What types of messages are our kids hearing from the world, the church, and from us as parents?
One of the primary messages kids hear from the world is that they should be self-reliant and find self-defined happiness through self-expression and self-made success.
As a recent advertising campaign put it, “It’s all about you.” The message: Be yourself.
One of the primary messages kids may hear from the church is to be a person of good character, exhibiting traits like integrity, generosity, self-control, and honesty.
Sunday lessons often take each Bible story and show kids how it teaches them to live; be brave like David, be wise like Solomon, and be forgiving like Jesus.
Whether intended or not, the message kids hear is that the Bible tells you how to be a good, successful, happy person. The message: Be your good self.
In recent years we’ve seen a return to a “gospel” focus. The once archaic sounding term has been revived and it’s a welcome return to talking about more about Jesus!
Many churches and Bible curriculums are taking each Bible story and showing kids how it points to Jesus instead of morality.
But as parents, it’s worth thinking about how our kids understand the gospel message they hear. In our excitement to teach the gospel it’s easy for the self-focused gospel to slip in.
It’s easy for kids to hear the gospel in a way that makes it all about “self”: how does God help me on my spiritual journey? What plans does God have for me? The message: Be your good self with God’s help.
So how do we avoid teaching the self-focused gospel?
As parents, we need to point kids not only away from the world’s culture of self, not only to moral behavior, not only to salvation through the cross, but even one step further. We need to point kids to the character of God.
It’s important that we teach kids not only what God has done but also who He is, because in the person and character of God lie all the answers of life and purpose.
Being good isn’t our purpose: it’s the result. Being saved isn’t our purpose: it’s the means. Our purpose is knowing, loving, worshiping, and reflecting the God in whose image we are made. So let’s teach our kids who that God is!
Four practical steps to avoid the self-focused gospel:
- Teach kids who God is: His attributes. In addition to teaching kids what God has done, it’s important to specifically teach them what God is like. Kids are curious and we should answer their curiosity with deep truths about the character of God. How is God different than us? How are we to reflect God? Their hearts are soft soil and their small souls are craving to know the God who made them.
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A.W. Tozer
- Encourage kids to read the Bible looking for “clues” about who God is. Teach them that the purpose of reading the Bible is to get to know God. Once they’ve learned the attributes of God, help them look for those attributes in each story or lesson you read. Help kids understand that the Bible not only teaches us how to live, but through His Word, both written and incarnate, God has told us about Himself! God has revealed to us who He is and what He is like and we have the privilege of getting to know Him through the Bible.
- Teach kids the true value of the cross; communion with God. The cross is so much more than a way to avoid eternal punishment or a source of moral empowerment. Jesus is the only reason we can someday see God in the full glory of who He is. The cross is the means through which we have any access to God at all; it’s the reason finite sinners can ever stand accepted and loved before the very face of a holy God. Jesus not only forgives our sins and make us new, he brings us before the throne of God to live forever in the fullness of all that He is!
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (ESV)
- Teach kids to praise God when they pray. So often kids learn to pray by asking God for what they want and thanking God for what He gives. Praise and adoration is easy to leave out, perhaps in part because our kids haven’t yet learned what to praise Him for. When kids learn the character of God, they can learn to thank God for more than just His gifts; they can praise Him for who He is!
The important role we play
Holocaust activist and survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, famously said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.” It’s easy to look around at the messages of the world and be distressed. It’s easy for our kids to look to their inner self for strength and purpose and become depressed.
But as parents, we are called to counter these false messages and point the hearts of our kids away from the world, away from self, to the gospel and to the very character of God Himself. Our message is: Be worshippers and reflectors the God whose image you bear as sinners saved through by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Lydia White is a mom of two living in Lenexa, Kansas. She was involved with the Navigators while studying business at The University of Kansas before attending Dallas Theological Seminary. She and her husband Kyle attend Mill Creek Community Church. She is author of a devotional and curriculum resource for kids ages 4-11 titled, “The Attributes of God for Kids”. www.attributesofgodforkids.com
Lydia will be one of the vendors at our upcoming homeschool conference – we encourage you to visit her there!