Julie Melilli an author and teacher wrote this article for The Gospel Coalition about being the main source of discipleship for our children. I hope you too find it encouraging.
Make ‘God Talk’ an Everyday Part of Family Life
The kitchen table was strewn with torn pages of notebook paper full of fractions and scribbles. Broken pencils, chewed-up erasers, and empty soda bottles were surrounded by crumpled snack wrappers; a low moan underscored it all. Had I stumbled upon a crime scene? No. I had stumbled upon my son amid the detritus of high-school geometry.
Elbows on the table, blonde hair flopped between his hands, he said, “Argh! I don’t understand this! It’s impossible!” He explained what the problem was, showed me how he’d tried to solve it, told me why his answers didn’t work, and beseeched me with his bright blue eyes. The boy needed help. Unfortunately for him, he had come to the wrong place.
You see, I can cook a delicious meal, cultivate a thriving garden, even sew on buttons and hem up pants. But don’t ask me to help you with your geometry homework. I don’t get it. I didn’t understand it in high school, and I certainly don’t understand it now.
And this is the first lesson in how to answer theological questions, whether it’s your kids asking or your next-door neighbor: You can’t answer what you don’t know. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t start a fire till you know how to strike a match.
So I’m issuing a call, a challenge, an encouragement: be prepared to answer Bible and theology questions your children will pose. Get yourself in the Word, get yourself studied up, ask God for wisdom (James. 1:5) to understand tough theological issues, to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and ready to give an answer for the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3:15).
Christian parents are instructed to disciple their children (Matt. 28:19); thankfully, though, a theology degree isn’t required. Understand the basics of the gospel—what God did for you and why—and start telling it to your children. Don’t wait until you have it all figured out—that’ll never happen.
Trust that God will use your feeble and flawed words, and remember it’s ultimately not up to you. Your job is to plant and water seeds; God’s job is to make them grow (1 Cor. 3:7). But you have to do your homework.
Go to church, read books, listen to podcasts, join a Bible study, befriend a mentor. When you understand what God has done for you, you should be eager to share.
Everyday God Talk
Once you’re prepared, follow God’s “how-to”:
You shall teach [these commandments] 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. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:7–9)
I call this “God talk.” Make God talk your regular talk. When you’re driving the kids to school, give the daily weather report: “This is the frigid day the Lord has made, but I’m still going to rejoice and be glad in it.” Keep them informed about what you’re praying for, and tell them how God answers. Rephrase their complaints as praise: “Thank you, Lord, that I get to go to school.” As you tuck them in at night, remind them that while they’re sleeping, God is not; he’s still working all things together for his glory, so they can rest peacefully.
Make God talk so ordinary in your family that it’s not weird or awkward; it’s just how people talk when their lives have been changed by Jesus. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get for you and for your kids. And as the tougher issues arise, you’ve already established that we look to God for wisdom.
Now that you’re prepared and you’ve set God as the supreme authority, be bold. Don’t wait for your kids to ask, “What is sin?” Explain to them what sin is when they lie or hit or leave somebody out. While you’re at it, tell them about consequences, confession, and forgiveness. Use real-life examples and familiar vocabulary. Keep information short and sweet. Ask questions to check for understanding. And then do it all over again tomorrow.
When God Talk Is Tough
Sometimes your kids will ask easy questions. Other times, you’ll need to acknowledge there are things about God that are hard to understand, perhaps even that will remain a mystery while we’re on earth. But don’t let that challenge discourage you. Trust God and remember that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). Better to not have all the answers than to not have all the conversations.
Last, an exhortation for the weary parent who thinks this just isn’t possible: It could be you’re a new Christian yourself and you feel overwhelmed. Maybe your kid has special needs that make learning a challenge. Perhaps your teen would scoff if you tried to “God talk” them. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but it is possible, by God’s grace, through the ministry of the Spirit. Get in the Word and pray for understanding, for opportunities, for soft hearts and open ears. Believe that your kids are actually listening to you even as they flop on the floor or roll their eyes.
My son ended up getting an A on his homework because I sent him next door to our neighbor who’s a mechanical engineer. She knows math. You don’t have to be at “mechanical engineer” level in your theology, but that’s got to be you for your kids’ spiritual education. You may be able to outsource your kids’ geometry homework, but you can’t outsource their discipleship. Sunday school teachers, youth pastors, and Bible stories acted out by vegetables can all be integral members of the team, but you’re the first and best teacher for your children.
May God help us all as we strive to be faithful in this, our highest calling and our greatest privilege: the eternally essential spiritual instruction of our children.