The Importance of Community

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Deuteronomy 6:7–9. This passage begins by describing the ways parents can diligently teach their children at home:

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 can read that last post here. The latter half of this passage unpacks what teaching kids a lifestyle of worship looks like in a community context.

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.

God commanded the Israelites to put their faith on public display—on their hands, as frontlets between their eyes, as signs on their doorposts and gates. The implication is that our faithful words and actions should be publicly demonstrated in the context of our communities. Our worship should be on display for the world to see. This doesn’t mean that we should be hypocritical show-offs (Matthew 6:5). Rather, Moses recognizes the fact that we have a public responsibility to our community, and it’s displayed through our actions.

Each believer’s life of faith and obedience impacts other people around them. Moms and dads aren’t only spiritual influences for their kids, but also for their kids’ friends. And each member of your church community is an influence upon the kids in your church’s care. The kids are watching your life, even if you aren’t serving in children’s and student ministry.

So, is your faith visible?

As Christians grow in their knowledge of God’s love, that love should overflow in one-another-ing. The Bible calls us to service and love for one another (John 13:22, 34–35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8, 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11–12; 2 John 5). We’re commanded to live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16), to not pass judgment upon one another (Rom. 14:13); to instruct one another (Rom. 15:7), to welcome one another (Rom. 15:16; 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Peter 4:9–10; 5:14), and to comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11). We must serve one another (Gal. 5:13), guard ourselves from provoking and envying one another (Gal. 5:23; James 4:11; 5:9), bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:2), be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32), and submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). This list of one-another’s goes on and on. We’re told not to lie to one another (Col. 3:9), to bear and forgive one another (Col 3:13), to admonish one another (Col. 3:16), to encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:25), to seek to do good to one another (1 Thess. 5:15), and to spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). We must confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) and clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)

Romans 12:1–5 reminds us that the church isn’t a club where we pay our annual dues but a body to which we belong. We’re called to be living sacrifices with transformed hearts and minds. And we’re called to serve the whole. We tend to think of ourselves more than we think of others as if we’re above them and their concerns. When we do this, we’re forgetting to practically apply our faith. But God has uniquely gifted each of us to be a blessing to the body—to be a blessing to one another. Everyone within the community has a role to play.

That includes our kids. We should be intentional about leading them to serve as well—giving them opportunities to love their church family both on Sundays and throughout the week. What does that look like practically? I’ll close with this quote from Robert J. Keeley’s book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith:

Children and young people should participate in the life of the church through authentic tasks. By authentic I mean tasks in which they give as well as receive. They should feel that if they aren’t doing their part, the whole group will suffer… In some churches there are a number of high school students who love to work with the sound and video equipment. These students take their work very seriously, and if given the chance, really take ownership of that aspect of church life. They arrive early to set up for worship and they come in during the week to try things out and make things better with the system. They realize they are needed and important in the life of the church and play and important role enhancing worship. When children and teens are serving the church, they feel like a real part of the body of Christ instead of a grow for whom special programs are created until they are old enough to really take part.

Let’s invite the next generation into the community life of the church. Let’s let them experience all of the one-another’s. Let the way we worship and demonstrate our common faith be ever visible and public before them so that as they grow, they’ll embody everyday worship themselves.

Teaching a Lifestyle of Worship to Our Children

It’s simple to say, but it’s more difficult to put into practice: A lifestyle of worshiping God must be taught. Deuteronomy 6:7–9 describes it this way:

 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.

 I’ll say it again. A lifestyle of worshiping God must be taught. By lifestyle I mean the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, and spending habits that together constitute a person or family’s mode of living. The truth is that every lifestyle is one of worship. We were made to ascribe glory and worth to all kinds of things—our children, a great meal, our Instagram feed. In fact, because of sin, we ascribe disproportionate worth to all kinds of things. And when we do, we’re worshiping those things instead of our Creator. If I’m honest, a lifestyle of worship doesn’t really have to be taught. What has to be taught—what must be learned—is a lifestyle of worshiping God.  

Deuteronomy 6:7–9 tells us to teach this lifestyle of worship to our kids as a part of the regular rhythms of family life. Here are a few key observations from the passage:

First, how do you teach your kids a lifestyle of worship? Diligently! We must give constant, attentive, and persistent effort to teaching all-day worship. You shouldn’t do it occasionally or randomly. Rather, you need a plan to teach consistently. You don’t know when an opportunity may present itself, so you need to be ready, like 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “in season and out of season.” Ready to correct faulty thinking. Ready to rebuke—expressing stern disapproval of what is wrong. Ready to exhort—urging and give earnest counsel. And doing all of that with gentle patience. Parents, you need the reminder of Deuteronomy 6:7 particularly for those times when you don’t feel like it. That’s when you need it most. Your kids are always learning from you. Remember, your family is your primary ministry. They aren’t your only ministry, but they must remain primary, because you’re responsible for their spiritual health.

Second, when do you teach your kids a lifestyle of worship? Throughout your day! The Bible should be the subject of our conversations inside and outside the home—from the beginning of the day until the end of the day. There is no part of our day in which God is not involved. He’s there at home and on the road. He’s there when we sit down and when we rise up. If we are paying attention, we might see a handful of the hundreds of things God is does for us and in us. Capture those times by making gospel observations—relating in that moment how the truth of God’s story intersects with your day. This will help your kids to see how big God is. Then, move from simple observations to gospel conversations—teachable moments—when you can show your kids the implications of God’s grand design for their daily life.

Third, what are the pre-requisites for this diligent teaching? It’s not possible to teach your kids about your faith unless your faith is growing at the same time. You must let your children see your faith in action—in how your read and study, in how you pray, and especially in how you repent. Repentance is more caught than taught, and it couldn’t be a more important practice for training our children, particularly when our sins are against them. Repentance is more than simply saying “sorry.” Rather, in repentance, we’re teaching our children about what 2 Corinthians 7 calls godly sorrow.

Fourth, why must we teach so diligently and consistently throughout our days? There’s much at stake if we don’t. Without this constant and persistent effort our kids may make a number of common mistakes. They may forget how involved God is in daily life, and that leads to a lack of thanksgiving. They may presume upon God, which leads to laziness about obeying his commands and participating in his mission. When we fail to teach diligently, we may even be putting our kids’ souls at risk; we’re giving them a dangerously incomplete picture of God’s kingdom. We’re leading them as if God is a part-time God who is not completely sovereign, that is, in complete control at all times. We may be teaching them that worship is something we do in our spare time, on Sunday morning, and not something we do every day.

Finally, what do we teach them? What does everyday worship look like?

Everyday worship is personal. It looks like prayer, in which we adore God for who he is, confess our sin to him, thank him for what he’s done for us, cry out to him, and wrestle with him. At the end of that wrestling, you experience the promise of Philippians 4:7, the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that guards our hearts and minds. Where? The only place peace can be found—in Christ Jesus!

Everyday worship means learning together as a family during times set aside for family devotions or even studying the Bible together as a family. Here’s my suggestions. Keep it short—around ten minutes! Keep it simple and Scriptural. Focus on God’s big story. Teach your kids to study the Bible, how to pray, and how to sing. Be adaptable; Just because something worked when your kids were three doesn’t mean it will work when they are seven or thirteen. Also, keep it creative and fun; they are kids after all!  

Sometimes everyday worship looks like diligent course correction. My kids’ favorite response when I ask them to do something they don’t want to do is “One second, dad!” What they mean by that is they’ll wait just long enough for both me and them to forget what I’d asked them to do. It’s super annoying. The problem is that they learned that response from me. I say the same thing to Cheryl. [Insert clinched teeth emoji] Now that this bad habit has been exposed (in both of us!), we must be diligent to course correct and learn the proper response (immediate action) each time we’re tempted to use that annoying phrase.

Here’s the long and short of it. Teaching our kids diligently takes time. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly; you won’t. But you should be concerned about being faithful with the message. Press in every day, and be ready to play the long game!

Hearing, Loving, and Embodying God's Commands

Here’s a key truth that the Bible teaches us about being parents. As parents, we are the primary spiritual influences for our children. Our kids will learn more from us than from anyone else in their lives. We aren’t the only spiritual influences in their lives, but we are the primary ones. It’s not okay to “outsource” their spiritual formation to the church or a Christian school. These influences are important, but parents are called to assume the responsibility for teaching their kids about God. God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 6, where he commands parents to lead their children in the worship of the one true God.

 Over the next several posts, I’ll be unpacking what Deuteronomy 6 tells us about family discipleship. But before this passage gets into what it looks like to teach our kids, it first tells us about the kind of disciples we need to be. In Moses’s words, we learn that if the message of the Bible isn’t in you, you have nothing to give your kids. Take a look at verses 4-6:

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.

Family discipleship begins with (1) hearing, (2) loving, and (3) embodying God’s commands. Let’s take a look at each of these responsibilities.

  1. Hear God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the Shema. “Shema” is the Hebrew word for hear. The words, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” are foundational for the Jewish faith. Jewish worshipers recite the Shema three times each day as part of their devotional lives. There’s no part of a Jewish Sabbath worship service that doesn’t have these words as a part of its proclamation. Because the Shema is foundational for the Jewish faith, it’s also foundational for our New Testament Christian faith.

    The Shema is made of two parts—foundational truths and the resulting obligations.

    The Shema declares the unity and uniqueness of God. He is the only true God, and he is solitary in his purposes and plans. He is God alone. So, when God speaks, no one can contradict. When God promises, no one can revoke. When God warns, no one—except God himself—can provide refuge. Why? Because there is no other god to whom you can turn.

    For this reason, we must give God our full attention. It’s important for every believer to quiet himself and hear every command and testimony God reveals in his Word. We must simply read it, but study it, knowing that we will never mine its depths fully. And we must not only study the word, but also meditate upon it throughout our days, reflecting on what God says and how it can be applied to our lives.

  2. Love Him. Having heard God’s word, God demands that we respond to his revelation with our total being. Husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers are under an obligation to give the fullness of our affections to God. We must love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all of our might.

    Loving God is the central message of the book of Deuteronomy. The book is one longer sermon that Moses preached to Israel before the people entered the promised land. The message marked a time of covenant renewal for God’s people. In his proclamation, Moses called them to an all-encompassing love that would fuel joyful obedience.

    It’s important to see that God wants you to love him with your whole self. Heart, soul, and might aren’t intended to represent different categories or aspects of your self—such as your intellect, emotions, and physical body. The main idea is that you should give your entire being to God. Not part. All. Your whole self as a totality completely committed to trusting obeying God with noble and pure intentions. We’re to give God every faculty and every capacity (Matthew 22:37–40). We’re to give God both thoughtful reflection and decisive action (Mark 12:28–34). We’re to give God our total obedience and loyalty—the kind of loyalty that overflows in compassion, mercy, and costly sacrifice for our neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).

  3. Embody His Commands. The problem is that we can’t love God this way on our own even though he calls us to do so. We’re unable to love, because of the sin in our hearts. As a result, it was necessary for someone to perfectly obey the Shema on behalf of fallen man. Our sinless and perfectly loving Messiah paid the punishment for our disobedience by sacrificing himself for us. It is only when we see Christ’s perfect love for us that we can receive a new heart and love God fully. Moses wrote later in Deuteronomy that a time was coming when God would circumcise the hearts of his people, enabling them to love him with their whole heart (Deuteronomy 30:6).

    We can only love God and love our kids when we’ve first received God’s love. It’s so important to fill our cups with God’s love each day. Then, we can give our kids what we’ve got.

    Moms and dads, draw near to God by reading your Bible and praying daily. Then, be intentional about sharing what God is teaching you with your kids. Seek God for understanding of his truth—simple enough understanding that you can teach it to your children. Then, draw near to your kids and invite them to hear what you’ve learned. When it seems like you’ve run out of things to say—like you’ve run out of truth and love to give them—run back to God for more. His supply never runs dry. He’s able to make your cup overflow (Psalm 23:5).

When you’ve first drawn near to God, you can come near to your kids with confidence that he can take your little and do even more in them than he’s done in you. Draw near to your kids with hope that your spiritual ceiling will be their spiritual floor.