Two of my classes in seminary this semester center on the idea of Christian education. One of the concepts that has been declared loud and clear is that parents/guardians typically have the most profound effect on the spiritual development of children and adolescents. What is done in church is important, but what is done in the home can increase that impact exponentially.
Looking back on my childhood, I realize the ways in which my mom and dad were teaching us in subtle ways. After church every Sunday, we would often go out to eat. My parents would ask us what we thought about the worship service. What was the message about? What did it mean to us? Were there things with which we agreed or disagreed?
There wasn’t pressure to say anything. I never thought about it as our parents trying to educate us. It was simply a natural part of the lunchtime conversation. Yet those conversations taught me a few important things.
First, it taught me that church did not stop when you walked out the sanctuary door. You continued to think about lessons learned and ponder how they should impact your life as you headed out into the rest of the world. This is something that we talk about all the time, but it was another thing entirely to see it demonstrated.
Secondly, it taught me to think critically about matters of faith. If we had things that we didn’t understand or thought didn’t quite fit, those thoughts were not squashed. We were given room to analyze the things taught and given permission to respectfully disagree as long as we had good reason. I learned what it mean to love God with my mind and that has had a huge impact on me as I have gone on to college and now seminary. It will probably continue to get me into trouble with some people.
Thirdly, it taught me that all voices were important in these conversations. All five of us took part in these lunchtime conversations: Mom, Dad, my younger brother, younger sister, and myself. I did not feel like my parents had rank over me because they were older or that I did over my siblings. Older and younger, male and female had something important to offer.
Mom and Dad were practicing a principle that goes back to the Torah, if not further. Deuteronomy 6 contains a passage known as the Shema, which is Hebrew for “hear” - its opening word:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
My parents took that to heart. The church was not the sole place that we learned about God, but one of many places. I pray that EA and I are able to embody that with our sons.