Not only do my wife and I instruct our kids in godliness at designated times, as we ourselves increase in our own walk with Christ we are trying to be mindful to make a radical God-centeredness the point of all of our lives––whether we sit, walk, lie down, or rise (Deut. 6:7). All things come from God, and all things are designed to direct us back to God (Rom. 11:36). In the unplanned good times and bad, parents are to help our kids grasp that there is only one God and we are to love him with all.
God calls Christian dads to do our part in making our children disciples of Jesus––followers who love God with all their heart, being, and substance and who view reality and live lives in light of Christ’s supremacy over all things. Discipleship in this sense is not restricted to “spiritual” matters but encompasses all of life. Discipleship is about education in its most ultimate sense––the act of shaping a proper world-and-life view and passion that glorifies God. This is my goal as a father.
My wife Teresa and I are now in our twenty-third year of marriage, and God has blessed us with six kids––three black, three white: three boys, three girls. We have boy and girl twins who are 7, two more sons who are 8 and 13, and two daughters who are 15 and almost 18. The words in this study come to you as a dad who is still growing. All successes in my home are due to grace alone, and all the failures are themselves being overcome by grace. Parenting that honors God requires not only high intentionality but also radical dependence.
In seeking to give guidance for a father’s role in raising boys to be godly men and girls to be godly women, I want to let the biblical text speak first, and then I will offer examples of how my wife and I are applying in our home what we are learning. My hope is that this will rightly balance faithful exposition with practical examples. For the sake of this article, I will only focus on one Old Testament text.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)
Principle 1: Making disciples of our children is about helping them treasure God’s supremacy over all things in all of their lives.
When Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them” and “you shall talk of them,” the plural pronoun refers to “these words” in verse 6, which at the very least refers back to the Supreme Commandment in 6:4–5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus would later call this “the most important commandment” (Mark 12:29–30). There is only one God, unique in his perfections, and we are not him. He is creator; we are creature. He is sovereign; we are dependent, and this dependence demands our life-encompassing love––love with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might directed toward the supreme sovereign, the only savior, the ultimate satisfier. Every thought and desire, our entire being, indeed all that is identified with us is to cry out “Yahweh is God, and I love him with all!”
Note the spheres where this radical God-centeredness is supposed to control. Moses first pleas for personal appropriation (Deut. 6:6)––“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” The old covenant simply called for the law to be on the heart; in the new covenant Yahweh actually places it there (Jer. 31:33). But a person’s call to heed the most important commandment moves beyond personal appropriation to personal application both in parenting (Deut. 6:7) and public witness (Deut. 6:8–9).
Note also the lasting significance of Deuteronomy’s injunction within the new covenant (Mark 12:29–30). Although Moses is giving old covenant instruction, Jesus’s comments regarding the most important commandment identifies that his own law fulfillment does not alter our call to have the Lord capture our affections. We are to impress these truths on our children, which leads me to the second principle.
Principle 2: Parental instruction should be both formal and informal, impacting every setting and situation.
Deuteronomy 6:7 implies two types of training with distinct verbs and clauses: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you 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.” The overall context and the meaning of the first verb suggest that the switch from teaching to talking expresses that parents ought to use two forms of instruction in their disciple making––formal and informal.
I understand “formal teaching” to be any teaching that is planned. What the ESV renders as “teach,” the NIV translates “impress,” and the Hebrew term likely bears the meaning “repeat,” suggesting formal, repetitive training. The text asserts that every home needs structured times of instruction, and it may be the closest clear directive for family devotions in Scripture. Likewise, Psalm 78:5–8 says,
[The LORD] established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Our goal in helping our kids celebrate a big God who has worked in mercy for mankind through his Son is that they would set their hope in him, remember his works, and follow him. Thus, we create formal contexts of instruction.
Certainly, these formal settings would include things like Sunday School classes and youth group. But in these contexts, the leaders simply serve as surrogate parents and should simply be reinforcing what Dad and Mom are already doing at home. Scripture sees the primary responsibility for shaping Godward kids to be the parents. In my home we have formal or planned contexts for discipleship daily, weekly, annually, and at major life transitions. What follows are practical ways in which I have sought to implement these formal settings of teaching into my children’s lives.