Every Christian parent wants their children to grow in Christlike character and learn and apply truths from God’s Word. Teach with more confidence and experience greater success with this simplified approach to Biblical instruction and character training!
Parents’ Role in Biblical Instruction
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
No matter what our “approach” is with our children, God’s Word must first be in our hearts! It starts with us accepting and living out God’s precepts for ourselves, setting a good example for our children. They say apples don’t fall far from the tree. It’s true! We can’t honestly expect our children’s character and commitment to God’s Word to exceed our own. Jesus himself said, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matthew 10:24). Instructing our children to live a certain way while our hearts aren’t in it is just plain hypocrisy. If we are sincere in our commitment to Christ, our kids will know, because they live with us and see us at our best, and our worst. They know how we respond to struggles, stress, fatigue, etc. We aren’t going to pull the wool over their eyes when it comes to our faith walk. If we are living a dual life, you know which path they will choose to follow: the path of least resistance, or the one that offers the most pleasures.
Theses verses tell us not only to believe, but to teach–and diligently! We need to instruct our children about what it is God expects from us. This means reading the Word to them and explaining what it means and how to apply it to real life. And notice who is doing the teaching–God is speaking to parents. We have to accept God’s Word as our own guide for life and then instruct our children to do the same. That’s a huge responsibility! What’s the best way to accomplish this goal?
Though biblical instruction and character training will look different for every family, let me share the simplified method that has worked well for ours–particularly for our young children.
A few years ago now, when my husband set out to write our first book, The Values-Driven Family, he began with a comprehensive, cover-to-cover Bible study. During this process, he noticed 12 consistent character traits that were common to all of God’s servants, from the patriarchs to the prophets, and ultimately Jesus Himself. Upon further exploration, it became obvious that these 12 traits could honestly be said to encompass the essence of Christlikeness. These are the character traits that God desires us to both live out and disciple our children in. After all, Romans 8:29 tells us that God’s goal for us is that we would grow into the image of Christ.
Remember the lawyer who summed up the whole of the Law in only two statements: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (See Luke 10:25-28). In the same way, the core values adequately convey the essence of the Bible’s teachings and help us to become the people that God wants us to be. By simplifying Biblical instruction and character training in this way, the process has become much less intimidating to us and we are more able to consistently help our children grow in their knowledge of the Word and in their faith.
With that being said, the twelve core values, in brief, are: faith, surrender, love, faithfulness, wisdom, self-control, righteousness, holiness, humility, diligence, generosity, and praise. Because the cornerstone of our faith is Jesus, let’s take a quick look at how our Savior exhibited these values in His character. We’ll also touch upon just a few of the many verses that show their importance to God when it comes to our personal spiritual growth.
The Person of Jesus
In talking about how Jesus embodied these values, of course there is a lot that could be said, so let’s just do a quick overview.
Let’s start with faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Jesus certainly had confidence in who He was and in what God had sent Him to do. He spoke with his disciples of His death and resurrection. He knew that many would not receive Him, but that He would be glorified at the right had of God. His faith sustained Him through unimaginable trials. Not only that, His entire life was a walk of faith. He taught that we need only have faith the size of a mustard seed in order to see miraculous things happen, and He lived out that faith as He cast out demons, healed the sick, and brought physical restoration to those who were disabled.
The heart of surrender is giving up our own ideas and desires to follow the perfect will of God for our lives. Jesus did this as well. Very often he was tired after many hours of teaching and healing and would try to get away to a quiet place by himself. Instead, he would be followed by the crowds and, taking pity on them, he would continue to give of Himself to meet their needs. He continually laid down His own desires for His life to follow after the will of His Father–even unto His death on the cross.
Love was evident in Jesus’ life in His continued servant leadership. And of course, He Himself said, “greater love has no man than this, than that he laid down his life for his friends.” And of course He called His followers–and us–His friends, and gave the ultimate sacrifice of love for us all.
Faithfulness is a heart of obedience–doing what will please and glorify God, not out of duty but out of desire. Jesus, of course, did not want to go to the cross, but in His final prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “Not my will but yours be done.” He wanted to do what God wanted and willingly was obedient to death because He knew it was God’s perfect plan and desire.
How did Jesus’ character reflect wisdom? In comparing Himself to John the Baptist, He noted that others were critical of John’s self-denial and life of holiness, whereas the same people were equally critical of Him for associating with “sinners.” Yet, he said, “Wisdom will be justified by her actions.” He knew that neither His life, nor the lives of others, were subject to the whims and judgments of others, but trusted Himself to the wisdom and direction of God, knowing that it was His Father who would justify Him.
Self-control was evident in Jesus’ life as He not only fasted for forty days but then withstood the temptations of the devil in many fleshly areas, such as appetites and worldly desires. He continually denied Himself and exercised control over His flesh.
Jesus was also obviously a person of righteousness. He stood for the truth and was not afraid to call sin, sin. At different points, the Jews were called a “brood of vipers, “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” and so on. Obviously, Jesus lived an upright and blameless life before God and so was qualified to speak against the sin that was evident around Him.
Likewise, Jesus exhibited holiness in being set apart and pure in every way. He was without sin in His human existence. He spent consistent quiet time in communion with His Father and modeled a life given to God in every situation.
Humility was evident in Jesus’ character as He washed the feet of His disciples. He spoke of the value of humility when He said that “whoever humbles Himself like this little child will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” He did not exalt Himself because of what He came to do; in fact, His mission was all but hidden during His life, even to His disciples. Jesus knew that only God needed to be aware of these things, and that God would lift Him up when all things were fulfilled.
Although we don’t see Jesus working a job to support Himself, because His time was so short, He was certainly diligent in fulfilling God’s call on His life. Day after day, He taught, healed, traveled, discipled, and spent time with God in prayer. He continued on with whatever God wanted Him to do, even to the point of exhaustion at times. Certainly, we can say that Jesus was a person of diligence, and it’s no wonder that God would have us express this trait in our character as well.
Now, how about generosity? Although Jesus was not a man of great material means, He certainly gave more than generously of Himself, time after timeâ€”again, even to death on the cross. Although we most commonly think of generosity in relation to financial or material giving, Jesus modeled a true spirit of generosity that we all should have.
Finally, praise. An attitude of praise is willing not only to accept adverse circumstances, but to be thankful to God for them. Praise says that God works all things for good and that God’s will being done is more important than our own personal comfort or blessing. Jesus did not live a self-sacrificial life grudgingly. He did not complain or ask God why? In the same way, the Apostle Paul reminds us to “do everything without complaining or arguing…”
With a basis now in how Jesus lived out and exemplified for us these twelve key character traits and values of God, let’s move on to how we as parents can encourage our children in these areas in consistent and practical ways.
The “core value”can concept can be used to complement your family’s Bible reading and study, such that your children will understand of these elements of Christlike character and develop a desire to grow in these areas. We created our Values-Driven Discipleship manual to help teach and apply key verses, both during family devotional times and during everyday “teachable moments.” You can do the same with a concordance and your Bible. Discussing Scripture by topic is a particularly good way to help young children commit the teachings to memory.
Consistent core value training also means that we all strive to apply them in life’s circumstances on a daily basis. It’s as simple as pointing out which core value God would like to see us live by in any given situation. For example, if the children are having a hard time sharing a toy, we can say something very brief like, “Because generosity is a core value of God, he wants us to share. Who would like to be blessed by obeying God and sharing?” This is a simple way to encourage right behavior and remind the children just why we strive to live by these standards.
Similarly, if we notice a core value playing out in our own lives, we will bring it to the children’s attention. One example might be, “Well, guys, I don’t like getting stuck in traffic, and I’m sure you don’t either. But since praise is of value to God, let’s praise God that maybe he’s using the traffic to keep us from an accident, or to keep us in perfect timing for whatever he has planned ahead. Maybe we can put on some praise music while we wait. In this way, the children are being consistently trained in the core values and they see that living according to God’s precepts is important to everyone in the household.
Character Training: The Core Value Progress Chart
One invaluable tool that we have developed to consistently reinforce the values that God values is the Core Value Progress Chart. It’s simple, really. It just has each child’s name on it, along with a list of the twelve core values. We choose specific target behaviors that we’d like to see each child exhibit as a reflection of these character traits and, each evening, talk about whether or not they have made progress in living out the Word of God as reflected by these behaviors. For example, a target behavior for faith might be spending personal time in reading the Bible. A reflection of self-control may be showing restraint with serving portions at meal times–or especially when selecting desserts and snacks!
One thing that we did not want to see happen with the use of the chart is that it would become “the end”–in other words, to have our children “perform”to get check marks on their charts or treats for rewards, when really we want them want to live the Word of God for His pleasure and His blessing. So we have purposed that this system would be one of encouragement. Granted, it can quickly be manipulated and simply become a parent’s tool by which we can discourage (or reprimand) poor behaviors. We always keep in mind, though, that no matter what target behaviors we choose, as we evaluate we should focus on praising our children for sincere effort and progress. Very often, as we start going through the charts, we’ll just begin by asking each child, “What did you do today that you think was particularly pleasing to God?,” or “Even if you didn’t do perfectly, was there an area that you were really seeking God to help you do better in, in which you felt you made some progress?” In this way, the chart becomes more of a reflection of their walk with God and their growth in Christlike character, instead of Mom and Dad’s evaluation of how they have done for the day.
With the use of this system, we have found that our children have responded with consistent improvements in behavior and character development, and with stable performance over the long haul. And when they do need correction, the core values also provide a simple and direct means of addressing those areas. Backed up by the verses that we teach and train during our lesson times, the children quickly come to understand how God wants them to be, and the authority of the Word becomes the associated basis for the character growth that we try to encourage.
We offer templates of our Core Value Progress Charts and a sample list of target behaviors as just one of many free downloads on our Web site. You can find out more information at www.valuesdrivenfamily.com/freebies.
The Benefits of Values-Based Training
What are some of the benefits of this type of approach to Biblical instruction and character training?
From my pre-children experience as a elementary-grade teacher and particularly as a pre-school teacher, I knew that children have finite attention spans. My own children obviously proved this out as well. And, let’s face it, the Bible is a big book and can be hard to understand. These two factors combined can make the process of instructing our children in the Word a challenge. Getting children to retain all that the Bible teaches is just about impossible–especially if we, as parents, feel deficient in our own knowledge of God’s Word.
With that being said, reading straight through Scripture at a family devotional time each day is an excellent means of sharing the Bible with our children. It imparts the historical context and setting like no other method could. That’s why we are in no way diminishing the value of reading God’s Word as-is.
However, when it comes to imparting God’s heart concerning our character and behavior, we have found that our children respond to the teaching much more powerfully when it is presented by core value theme. Reading one verse about faith to a child has impact; however, reading as many as 10 or 15 in a sitting, memorizing some of those verses, and emphasizing those truths during everyday “teachable moments” effectively opens up the Scriptures and brings the Word where it belong–in our children’s hearts.
Another benefit is that a two- or three year-old can easily understand the core values and their basic definitions, whereas understanding some of the Bible passages would have proved beyond their comprehension. Building Biblical knowledge and Christlike character around core values empowers us as parents to be imparting God’s Word to our children years before we would have been able to through conventional Biblical instruction.
When it comes to utilizing the Progress Charts as an evaluative tool, there have been many benefits. This system forces us to review all the aspects of their behavior that God values, rather than simply things that seem good to us or make our lives convenient. As well, we have found that even when our gut instinct would say that a child was behaving poorly, the child may have scored very well on all but one or two core values. Use of this system has not only helped us to be more encouraging to our children, but it has been a great encouragement to us as well, because it helps us keep a proper perspective on the “day-to-day” of being in the trenches of parenthood.
Overall, our use of the charts, coupled with occasional values-based Biblical instruction, has had tremendous effects on our children’s behavior and has truly tied up any loose ends in our parenting regimen. It has helped us all to make a more consistent effort to live by the values that God values, and to mutually encourage one another along the journey.
Whether you use a method such as this or choose something that works better for your family, the important thing is to continually have a heart of discipleship toward your children, to nurture them in God’s Word consistently, and to look forward to the fruit of your efforts and your perseverance as they mature.
(Adapted from Simplified Biblical Instruction and Character Training for your Young Children, a workshop recording from the Values-Driven Parenting & Family Audio Set.)