The idea of Christians being salt and light is an abstract concept young children will have a hard time understanding. While you will need to have many conversations over the years about what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:13-18, you can begin with some fun activities.
First grab a flashlight. Go into a room or closet you can make entirely dark. Talk about how hard it would be to read a book or do anything without just a little light. For very small children, you may even bring a book into the room to read to them, but discover you can’t without the light.
Have your child turn on the flashlight. Discuss what a big difference even a little bit of light can make in a dark space. If you have more than one child, have each of them turn on an additional flashlight and show the power of having a lot of people being the light.
Try to explain the verses about Christians being a light in the world. Don’t worry if they don’t entirely understand the connection now. You can continue having conversations over the years as they become more capable of abstract thought.
Then give your kids a salted and unsalted snack. You may have to experiment to find one where the two taste distinctly different. Ask your kids to explain what they believe the salt added to the taste of the snack.
Pull out two pieces of bread. (Non commercially baked breads work better because they have fewer preservatives.) Have your kids put their unwashed hands all over both pieces. One piece of bread should go into a plastic baggie and be sealed. The other should be sprinkled with a tablespoon of salt and placed in a plastic bag so the salt stays on the bread.
Have your kids watch the bread for several days. Which piece of bread grew mold more slowly? Discuss the Bible verses while explaining that salt is used for flavor, preserving food and even disinfecting things. It had so many uses in Bible times (remember there was no electricity, so salting things could also keep them safer to eat) that salt was even used as money at times!
Spend a lot of time discussing what it means for Christians to be salt and light in the world. What are some practical things they can do to be salt and light in their worlds every day?
Failure is an odd topic in our culture. There are people who believe children shouldn’t experience failure, because it could somehow damage their fragile psyches. Others celebrate failure as something that makes us more approachable and even fun, looking down on those who want to learn, grow and improve from their failures.
As with many topics, God has some things He wants us to teach our kids about failure. Perhaps the first is the definition of failure. God doesn’t define success or failure by how much money your kids eventually make or how famous they become. To God success is living a life that ends with spending eternity in Heaven with Him.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with worldly success obtained in godly ways, your kids need to be taught their ultimate goal. Their standard of success is Heaven and the only real failure is rejecting God.
But what about all of those little failures in life that don’t necessarily have Heaven or Hell consequences? It’s important to teach your kids the difference between mistakes and sins. They have different motivations and different consequences. They also have some differences in how they need to be handled when each of those failures happens.
Mistakes are those little failures that have no connection to the commands God has given us. They may reveal a character flaw that needs additional work, but the motivation behind the original action was not a rebellion against God’s laws.
These mistakes happen regularly as children learn and grow. At times, you need to allow these mistakes to happen – and the natural consequences of those mistakes. Those natural consequences are often the best teacher. If your child doesn’t study enough for a test and misses answers, the consequence of a poor grade should provide the motivation for studying more the next time. There will be times when you will have to help your child make the connections between actions, failures, consequences and how to keep them from happening again in the future.
Other mistakes can arise from the clumsiness that often comes with a growth spurt or a lack of life experience. If no one has ever taught you to separate reds from whites when doing laundry, then the resulting pink clothes are a mistake from a lack of life experience.
Obviously, there are times when these mistakes require apologies, cleaning up the mess they created or making some sort of restitution. In general though, mistakes should be discussed with loving patience. Too much harsh criticism can make your kids so afraid of failure, they may be unwilling to do the good works God has planned for them. Like Moses, they will become paralyzed by their fear of failure – without the benefit of hearing God’s voice to help them work through those fears.
Finally, there are the mistakes your kids will make when they are trying something new. It may be learning a new concept in math or developing the gifts God has given them. They may make mistakes the first time they try to serve someone independently or share their faith. It is so crucial with these mistakes, that your response is encouraging. They need to learn to embrace these mistakes and learn and improve from them. If they stop trying because they are fearful of failure, it is highly unlikely they will ever reach their godly potential.
Sins on the other hand, come from a rebellious heart. Even though children before the age of accountability are not responsible for sins, they need to be taught that rebellion against God is unacceptable. Of course, this begins with rebelling against your authority by disobeying your rules. These failures are heart issues at their core – a selfishness that puts one’s own desires ahead of obedience and respect.
Heart issues are tough, but if dealt with at young ages you can help mold your kids hearts towards God. These failures must be discouraged and the heart molded away from selfish rebellion or your kids will have great difficulty obeying God as adults.
If your kids are old enough to become Christians, then it’s time to really focus on repentance and forgiveness. It’s important they understand repentance is not a kicking the dirt, glum, “sorry” to God. It is truly mourning the sin, asking God for forgiveness, thinking of ways to avoid committing the sin again and making any necessary restitution.
Failure is a complex subject, but taking the time and effort to help your kids understand it through God’s eyes can make them more resilient, more likely to use their gifts to serve God and share their faith and less likely to live a life enmeshed in sin. It’s worth every second you put in to helping your kids navigate failure in godly ways.
Emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept. Coined in 1990, the term has become the latest darling of pop psychology. What is it exactly and should Christian parents be working with their children on their emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is at its core the ability to get along with others. It is not related to intellectual ability, but rather how well one is equipped to interact successfully with others.
The book Primal Leadership maintains that emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.
Are those concepts biblical? As with anything that has secular origins, there are some biblical truths hidden within the secular framework. Self- awareness is part of becoming a Christian and then living a Christian life. Christians need to be aware when they are sinning so they become more Christ like over time. They need to be aware of their hearts, minds and souls and whether they are godly, too. Christians also need self awareness in order to be aware of when their words and actions are truly serving others and sharing their faith in effective ways.
Self management is most closely aligned with self control. While everyone is capable of some amount of self control, we know it is a fruit of the Spirit. This means in part that we need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Christians receive at baptism to reach our potential to be self controlled.
Social awareness is picking up on the cues of others to understand how we are impacting them. If done in an effort to serve and share one’s faith, social awareness can be godly. It’s important to note though that social awareness can also be used to manipulate and control others – quite ungodly behaviors.
The final component of emotional intelligence according to the authors is relationship management. This area is a bit fuzzier than the others. Once again motivation is a key factor for Christians. If one is managing relationships to love, support, nurture, encourage and point others to God, then that is stewardship. We are taking good care of the relationships with which God has blessed us.
On the other hand, if managing relationships is about manipulation, control, “winning” or always getting our way, then it becomes ungodly. Teaching your kids to check their motivations in self awareness can be key to be godly in managing relationships.
Emotional intelligence without God in the equation is tricky. People skills can be used for good or evil. Remembering what God has to say will help your kids use their emotional intelligence for the good of others and God’s Kingdom.
In the end, while you may choose to discuss emotional intelligence with your kids, I would suggest working more on their hearts and Christian character. If they become who God wants them to be, they will have all of the emotional intelligence they need – and know how to use it in godly ways.
Conflict resolution is an important skill set Christian parents need to teach their children. But there’s another type of disagreement that, while still conflict, requires a slightly different skill set. These disagreements occur when there are different ideas, philosophies, faiths or other more ethereal topics being discussed.
Of course, each side still believes their idea or belief is better – and some are indeed more valid than others. Your kids will need to learn some additional skills to navigate these conversations well.
It is often easy enough to write off a relationship with someone whose ideas are vastly different from ours. God has called us to teach everyone the Gospel message though. He wants us to continue to teach those who aren’t Christian about what He wants for them and from them. Yes, there are times when we need to dust off our feet and move on, but often we do that entirely too quickly.
So what are these skills your kids need to minister to and teach those whose ideas are radically different than theirs?
They need to be solid in their own biblical beliefs. If your children are discussing the big ideas in life, they need to really understand what God has taught. If not, they will be swayed by any argument that sounds somewhat logical – whether it is godly or not.
They need to make their faith in God their own. Often young people struggle in conversations because they are merely parroting what they have heard their parents say. They need to be given the time and encouragement to consider what they believe, hopefully making their Christian faith their own in the process.
They need to learn how to state their beliefs clearly. Faith is an interesting thing. We can have it without being able to verbalize it well to others. Your kids need practice thinking about how they might respond to certain questions or challenges to their faith.
They need to understand logical fallacies and how to avoid using them. Many arguments sound great, but are full of logical fallacies. The ideas may be great, but if they are presented with logical fallacies your kids should learn to stop and examine those ideas more carefully to make absolutely sure they are godly. They should also avoid using logical fallacies themselves – especially when discussing what God has taught. There are better ways to state those beliefs and they need to work to find them.
They need to understand what God cares about in life. Many so called philosophical arguments – including political ones – boil down to people with the same desires, but different approaches. Usually neither side’s approach is perfect, but people have still chosen a side. Christians waste too much time discussing temporary politics and other similar topics while neglecting to tackle the really important issues God wants us to deal with in life. (This is hard for many Christians to accept. While obviously the laws and philosophies governing any society are important, read the New Testament again while remembering the horrible things the Roman government was doing – including insisting Caesar was god. What does it tell us about the priorities of Jesus and his followers?)
They need to know how to listen well. When people disagree, they rarely listen to understand. Most people are listening only long enough to consider what they will argue next. Listening to understand may help them realize the motivations and history behind the other person’s belief make changing the ideas easier once they are truly understood.
They need to learn how to disagree with someone and still leave them feeling loved and respected. This has to be taught very carefully. Too many Christians believe either you have to destroy someone with ungodly ideas or that you can’t even tell the other person their ideas are ungodly because that is unloving. The truth is that you can show someone love and respect for the very fact that they were created and loved by God. If their ideas vary from what God teaches us, it is important to address those differences without destroying the person in the process.
They need to learn to disagree without making personal attacks, using ugly words or losing their temper. This can take years of practice. It requires a lot of prayer, spiritual maturity and self control. Your children will struggle, but they need to begin practicing it now before bad habits become ingrained.
Teaching your kids to disagree well may make them more effective in completing the good works God has planned for them. It is worth taking the time and effort to help them learn the necessary skills.
The great thing about kids and teens is their passion for changing the world. They notice things many adults have given up on trying to change. They have the innocence and passion to believe complex problems have simple solutions and that they have those solutions.
Unfortunately, Satan has a vested interested in the world’s problems remaining untouched. He will do what he can to discourage young people – especially Christian young people who might also teach those they are helping the things God wants them to know and do.
You can’t totally protect your kids from Satan’s interference, but you can lessen his effectiveness by teaching your kids some basic truths.
God has a plan. Find it. Follow it. God doesn’t want our world to be full of sin and chaos any more than we do. He gave us free will though so we aren’t just robots He controls. Unfortunately, many people believe because God doesn’t force us to follow His plan for how He wants things to be that He doesn’t have one. God has a plan. Your kids just need to be taught how to figure out what God’s plan is for solving the problem about which they are passionate and follow it. When they do that instead of trying to force their plan on to God, the implementation and results are often easier and better.
Pray. A Lot. Then really listen for God’s answers. Many people who want to make the world a better place, forget to pray to God for His guidance and assistance. Or when they do, they ignore all of the people and circumstances He sends to tell them to go in a different direction. Prayers often don’t seem to work, because we fail to remember it’s a conversation and we need to listen as much, if not more, than we talk.
Use their gifts or ask someone to help who was given the gifts you need. There are times when God asks us to do something for a period for which we are only adequate. In general though, God has built everyone a lane and their most effective ministry occurs when they stay in that lane. World changers often give up because they are trying to do tasks which God meant for them to ask others to do.
Take advantage of the opportunities God gives them. Sure, their plan may be more fun than the opportunity God is giving them right now, but there is a reason He wants them to serve in this way at this moment. Turning down those less glamorous, less fun opportunities God gives them to serve, may mean their personal ministry will never reach its full potential.
Be patiently impatient. God’s timing is perfect. Sometimes that means we need to wait until it is in His plans for us to do the next thing. On the other hand, sometimes God can’t use us, because we refuse to do all of those little things He is giving us to do now. Or we procrastinate for any number of reasons. Or we let others discourage us from pursuing the dream God has given us for our personal ministry. The key is balance.
Do their homework and be humble enough to learn from those who have gone before them. There is often an underlying arrogance about those wanting to change the world. They believe because previous people have failed to completely solve the problem, they have nothing of value to teach newcomers. They may indeed have a bright great new idea that will work. Or they may be getting ready to waste a lot of unnecessary time, energy and money on something that is not going to work. Ask questions, listen, learn…then analyze and make choices.
Remember bigger isn’t always better. It’s better to start small and let God give them a larger territory if it’s in His plan rather than starting too large and failing miserably – hurting others unnecessarily in the process.
Empathy Works. Sympathy doesn’t. Too many people in ministries and charities are full of sympathy. Unfortunately, that reads like they have all the answers and the people they are serving have nothing of value to offer. Empathy looks for commonalities. It learns from those it is serving rather than assuming it is the only one with the solution to the problem. Empathy loves like Jesus.
Equip and empower. Don’t boss and control. Ineffective leaders feel the need to control and boss people around. Effective leaders find people gifted in certain areas and equip, support, nurture and empower them.
Remember the ultimate goal is to help as many people as possible get to Heaven. Earthly needs and problems are important. If we help solve those, but don’t teach anyone about what God wants for them and from them, we have failed as Christians. We cannot and should not ignore earthly needs, but we can’t let them distract us to the point where we forget eternity is forever and our primary goal should always be to help people spend eternity in Heaven.
Who knows what good works God has planned for your children? If you help them learn these truths when they are young though, it is much more likely they will help the world be more like God planned it to be.