember him telling stories of sharing the gospel with people and seeing them come to Christ. I specifically remember him sharing a story of seeing convicts on the side of the road cleaning trash and pulling over to try to witness to them. A sheriff deputy quickly told him to get back in his car. I don’t think he had the gift of evangelism, but he was seeking to be faithful.

I remember him working long hours to provide for us. I remember him reading his Bible almost every morning. I remember him crawling on his hands and knees under the table, cleaning up crumbs that were spilled after dinner to serve my mom.

I remember coming downstairs in the middle of the night and finding him weeping in prayer over one of my siblings. He was begging God to have mercy, quoting promises back to God. I am forever marked by that night.

Most of all, I remember when I came and confessed sin to him. He was grieved, but rarely angry. He was loving, gracious, and understanding. He would sometimes confess some of his own sins and struggles to me. He would share practical ideas for how to fight sin.

Teach and Confirm

My father was not a perfect hero for me to emulate. He didn’t try to be perfect. But he pointed me to the one true hero who forgives all sins when we trust in him. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) is the ultimate principle of effective ministry in any and every context.

Jesus’s main ministry method was having the disciples with him. Long before Paul said, “Imitate me,” Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Mark 3:14 says that Jesus “appointed twelve . . . that they might be with him.” Jesus tirelessly taught his men and the masses, but imagine what the disciples caught from his perfect life and self-sacrifice. Luke himself tells us what was evident to the Jewish leaders: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Whatever type of ministry you are involved in, remember this: be faithful to teach the truth, and be faithful to confirm the truth by your life in front of those you teach. A changed life is not only taught in formal settings, but caught in everyday life.

is director of Campus Outreach Birmingham, Alabama at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. He is a husband and father of four.