Posted by Bobette Hatteberg, Children’s Ministry Director
This strange time we’re living in will likely shape many things in your children’s life… most notably their hearts. However, it is not actually living during this pandemic that will shape them, but more importantly it’s how they and you respond to our current situation that will do much to shape their hearts. That’s why it’s a great time to be a parent! You have the opportunity to use this time to dramatically impact their hearts! During this pandemic we’re faced daily with new information, plans, and changes that we must process and that we then respond to and react to. Every gamut of life is impacted – work, leisure, relationships, ministry, family, school, etc.
Parents are called by God to shepherd their children – to guide them and teach them. Some of that shepherding happens during formal times of teaching, devotions, Bible reading, and talking about Sunday’s worship service. Some of that shepherding happens in more natural ways. When the Lord gave the Law to the Israelites it was meant to help them know Him and know how to follow Him. At the same time, he commissioned parents to teach their children this law, not just in formal ways, but in the daily organic aspects of life. We see this commissioning in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.” In the New Testament we see Jesus modeling this form of discipleship. He taught spiritual truths using everyday things around him. He taught not just in formal settings but also as he walked and rested and visited people in their homes.
Shepherding happens in all spheres of life. As a parent you are never really not shepherding. Let me say that another way: As a parent you are always shepherding! This involves helping your children understand themselves and the world in which they live. You shepherd your children by the things you teach them during devotions, prayer time, and family worship. But you cannot shepherd them merely by instruction. You shepherd them also by how you live, how you respond to life. Proverbs 13:20 tells us “He who walks with the wise becomes wise.” The reality is that much of our formal instruction is actually watered and nurtured in the organic moments of our days. A parent can teach their children what the Bible says about God being sovereignly in control. But it’s when they see and hear how we respond to the ever-changing world around us that they begin to question whether God really is in control. Shepherding happens during deep interaction during car rides, chatting over a game or at the dinner table, or during prayers of repentance (both our own and our child’s). Shepherding also happens when we don’t even realize it, as our children watch and listen to how we react to the news, other people, and situations in our lives.
This is true in every year for every child. Today, during this pandemic, shepherding happens as our children witness our reactions, frustrations, and interactions with this new world in which we live. Shepherding happens when they hear our response to the latest virus information or how we respond when we receive the school or church plans for fall.
No matter what is happening in each arena of our life there will be disappointments, things we don’t agree with, and things we would like to be done differently. But the plans and news around us is not the most shaping impact on our children. How you as a parent respond will be what impacts them the most directly. How do your children see and hear you respond to all that is happening? What are you teaching them about our God’s place in all of this? What are you demonstrating about the intersection of faith and trials, of faith and living in a fallen world? Here are some suggestions for shepherding well during this pandemic.
- Discuss the bigger issues in private. While I’m not suggesting you hide the current reality from your children, it is wise for parents to discuss the hard, confusing, and conflicting information out of the ears of their children. Work through your own emotions and frustrations before the Lord and with your spouse, not in front of your children. When we first prioritize informing our own hearts with the Word and what is good and true about God, we can then sow truth and grace in our children’s hearts. We notice the opportune moments to then plant gospel seeds while we practice cultivating godliness in our own lives.
- Confess your own sin to your children when your sin impacts them – If you have a melt-down in front of them, go back and put a biblical perspective on the situation. (Mommy was not happy about the news from the school today. But part of my unhappiness was my own selfish desires. I had to ask God to forgive me and now I’m ready to trust and honor Him even though I don’t really like the plan. God always has good plans for those who love Him.”) Confessing our sin in front of our children helps them see that we are more like them than they realize. We, just like they need to be rescued by the Savior. Let them see the Gospel worked out in your own life. Are there some recent interactions that your children have witnessed that you need to confess before the Lord and before them?
- Model respect for authority. God calls us to live under authority. He is our ultimate authority and has vested authority in people within the institutions he has established (home, church, state, and business). One of the most important foundational heart issues in the life of every child is how they will respond to authority. Teaching and modeling the protective beauty of authority is one of the foundations of good parenting. Every time you communicate something about submission to authority, you are also teaching your child something about how to respond to God’s authority. There is no more important heart issue for every child ever born, including you and I, than the issue of authority. Sin makes us want our own way. Sin makes us want to establish our own rules. Sin convinces all of us that we know better. Sin causes me to want to do what I want to do, when and how I want to do it. Sin makes me resist being told what to do by another. Sin inserts me in the center of my world, the only place that I must never be because it is the place for God and God alone. What kind of picture are your children getting of submitting to God’s authority by the way you submit to the authorities around you?
- Teach and model biblical qualities like contentment, trust, love, joy, patience, and submission. Set your children up for spiritual growth and success by teaching them how to make the best of these hard situations. You’ll probably have enough of your own heart issues to have to grow through that you can do it right alongside your child. (Mommy doesn’t like wearing a mask either. But I’m wearing it anyway because it shows love to our friend who has some serious health issues by protecting her.) Continually connect the motive to God’s glory and the testimony of the Gospel.
- Build a big view of God. This will be crucial for helping them deal with their own worries and disappointments. When a child expresses fear we can lead them to a big God. (“Mommy can be afraid sometimes too. But God is always with us. He tells us not to be afraid but to trust in Him. Let’s read about that in the Bible.”) (“Mommy is really sad too that we can’t do what we had planned. I’m so thankful we can trust God even in our disappointment that He is loving and good.”)
- Keep God central. Read God’s Word together frequently. Share what God is teaching you during this hard time. Make Sunday worship a priority even though it is different for all of us. If your kids are very young, use this as a training ground for teaching them how to sit and listen – starting with small increments. I recently noticed one family sitting on the far edge of the outdoor worship area. They encouraged their preschoolers to participate in the worship music. Then they gave them the lesson pages, whispering some simple instructions and guiding them as they colored. After coloring and eating the snack, the kids started to get really squirmy. I saw Mom hold up five fingers which I’m guessing meant “Hang on for 5 more minutes.” Then Dad walked the kids over to the empty yard and let them run around him for a few minutes. Then together they sat back down and listened to the remaining part of the sermon. Did Mom and Dad hear every word? No, but they were shepherding their kids’ hearts – teaching them that corporate worship is vital, teaching them to grow in patience and self-control, teaching them that God is central to all of life…even when life looks differently.
Shepherding a child’s heart does not happen on a schedule. It happens every day all day long, especially during these days we are living in. What a great time to be a parent! You have daily opportunities to shepherd during one of the most unusual times in history! Take a few minutes and examine your heart before the Lord. How are you shepherding your child’s heart during this time? What attitudes and character qualities are they learning from you? How is their heart being trained by how they see and hear you respond? May God strengthen you and guide you as you shepherd your child. You are in my prayers!