“Hear, O Israel: The Lord or 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 team 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 ESV
We have a great responsibility as parents to teach our children. Regardless of their age and level of formal education, whether they are in public school, private school, home school or at university, parents are the primary teachers of their children. That teaching responsibility goes far beyond formal schooling. It is much more than reading, writing and mathematics. It is the school of life. And your children are learning from you whether you are teaching or not. This foundational Scriptural passage lays out that responsibility clearly and also gives some important clues on how to teach your children well. Here are a few suggestions on how to make the most of those clues.
1. Embrace the Responsibility – one of the biggest impediments to effectively teaching your children is thinking the responsibility belongs to someone else. We live in an outsourcing world. Any task we don’t want to do, we outsource to someone else. Generations of parents have peddled the job of educating their children to the government and then complain when the job isn’t done to their satisfaction. Even worse, generations of Christian parents have outsourced the job of teaching Christian faith to children’s and youth ministry and then wonder why their adult children take a different path. We assume that colleges and universities will train our children to make a living, or worse, help them discover a purpose in life. We need to stop with the outsourcing. Schools, ministries, colleges and universities are wonderful resources and can help provide a lot of great things for our children. But teaching children is a God-given parental task. Embrace that task.
2. It takes time – the passage speaks of talking with your children when you sit in your house, walking along the way, bedtime and early morning. It assumes that parents are actually spending this time with their children. It assumes that parents are sitting down with their children in the house, walking with them along the way, tucking them into bed and being there when they wake up. Are these conversations taking place? Are they taking place without television, computer games and smartphones dividing the attention of either the parents, the children or both? Parenting requires unhurried time. It requires saying no to many good things to embrace the best.
3. It is comprehensive – the other thing about the time-intensive nature of parenting is that it covers formal and informal. Some of the best teaching takes place in the most informal of settings. In parks, in cars, in stores, in any and all kinds of shared experiences. The life of a parent is the life of a teacher. But these moments must be looked for, recognized and grasped.
4. Learners make the best teachers – the command to teach is followed by the command to remember and constantly consider. The best teachers are the ones who maintain the intense desire and curiosity to learn. In formal schooling, the teachers I remember most fondly are the ones who exhibited an enthusiasm and love for the content that they were teaching. Their passion was contagious. Children will pick up on a lack of engagement and will often check out as a result. Are you passionate and joyful about life? Do your children sense that your faith gives you zest for living? Do they see you reading, learning and speaking with others about the things that you are learning? We can create a hunger in our children to know, to learn and to live.
5. It only works when it is surrounded by the Love of God – the command to teach follows the command to love the Lord your God. This first and greatest commandment is the wellspring of life and learning. We are commanded to love God, but we only love because He first loves us (1st John 4:19). The truth is that we will default to what we love. We will effectively teach our children only to the level that we have experienced God’s love for ourselves. And our children will only learn that love when we, through our words and our actions, express and embody that love to them each day.
It can be a liberating experience to embrace the responsibility of teaching your children. It is scary, but it throws us into the hands of God because we can’t do it alone. God has given this task to us as parents because He wants to be our ultimate parent – a loving Heavenly Father. Embracing that role can teach us more about the Father heart of God than we have ever experienced before. It is more than worth it.