Passing on Our Faith Like Moses
by Ben Irwin
Last year, my daughter turned four. As a parent, I feel the same burden many Christian parents feel: I want to pass my faith to my children. I want my daughter to know Christ. I want her to walk with him for the rest of her life.
But I also know the odds are against her.
Research shows that a majority of young people who grow up in church disconnect from their faith or their church—or both—later in life (source: Barna). Let that sink in: more than half of those who make a decision for Christ as children will exhibit no meaningful sign of it by the time they reach adulthood.
Anyone remember the Wordless Book—or its relatively more recent incarnation, the Wordless Bracelet?
But our tools and methods for passing on our faith are failing us. More importantly, they’re failing our children.
So what do we do? The answer might just be closer than we think. As is so often the case, it’s right there in the Bible.
In his farewell speech, Moses urged the Israelites to be diligent about passing their faith to the next generation:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
– from Deuteronomy 6 (NIV)
According to Moses, passing on their faith was not something that could be done in a few sound bites. It required constant conversation. It was a process, not a moment. It was about families immersing themselves in their covenant with God, not just having fleeting contact with him.
But there’s more. There was a reason for the all the conversation. There was a reason for all the rituals prescribed in the Hebrew Scriptures. It seems they were designed, at least in part, to nurture curiosity on the part of children.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses continues: “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him…”
(We’ll get to the “tell him what?” part in just a minute, I promise.)
We see the same pattern unfold in Exodus 12, where Moses gives instructions for observing Passover: “When you enter the land the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them…”
The way we talk about and live our faith should inspire our children to ask, “Why? What does this mean?” Kids are abundantly curious. It seems God made them that way for a reason. (Remember that next time your preschooler launches into yet another barrage of why’s!)
Of course, this begs the question: what do we tell our kids when they ask? Once again, I think Moses provides the answer:
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out with a mighty hand.”
– from Deuteronomy 6 (NIV)
The answer: tell God’s story of rescue. For Christians, this means telling the story of Jesus. Not just a fragmented version, but the whole story.
The gospel is more than just a formula or a “plan of salvation.” It’s a story—namely, the story of how God is making the world right and good again through his Son. When Moses told the Israelites how to “impress” God’s law on their children, when Jesus told his followers to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16)—they were pointing to the same idea: the best way we pass our faith to others is simply by telling the story.
Theologian Scot McKnight sees evidence in the Gospels themselves that this is what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to preach the good news. In Mark 14, Jesus is anointed by the woman at Bethany. Some of those present, including the disciples, are indignant. Jesus silences them by declaring that “wherever the gospel is preached…what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
“Why?” asks McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel. “Because Jesus assumes the preaching of the gospel will mean telling stories about the life of Jesus, including this very story of the woman who had just poured oil on him.”
You want to pass your faith to your kids? You don’t need clever sound bites or formulas or Wordless Books. You simply need to tell the story. Let them see the big picture of what God is doing to rescue and renew the world. Invite them to become part of that story. It may just be that it has more staying power with them than any formula or tool we devise.
As Scot McKnight writes, “We need to do more telling about Jesus. We need to regain our confidence in the utter power of proclaiming that one Story of Jesus.”
Nowhere is this truer than with our own children.
Ben Irwin is one of the creators of The Story (Zondervan, 2005). His new children’s book, The Story of King Jesus presents the “big picture” gospel—from creation to the calling of Israel to Jesus’ victory over death—as a single story for children ages 4 to 8.
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