I don't know if you know anything about my family, but we now have a 20-year-old son. When Theolaby was dreamt up 15 years ago, he was much younger, and he was asking all the big questions.
And now, he’s in college and following Jesus. He’s such an amazing young man, and I'm so proud of who he’s becoming. But the years from 5-years-old to 20-years-old was full of a million small moments that made him who he is today.
Now, this reality can make us feel a lot of pressure about raising kids. It’s true that the short years we have with our kids can play a part in shaping the next generation. These years can also give us a lot of vision, and cause us to want to raise our kids in an intentional way. This is what Theolaby dreams of, equipping you with tools that help you raise your kids intentionally.
Barna has produced research studies about the discipling of the next generation, and the results of these studies has given us a better view of how it’s going. They polled pastors by asking them, “what does it mean to disciple the next generation?” 99% of pastors they asked said that the primary discipler of kids today is their parents.
Now I know several of you might be thinking, “no, we're counting on you as the pastor to disciple our kids.” Well, they're counting on you to disciple your kids.
At the end of the day, I think we all know that as parents, we're going to be the ones that model who God is to our kids, and talk with them more about God than anybody else. This matters because who we shape God to be in their minds from a very young age is a hard thing to change later.
Who we shape God to be in the first, early most formative years of their lives is going to be difficult to change that view of God as they go into adulthood. These years matter.
We're going to talk about three barriers to giving our kids God. We're also going to talk about three simple ways we can do this. We're going to help you win.
But before we go there, I just want to remind you that God is working with us in this. We’re not in isolation, having to use our own mind, our own power, and our own strength to figure out how to help our kids love God. That's God's job, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.
First, I want to take the pressure off, and encourage you. We're all doing our best to be intentional to share with our kids what God means to us. We're doing our best to learn beside our kids as they grow up.
Ultimately God is going to give your kids Himself. He’s the one who has drawn any of us that know Him to Himself. That’s how He works. He takes us from blindness to sight. He takes us from death to life.
He changes us, and we can't force this on our kids. In fact, the more we try to force it, the more it may backfire.
Something a professor said to me during my time in seminary was the catalyst for the dream of Theolaby. He said that by the age of five, the best thing you can give your kids is a huge view of God.
Well, I had young kids when I was sitting in that seminary class. I remember just sitting back and exhaling and saying, “okay, that sounds great, and I want to do that, but I don't know how.” And that was in a seminary class! I'm sitting there, where having conversations about God filled most of my days, and daily I was being equipped to have those conversations with other people. But I would go home to my kids and get harder questions from them than I was getting from any adults!
They had huge questions about God. Specifically my oldest son, he was the most curious kid. He liked God, he loved God, and he even talked to God.
One time we were driving in the dark, and we had gotten lost. We were kind of out in the country where there weren't any street lights, and I couldn't figure out where we were. And keep in ming, this was before smartphones, and I didn't have a map with me. So, I found myself lost and sitting there, kind of exasperated, and I didn’t know what to do. Then my son said, “mom, we need to pray.” And at the time, he was three years old. He started praying the most charismatic prayer I've ever heard! He said, “Jesus, show us the way!” And it was so passionate and sincere.
As a three year old buckled into a car seat, he knew and believed that God could deliver us from whatever it was that was causing us to be lost. He had a faith and believed that God could lead us out of that situation. And let me tell you, that is the faith of children.
In fact, scripture calls us back to that faith as we get older, more pragmatic, and as we encounter more problems throughout our lives. God calls us back to a childlike faith, too.
In Matthew 18:2-4 Jesus says, “And calling to him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, what did Jesus mean by this? What was He saying to all of these brilliant people that were standing around? He pulls a little child on His lap and He says, “hey, this is how you've got to be to enter the kingdom of God.” What does He mean by that?
Let me tell you, watching my 3-year-old pray that night, that verse all the sudden made sense to me. He really believed that God could change things for us. He believed that God heard his prayers. He believed that there was a God powerful enough to lead us out of the darkness.
For a lot of us, when we become more pragmatic, and we gain more responsibility in life, we tend to lose our childlike faith. We lose the sweet feeling of “us and Jesus”. We stop believing that He sees us, loves us, knows us, and that He's our friend.
My dream is to help raise a generation that believes Jesus is real.
I want them to know that they can talk to Him, hear from Him, and walk with Him. I want them to know that they can follow Him for all of their days, and that He's going to take care of them.
How do we build a dangerous generation that believes in God like this? When we look at the Bible, we see that the world changes when people believe in God. The stories we still talk about and study, those stories are people who grew up and kept that same childlike faith. That's what I dream of.
I don't dream of giving your kids more knowledge. Theolaby is not a vision to get more knowledge, but it begins with knowledge. They have to know who God is first. They have to know what He's doing on earth. They have to know where this is all headed first, so they can know what their part in the world is.
The same is true for us. Some of you are going to read Theolaby with your kids and hear the story of God a new way. And you might even be someone who is already in your Bible. After all, I was already in mine; I was in seminary! But I never understood the whole purpose. When you understand where we’re headed, and not just Heaven, but what is supposed to be happening between creation and Heaven, you become contagious. You realize that you don’t want to be a part of any other story. You realize that you don't want to miss one single day of this.
I believe Theolaby will disciple as many parents as it does kids. My hope and prayer is that you would feel a partnership of us coming alongside of you, and you would use Theolaby as a tool to help you. I hope that you experience the Holy Spirit helping you not to just raise your kids, but to learn alongside your kids, too.
I believe that we're going to see a generation rise up. And I don't have small prayers for you, but I have enormous prayers for you.
I pray that God would raise up an entire generation that knows Him, that walks with Him, and that believes bigger things are possible than we ever believed.
I pray that God would move through them in powerful ways to build His church, to save souls, and to heal this land.
His eyes move to and fro, and He is looking for hearts that are fully devoted to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). I think some of the most devoted hearts on earth are the little ones in our homes that we're raising. The little hearts that say big prayers in the backseat, the little hearts that really take God at his word, and the little hearts that are teaching us as we teach them.
3 barriers we face when teaching our kids about God
If teaching our kids about God is the most important thing we can teach them, what’s stopping us from doing so? Now that a couple of my kids are grown, I firmly believe that what matters most is that they like God and they know that God likes them back. And also, you want them to like you, and you want them to know that you like them back, too.
Boiled down, those are the goals of parenting. The reason I start here is that if we don't begin with the end in mind, then we’re going to get our goals wrong all along the way. We're going to be confused, because we'll start thinking, “what we really want is for them to be successful and to make a lot of money.” That's going to be a different style parenting than what I just mentioned. Or you might think, “what we really want is for them to be very moral. We want them to do all the right things.” Well, that's going to build an environment where there's no grace and there's no ability to know how much God likes them because they live in fear that you're disappointed by them and God is disappointed by them. We have to know what our end is, because that's how we’ll end up parenting.
1. You feel shameful.
The first thing I believe that keeps us from giving our kids a great, awesome view of God and who He is in the scriptures is that we feel shame ourselves. We feel like hypocrites when we talk about God, because we're not living the way that we think we should be living as someone who talks about God.
I want to address this first, because I think it's the deepest one. As parents, the best thing we can do is be healthy ourselves. When we’re healthy, we can help our kids be healthy too.
Romans 8:1 says, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So, if you’re living under shame, then you’re not living under the truth of the gospel. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the number one thing it promises is that it eliminates shame. Throughout Romans 8, Paul gives us a fuller view of what this looks like, but it all begins with the truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This truth is absolutely essential.
I told you that’d we would talk about three barriers, but we're also going to talk about three wins. I've linked these barriers and wins together. I want to talk about the win, because the win is a counter to that barrier.
The win is telling them about your feelings of shame instead of hiding it.
Instead of hiding what you're afraid of, instead of hiding the mistakes you've made, the ways that you feel like you're a failure, and the ways that you feel like you're a fraud, I'm going to challenge you by telling you that one of the best ways you can give your kid God is to tell them about your mistakes.
The challenge is to be the best apologizer and the best confessor of sin that they've ever known. We can fall into the trap of thinking that parenting needs to be one great exercise of perfection.
Our striving for perfection actually teaches them nothing about God. Our human striving for perfection steals the need for God.
So, if you pretend that you're perfect and that you have it all together, you completely miss the point. The point is that you need God, just like they need God.
When we show them our shame, they see that we're imperfect, too. You might think that's going to let them down, but it won’t. Instead, it will feel like the biggest relief to them.
I remember laying in Conner’s bunk bed with him, apologizing to him about losing my mind on him earlier that day. It probably had something to do with laundry. I remember laying there and apologizing to him and saying, “hey buddy, I'm so sorry that I was angry with you and that I lost my temper and yelled.” All the sudden, he had so many questions. He was so moved. He said, “mom, you know what? It's okay. This happens to me too.”
All just like that, he turned into a counselor on us. And as we were sitting there talking, I remembered somewhere in Romans 7 that Paul had the same question. So, I pulled out my Bible and found Romans 7:15-20 where Paul asks himself the question, “why do I keep doing the thing I don't want to do?” And Conner was like, “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel, mom. I really feel that way. Why do I keep doing the thing I don't want to do?”
And let me tell you, I had no idea the conversation would go in this direction. It sounds way better in a story after the fact, but in the moment, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I just knew that there was a verse somewhere in the Bible that talked about Paul feeling that way.
Then, we moved on and talked about Romans 8, and the road to life and peace, and how we can choose that road as believers everyday, or we can choose to go on the road to sin and death. My son and I were sitting there beside each other, talking about scripture. And at that point in time, I had never studied that passage in depth or looked at any commentaries. But in that moment, it was just me, him, and God working through a passage together. And we did this all because I had messed up, and apologized for messing up.
If I could go back and give myself and my husband one piece of advice when our kids were young, it would be that your mistakes are actually the best parts, if you let them be.
And trust me, I felt so much pressure to get everything right. But the reality is, you will get things wrong, and the greatest gift you can give your kids is your mistakes, and how you handle them. Looking back, some of my favorite moments of parenting were the mistakes we made.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I got into a fight. We’ve been through a lot of marriage counseling, so we don’t fight as much as we used to. But now when there’s a fight, the whole family knows. In our house, we’re all very expressive, passionate people.
But Cooper, my youngest, was worried about our fight. He was asking the older siblings, “are they going to be okay?” And Connor, our oldest, was like, “yeah, they used to fight all the time. They're fine. They always work it out.” And I remember thinking to myself, I love that my kids know we fight.
When they were younger, I thought we should hide that. But now Connor knows a healthy marriage results in fights, but the two people always seek to work it out. And he knows this reality well enough to counsel his little brother about it.
After the fight was over, we sat them down and told them what the fight was about, and how we resolved it. We bring them into it, not only because they heard the fight, but because we want them to know how to work through conflict.
2. You don't know all the answers.
The second barrier is that maybe you don't know your Bible. Maybe you don't have that verse circling in your head like I did about Paul. And I want you to know that it’s okay.
The win is here is not just me giving you permission, but I want to give you a better way. There is a better way to learn about God with your kids, do it beside them. In fact, I promise you, it will be sweet to study and discover God together. It is better to do this beside them, rather than spouting out information at them.
This begins with both sides seeing our need for God, and then learning about God together. When we were dreaming about Theolaby, we really wanted to tackle what we believe is a broken thing in the church right now. You might think that in order to teach your kids about God, you’ve got to learn a lot about Him first.
Our hope is to change this pattern into a circle, if you will. Changing this pattern into a circle looks like having conversations together, and therefore experiencing God and learning from God together. This is not a hierarchy pattern where we gain the knowledge ourselves as the parent, and then impart that knowledge to our kids. But instead, it's about all of us sitting down together and saying, “God help us understand what this means, help us understand how to know you better.”
The goal is to open the Bible together and discover it alongside one another.
You don’t have to be ashamed if you don’t know something about God. After my sister read the first Theolaby book, she looked at me and said, “is this why God created the earth? I missed that somewhere.” She'd grown up in church, she reads her Bible, and she has followed Jesus for a long time, but she didn’t yet realize that what the main point of creation was, and she didn’t understand what we're all doing here. And maybe you’ve missed this, too.
We want to help resource you with the right tools so that you can do this yourself. But more importantly, what I want you to know is that it's never going to be you giving your kids God, but instead, it's going to be God giving Himself to all of us.
And this is how our family does this, too. We act as a team. No matter what age our kids have been, we’ve always been discovering God together. We learn together, make mistakes together, repent together, and admit our weaknesses together.
My second daughter is a bit of a perfectionist, and when people ask, “what did your parents do right?” she always says, “they just let us mess up.” I never actually said that in our house, but I think they saw us mess up so much that they knew it was okay. They saw us ask God big questions, and they saw us wrestle with big decisions. We brought them into those big decisions, prayed together, sought wisdom through scripture together, and discovered our fears together.
My kids would say that because of those moments, we have the closest family. My oldest son loves to point to those moments we came to him in weakness and said, “we don’t know the answer, but we’re going to wrestle together, pray together, and open the word together.”
As the parent, you don't need to know everything. You only need to trust God, and let your kids see that you trust Him.
As you trust Him, they're going to want to trust Him, too. But if we never show our weaknesses, our lack of knowledge, our insecurities, and our fears, then we're going to miss seeing God in a powerful way. It is in our weakness that He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
My kids would say, “our parents are very imperfect, but they have an awesome God and they really like Him. He has shown up for them.” I would rather that narrative than “my parents are so amazing.” That would make me feel like a hypocrite!
3. You’re too busy.
Life is so full. If you've got young kids in diapers, and toddlers, and even elementary school kids, and you're homeschooling, then you know there’s a lot going on. It can be really hard to make teaching your kids about God a priority. And sometimes we set good intentions, like doing advent everyday before Christmas, or having a daily devotional in the morning. And maybe you do these things, and that’s great if you do! But sometimes, those things fall away because we become busy and distracted.
The antidote to business is intentionality, and making a choice. It takes a lot of decision making to prioritize this in our home. Our hope is that our tools are quick and easy for you, so that you can do it in the little moments, rather than trying to find structured and disciplined time. And this is because this is the way we parented!
It still takes intention, and it still takes sitting down with your kids, and tucking them in when you're exhausted. It takes a choice, and it takes motivation.
So, why does this matter? We've talked a lot about where we find ourselves, and how we’re launching into this next season of the church. How are we going to be strategic in case we’re in the end times? We want to be excellent at giving God away, and walking with Him in very turbulent times.
But what if it's our kids' generation? What if they're the generation that experiences Jesus coming back? What if they're the ones that are going to usher in the kingdom of God? What if they're the ones that have to persevere tribulation and persecution?
We don't know the days that the generation of our kids will face, but we need to assume that it's going to be worse than now. We need to assume that the enemy is only growing in his attack of us. He’s always trying to take down the church, steal our faith, and turn us away from our belief in God. So, we’ve got to get this right. That's how serious we've got to take this.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That is our hope. We hope that we’re training up the next generation in the faith, and that they're not going to depart from it. I know there's a million things that you're trying to teach them during the short years you have with them, but there's nothing more important than this. That we would train up a child in the way that he should go. In the ways to follow Jesus, in the knowledge of friendship with Jesus, walking with Jesus, obeying Jesus, and sacrificing for Jesus.
Isaiah 53:6 talks about how like sheep, we have all gone astray. But Jesus Christ, the powerful story of God, interrupts that way with the cross. He takes care of the sin for all of us that have gone our own way. He sets us on the road to life and peace. He puts His Spirit inside of us so we are never alone. That’s what He does in us, and that’s what He wants to do in our kids.
We have to train up the next generation to know God, to like God, and to know He likes them, so they can live out the purposes God has for them.
We know that as parents, you’re facing so mush tension when it comes to teaching your kids about God. It can feel like there's a lot of pressure to get it right. The search for finding resources and books can be really exhausting. So, we have some really good news for you! God wants to use you. The Story of God is a five book series that starts with the story of creation, and takes you and your kids on a journey all the way to the story of Heaven.