One of the more odd stories from the time Jesus spent on Earth is found in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-25. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that Jesus would destroy a tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t even the correct season for it! Yet when you connect the story to what happened immediately after it in the text, it becomes a little more clear. Jesus and God expect those serving them to bear fruit and there will be consequences for failing to produce any. It’s a similar lesson to that found in the Parables of the Talents and Minas and in other scriptures in the New Testament.
So what does it mean to bear fruit and why is it important that your children understand the importance of bearing fruit as Christians? There’s a fun family devotional you can have to start the conversation. Before the devotional, purchase some fruit at the grocery store. Pick one or two that are favorites and then perhaps one or two that are new to your children.
Read your children the two parables. Explain that often the first four books, the Gospels, tell the same or very similar stories – either from a different point of view to reach a different audience of readers – or perhaps because Jesus did or said similar things more than once during his ministry. Ask your children why they believe Jesus destroyed the fig tree. Explain that when stories like this are in the Bible, God wants us to learn something from them. What do they think they are supposed to learn from these parables?
Point out that right after the parable in Mark, Jesus cleansed the Temple. What might be the connection? Jesus was angry at the Priests for taking advantage of the people and trying to make a lot of money, rather than ministering to the people which was supposed to be the fruit they were bearing. The fig tree was to teach the apostles an important lesson that could help them better understand – and later teach – what was about to happen at the Temple.
Read Matthew 28:18-20. Explain that some Christians are confused. They think that being a Christian is only about avoiding sin. In reality, it is also about producing fruit in the Kingdom. Ask them what clues these verses give us about the types of fruit we are supposed to bear. Read Galatians 5:22-23. Explain that these are more types of fruit Christians should bear. These particular ones let others know we have the Holy Spirit within us (Note: You may need to explain this concept to your children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to us when we become Christians during our immersion in baptism. It does not feel scary to have the Holy Spirit in us, but rather the Holy Spirit is a helper God gives Christians to help them make good choices.)
Ask your children why they think Jesus got so angry when the tree and the priests didn’t produce fruit. Explain that God will also be angry with Christians when they don’t produce any of the fruit that you have studied in the verses you read. Sitting in church or even calling yourself a Christian means little if we don’t produce fruit. Works don’t help us earn our way to Heaven, but is rather the expectation of God from people He has already saved and a fulfillment of our faith. Read James 2:17-26 and ask your children to explain what it means in their own words.
Bring out the fruits you purchased. As you are eating them, Google to find out how they are grown and what happens to the fruit trees that don’t produce fruit after interventions. Orchards can’t afford for space to be taken up by unproductive trees. If a tree has no hope of producing fruit again, it will be destroyed and a new tree planted in its place. End your time by explaining God has much He wants Christians to do on Earth. He needs us to be productive so the work can all be done. Brainstorm some ways your family can produce fruit for God now.
Childhood, like life in general, isn’t fair. Some children seem to be born knowing what gift(s) God has given them. Their gifts are so obvious, the adults around them easily recognize the gift and offer regular praise and encouragement. Other children struggle – not just in identifying what gift(s) God has given them, but just in general. They seem to always say and do things that result in adults being upset with them – even when they are genuinely trying to do their best.
As they get older, it often seems like those young people with obvious strengths continue to build on their early successes, while those who struggled continue to focus on their weaknesses, mistakes and failures. Many times those who are successful can become over confident or even prideful, while those who struggle may stop trying to find any strengths in themselves.
Yet, there are a handful of young people who don’t follow the normal pattern. They have obvious gifts/strengths, but they are humble and often offer to use their gifts to serve God. Or despite early struggles, they persevere and eventually find their gifts and use them to serve God as well. The difference isn’t really how early young people find their gifts (although the earlier, the better) or how obvious those gifts are to adults. Those who avoid some of the pitfalls of strengths and weaknesses have been taught to look at both in slightly different ways.
They are taught that both strengths and weaknesses have a flip side. Every strength has a corresponding weakness and every weakness has a strength that can be attached. Children and teens need to be made aware of these connections and the possible ramifications. For example, a child who is always being corrected for being too laid back/lazy, could possibly also be a child who has great patience. Meanwhile, children who are given lots of visible roles at school because they are confident, may also realize that they struggle with arrogance. Both children should be encouraged to work on their weaknesses and their strengths, rather than one child being constantly considered a “problem” and the other a “joy”.
They are taught people with strengths or weaknesses different from their own are not necessarily “better”or “worse” than they are. Yes, in certain situations some gifts are more helpful than others, but every gift is needed at some point. Many weaknesses can encourage people to make sinful choices, but those temptations can be avoided and better choices made. It’s really never a good idea for your children to try and determine their value based on the behaviors or attributes of others. The standard should always be that set by God – and God loves them even when they struggle.
While many gifts/strengths can also be used to help earn a living for the people who have them, financial gain, fame or power should never be the primary goal. God gives us gifts to use in service to Him. Some gifts can also be used to earn a living. For some people, like for many of those with the gift of teaching, the two can be combined and they can earn a living using their gift, while their career is also their ministry. Encourage your children to think about using their gifts to serve God first, then explore whether or not those gifts can also be used in a future career.
As gifts/strengths are identified, the focus should be on developing them to their full potential and using them to serve God. Even a child born with an obvious gift needs help developing it fully. Mozart had to be taught how to capture the tunes he heard in his head and write them as sheet music others could play. Arrogance often takes root in the hearts of those who believe they have nothing to learn from others in their area of giftedness. Likewise, your kids will need help finding ways to use their gifts to serve God. This may require creativity for some gifts, but if God gave the gift, He must know there is a need for it somewhere.
Most gifts/strengths are best used to serve God outside of the church building. Too many hours have been wasted with people arguing about whose gifts get to be on display in front of the congregation. Often though, the most impact on the world for God comes from those using their gifts to serve God outside of the confines of the church building.
Encourage godly self esteem – a realistic understanding of both strengths and weaknesses. Your children should be humble about their strengths, but not so humble they “bury their talent” like the man in the parable. Likewise, they shouldn’t become so focused on correcting their weaknesses that they fail to see their strengths that could be developed and used to serve God.
Helping your children navigate their strengths and weaknesses isn’t necessarily a quick or easy process. Done well though, it will make living the Christian life much easier for them.
Summer is just around the corner and you have probably noticed a few parenting experts who are promoting allowing your children to be bored this summer. You understand it’s in their best interest, but it sounds like a formula for disaster. Isn’t it ultimately in their best interest to keep them in structured activities to keep them out of trouble?
Boredom gives children and teens room to rest, to be creative, to process everything they have been learning, to think about big ideas like God and Christianity, to discover their gifts and passions, to read, to study scripture, to pray and more. Your kids need a break from being over scheduled. Their lives will not be ruined by taking off one summer from structured activities. Thankfully, you can add just a bit of structure to their summer of boredom to keep them engaged in positive activities and out of trouble.
Here are some guidelines for your summer of boredom. (Note: If you and your spouse work full time, you can give these instructions to an in-home care giver or do these things at night, on weekends or on your vacation.)
Severely limit phone and screen time. This will be the hardest part if they are addicted. It will take two weeks of possibly miserable detox until they accept it. Phones should be used for no more than an hour a day. (If parents also detox it works better.) Admit it will be tough, but that it is in their best interest.
Set parameters. Do you want them to stay on your property? Do they need to go to bed by a certain time? What types of things to they need to ask your permission to do?
Make a family bucket list for the summer. What are some things you want to do as a family this summer? Aim for at least one ”adventure” a week. These can be free, but should be done as a family. (Don’t forget things like “pj day” “breakfast for supper” and other classics!)
Record a list of all of the fun things your kids can do. Don’t get too specific. For example, write down “art” rather than a very specific art project. If they really struggle, you can print off lists of art project or other ideas that contain numerous ideas from which they can choose.
Provide needed items. Your kids aren’t going to read if they don’t have access to interesting books or do art if they can’t find the supplies around your house. You don’t have to spend a ton of money (the public library has tons of books), but boredom summers often fail because the kids don’t have access to what they need to do something more productive.
Be available and engaged. Creativity means they may need questions answered or advice. Encourage them to problem solve by asking questions to guide them rather than merely telling them what to do. If you don’t get aggravated every time they want to engage with you, you may also find your relationship is strengthened.
Encourage daily or weekly service to others. This can be done individually and/or as a family. Our website has dozens of great service project ideas. http://teachonereachone.org/activity-ideas/
Encourage Bible study and prayer. Once again, this can be done independently or as a family. If you expect them to study on their own, help them choose a prepared study for their age group to help.
Encourage learning a new skill. Maybe they want you to teach them to cook their favorite dishes. Or you need to teach them how to do laundry or change a tire. Lots of craft and hobby stores have short term lessons for kids and teens.
Allow naps and occasional movie watching. Your kids are probably sleep deprived. Even if they won’t nap, on an extremely hot or rainy afternoon a movie online can force them to rest a bit. (Try to limit movies to no more than once every week or so.)
Encourage time outdoors exercising. Some kids are indoor kids and would never go outside and exercise if they could. Their moods and health will be better if they spend a lot of time outdoors and play or even walk or swim. They can even take their books and activities outside if it’s possible in your neighborhood.
Allow day dreaming. Staring at the clouds or stars has a purpose. It provides peace and quiet for processing, thinking, dreaming. Give your kids that gift.
Encourage them to entertain friends. Hospitality is a key element of families who raise active, productive Christians. Help them plan the activities they will do with their friends when they come over. Don’t forget old classics like board games when it gets super hot or rainy.
Make a chore jar. Experienced moms know that nothing cures boredom like a chore. If they whine or break the parameters or rules, allow them the privilege of choosing a job from the jar. These tasks should be above and beyond their normal chores and just annoying enough to encourage them to do something other than whine so they won’t have to choose from the chore jar!
Give your kids the gift of boredom this summer. Just structure it a bit so it makes this your best summer ever!
When we were exploring the idea of homeschooling our daughter, I did a lot of research. There are as many types of homeschoolers as there are parents. As a card carrying overachiever, I was floored by the families who had working farms, ground the flour for their home baked bread and educated children who went on to earn college degrees at young ages. Many of these families were also Christian and appeared to have children who were living their faith.
While I have yet to grind my own flour when I bake bread several times a year (versus weekly for those super homeschoolers), I did adopt a few of their secrets of success. One of them was having a plan and following the plan. Their plans weren’t necessarily rigid, but they knew without one their children would miss learning crucial material.
Over the years, I began thinking about the idea of planning. I worked with our daughter to develop a plan for all of the things she wanted to learn how to cook and all of the life skills she needed to learn before leaving for college and we slowly worked through the list over time. Why don’t we have a similar plan for the spiritual education of our children? The very rare church may have one, but most will just point to their curriculum scope and sequence. I don’t know that I have ever met a parent that developed one (although I am sure someone has).
With a degree in education, I often have master educational plans floating around my brain. I don’t know why I didn’t capture a spiritual education plan for our daughter, but thankfully with lots of time and intentionality, I believe we eventually gave her a strong faith foundation. Would we have been more thorough and effective if we had a more formal plan? I think if we weren’t too rigid, it might have helped.
So what should be in your child’s spiritual education plan? What Bible stories should they know? How will they develop spiritual disciplines like independent Bible study and prayer? What scriptures will they memorize? What godly character traits should they be mastering? How do you plan to help them identify, develop and use the gifts God gave them to serve Him? What else do you want to make sure they are actively taught about God and living the Christian life?
The spiritual education of your children is eternally important. It needs some serious time, attention and planning. If you put more effort into planning your children’s baseball or dance careers or preparing them for college than you do into their spiritual education, don’t be surprised if their faith foundation crumbles.
Over the years, I have noticed that sermons and Bible classes discussing serving others and sharing our faith tend to go one of two ways. Either they are extremely general in nature or (if it’s a class specifically for kids or teens) it focuses on doing little basic things around the home or school. As a result, kids and teens often get more specific ideas and encouragement about ways to serve others from secular sources. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing except that they begin to believe serving others happens more in a secular environment and they don’t learn the importance of connecting sharing their faith to service (or how to do it).
You may not be able to change this dynamic in your church very easily, but you can do some things with your own kids to help them learn about some of the many ways Christians serve others and share their faith around the world. This more specific knowledge can help them begin dreaming about how they can serve God and share their faith using their own talents and opportunities – now and in the future as adults.
Here are a few ways to expose your kids to more specific ideas of ways to serve God, while sharing their faith.
Invite people to share their stories with your kids. Since hospitality has been shown to be a key ingredient in successful Christian parenting, get even more benefits by inviting over people who serve God and share their faith. Encourage them to share their stories with your kids. What are they doing? How did they get involved in those ways? What skills and knowledge did they need to be effective?
Share books, articles and social media posts with your kids. Many people in ministry share their stories in a variety of ways. Follow lots of different people to get a taste of a variety of experiences. In my own ministry, for example, I would have never mentioned ministering to children who have been through a war. Then this year, a war broke out in a country where I do quite a bit if ministry work. I had a steep learning curve about ministering effectively to young people who have lived through a war. I also shared what I learned with others through my ministry. Your teens could have read the ebook that resulted and learned about what would be involved in helping children of war (who are often underserved around the world). While they might not be ready to do much yet, it can plant a seed either for more skills they want to learn or for ministry they hope to do in the future.
Explore secular non profits and discuss ways to adapt them so they would also include faith sharing. Secular non profits do some great things. They just don’t include the faith sharing piece God wants us to include in everything we do. Explore with your kids what different non profits are doing. How could a few things be changed to point those they are helping to God? (Note: For teens, the discussion should include funding. Many Christian groups become secular because access to government funds is often restricted if Jesus is mentioned. How could they find funding and still share their faith?)
Encourage dreaming, brainstorming and experimenting. Your kids need time to dream these godly dreams. Encourage them to brainstorm ways to solve the problems they see in the world around them by serving others and sharing their faith. Allow them to take some first steps towards something that interests them. Look at ”failure” as a learning experience. Not every idea will work, but sometimes what they learn from their mistakes leads to an idea that will work well.
Encourage shadowing, mentoring and apprenticeships. Do your kids seems particularly interested in a specific area? Is there a Christian doing those things that would allow your child to shadow him or her for a day or a project? Would they be willing to mentor your child? What about an apprenticeship where your child will be providing actual help on a ministry project? Encourage your kids to learn as much as they can and think of ways to make the ministry even more effective. Even if that ministry doesn’t like the ideas, they may be useful to your child in the future.
Don’t raise kids who have no specific ideas of ways they can serve others or share their faith. Or kids who think doing an occasional extra chore around the house or being kind to someone at school fulfills God’s commands for them to serve others and share their faith. Help them be prepared to fully serve God every day of their lives.