Should Your Kids Be Educated Like Jesus?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around Christian circles about how children were perceived, educated and involved in spiritual life during the time of Jesus and in the early Church. Often this misinformation is based on writers who didn’t thoroughly research the topic or didn’t have access to primary source documents and then that incomplete or inaccurate information used as an excuse for the often subpar spiritual education provided by Churches (i.e. “It’s the parents’ responsibility, not the Church’s, to provide quality spiritual education for children. It wasn’t provided during Bible times, so why do we need to provide it now? It’s not an issue if young people aren’t really learning anything in our Bible classes.”)

The reality of spiritual education for Jesus and other Jewish children during his childhood and for the children of early Christians was more nuanced. The reality of spiritual education in those times does not in any way remove the responsibility of the Christian community found in the Church to assist parents by providing quality spiritual training for children. This post may be a bit more academic than most of our posts, but if you want to engage in meaningful conversations on the topic, you need to be armed with some helpful background information.

First, those who dismiss or minimize the need for quality religious instruction in ministry settings are at least partially correct. In the early Old Testament times, parents were the primary source of spiritual education. In fact, parents did not view childhood as a time to focus on play, but rather on preparing for adulthood both spiritually and in the roles their children would play as adults.

Parents actively taught their children the scriptures, gave them correction when they disobeyed or showed character that was not what God would want and modeled the life God wanted them to live. They also used the various Feasts in the Bible as interactive ways to review important Bible stories, commands and principles. Children were also expected to sit and listen whenever the priests read the Law to the people.

Things changed when the Jews were taken into captivity and again when they returned. The synagogues began during captivity to replace at least some of the functions of the destroyed Temple. They were kept upon the people’s return to Israel and it seems every village had its own synagogue that was used for worship and as a school for children.

Synagogues were tasked with keeping the people on track spiritually through teaching and other activities. This included helping the parents educate their children. In 75 B.C.E. elementary education was declared compulsory, so Jesus, like all of the other Jewish children of his time would have attended school at the local synagogue. There is some debate about how much education girls were given, with the general consensus that primarily boys attended the synagogue schools, but girls were often homeschooled with a similar curriculum.

The teachers used what we call the Old Testament as the only textbook. Children began attending school at about the same age as children today. They were taught to read using the Bible and were tasked with memorizing large portions of scripture including Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41, Psalms 113-118 (chapters), the first several chapters of Genesis and the essence of Leviticus/the Law. They also each had to memorize a portion of scripture that was determined by the child’s name and contained about twenty verses. They of course were also taught what the scriptures meant and how to live them in their lives.

There were two basic types of synagogue schools in the time of Jesus. The one Jesus attended focused more on the spiritual teachings of the Law and the Prophets rather than the many oral traditions that had developed over the years. Children were also taught mathematics, astronomy and the natural sciences, which they somehow related back to the scriptures. There is thought that the science lessons were actually based on writings of Solomon that are no longer available, although I couldn’t find any actual evidence those existed and were used in synagogue schools.

In the afternoon, children went home to learn a trade they would ply as adults. This means about four hours a day were spent in active religious instruction in addition to what the parents taught and reinforced at home. This amount of time is interesting, because recent research is finding kids who are engaged in about 15-20 hours a week spiritually (including independent engagement in spiritual disciplines, worship and conversations about God) were more likely to be active, productive Christians as adults than children who spent much less time engaged in spiritual pursuits as children.

The early Christians must have realized the necessity of controlling their children’s education fairly early. After the split with Judaism and the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity, the synagogue schools would have no longer been an option. Not enough research has been done on the topic, but the little that has been done suggests an early mix of education for children raised in Christian homes.

Many children who were not Jewish had been attending secular Roman schools. Some parents initially left their children in those schools and supplemented with religious instruction at home. Unfortunately, Roman schools also taught Roman morals and the Roman religion which did not align with Christianity. As a result, it appears many Christians began homeschooling their children. As the persecution of Christians began to die down, the first Christian schools emerged to help parents.

Spiritual education for children was a top priority for the Jews and the early Christians. In fact, the Talmud says, “The world is preserved by the breath of children in the schools.” The Talmud also says, “Jerusalem was destroyed because the education of children was neglected.” It’s important to remember the goal of education was spiritual – not secular – even though some secular topics were taught. The writers of the Talmud realized, the moment they stopped doing their very best to teach their children what God wanted them to know, was also the moment everything fell apart. If we look at the world around us and the Church at large, we may be seeing the same dynamic at play. It’s past time to make the spiritual education of our children our number one priority.

Encouraging Your Kids’ Godly Dreams

Parents will often tell their kids that they can do anything they put their minds to do. The implication being that with enough hard work, anything is possible. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Other factors can prevent your kids from achieving their dreams, but were those the right dreams anyway?

The Bible tells us God has good works planned for each of us to do. It also tells us that He loves us enough to know the number of hairs on our heads! I doubt even the most loving mother could tell you the number of hairs on the heads of each of her kids, but she still has plans and dreams for them. It only makes sense that God cares about more details in our lives than we often give Him credit for having.

God has specific plans He would like for each of your kids to follow. Obviously, becoming a Christian is one of those plans. Obeying His commands is another. Serving others and sharing their faith would also fall under plans God has for your kids. There is a reason though, all of your kids are at least a bit different – with different gifts, talents, interests and passions. They were hard wired by God to be able to do the good works He has planned for them to do. Some of those good works will overlap with where they attend school, live or the careers they choose.

So why don’t Christian parents tell their kids they can do anything if it’s in God’s plans for their lives? Why aren’t we spending more time helping them discover their gifts and passions and helping them match those up with potential careers? Why aren’t we spending more time teaching them about vocational ministry – finding ways to serve others, share their faith and be a light in the world while at work, school or even home? Why aren’t we equipping them to discern God’s plans for their lives, so it will be easier to follow them?

Instead, parents often either micromanage their kids’ choices or encourage them to think almost selfishly…focusing on plans that will make them happy. Christian parents need to spend more time teaching our kids how to focus on being more holy. Happiness may or may not come with holiness, but joy always does. We need to teach our kids how to dream godly dreams. Dreams the Holy Spirit is perhaps placing on their hearts for ways to minister to others. It may be through their career or in their time outside of the job…hopefully, both.

“You can do anything” may be encouraging your kids to do what they want to do – whether or not it is in God’s plans for their lives. It encourages them to make major life decisions by bringing God into them late in the process – if at all. It encourages them to perhaps even push past walls God has set up to protect them from that choice. If you have been telling your kids they can do anything, try switching the dialogue. Point them to including God and following the plans He has for their lives. Everyone will benefit from the change.

Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids Christian Life Skills

Christian life skills are the skill sets your kids will need to more easily do the things God wants them to do. Historically, we have taught young people God’s commands. We may have even explained what those commands “look like” when lived out in the life of a Christian. What we often fail to do, however, is to take the time to teach our kids how to do those things.

For example, you might teach your kids about how God wants them to handle conflict. You might talk about loving your enemies, forgiveness and avoiding violence. Your kids might embrace the idea of godly conflict resolution. Until the next day, when you allow your kids to work through a sibling conflict without intervention. Suddenly, they are yelling, calling each other names and hitting each other. Why? Because the Christian life skill wasn’t taught and practiced.

What if you had taken a little extra time and taught them the actual steps to resolving a conflict in godly ways? Then found fun ways to help them practice it? What if the next day when voices began to rise, you made them stop in their tracks and practice the conflict resolution skills they had learned and practiced the day before? It may take a little more time and effort at the beginning, but soon your house should be become more peaceful. And you won’t have to worry about your kids causing an escalation in conflicts at school or work either.

Thankfully, there are a lot of fun ways to help your kids practice Christian life skills. Our website has dozens of free Christian life style lessons. Each lesson has a Bible lesson, suggestions for teaching the skill and ideas for fun ways to practice them. Originally designed for teens, this curriculum can also be slightly adapted for use with older children, too. With so many activity ideas, you should find plenty to help your kids develop strong Christian life skills.

What Is Your Child’s Godly Potential?

Christian parenting has one main goal – your descendants spend eternity in Heaven and help lots of others get there, too. Below that are two important goals that will help your kids reach the over encompassing one. The first is helping your kids build a strong, unshakeable faith foundation. The second is to help them reach their godly potential.

So what exactly is godly potential? It’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible as such, but there are quite a few scriptures that allude to it. Among the most familiar are perhaps Luke 12:48 (“To whom much is given…”) Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents) and 1 Corinthians 12 (Functions of members of the Church), but there are many others.

In short, God gives each of us – each of your kids – a slightly or vastly different potential in several areas. Our focus is not to be on who may have the “better” potential, for everyone has the potential to serve God. Rather it should be on developing and using our – or in this case, your kids’ – full potential to serve God.

So what are some of the components of your kids’ godly potential?

  • Gifts and talents. Spiritual gifts are often difficult to understand and apply to kids and teens. Instead, focus on the more concrete talents with which God has blessed them. As your kids develop and use these gifts to serve God, the spiritual gifts will most likely become more evident. Don’t just focus on obvious talents like artistic ability or public speaking. Your kids’ may have gifts like organizational skills, the ability to easily engage people in conversation or other talents we may not automatically connect to serving God, but which God can use.
  • Opportunities. God will give each of your kids different opportunities to serve Him. Some of those opportunities may be exciting, while others will seem more mundane. A few of the opportunities will involve all of your kids, but most will be specifically designed for each child and may vary greatly. All, however, are good works that God planned specifically for each of your kids to do in service to Him. And some of those opportunities will begin appearing when your kids are very young. Teaching them to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities God gives them to serve Him will give their lives meaning and purpose.
  • Knowledge, wisdom and discernment. In order to reach their godly potential, your kids will need to learn and understand what is in the Bible. They will also need to discern how to apply God’s wisdom to their lives. If your kids are in school, you are probably already aware that different kids have different capacities for learning, comprehension and application. God understands that, but He also expects each of your kids to do their very best to learn, understand and use the things He wants them to know.
  • Personality, character traits and resisting temptation. Each of your kids has a slightly or incredibly different personality. That personality can impact how much they struggle consistently having the character traits God wants them to have. Their personality can also impact which things tempt them and how difficult it is to resist certain temptations. This does not, however, mean any child is incapable of having the character traits God wants them to have or will be unable to resist temptation. It just means certain aspects may be more difficult for some of your kids than for others. Those who struggle need to be encouraged to continue working towards becoming who God wants them to be.

When you look at this list, what is the potential you see in each of your kids? Be careful to avoid underestimating their potential. Remember, they are still growing and changing. God may have many plans for them, but helping them build that strong faith foundation and developing to their full godly potential will help them be ready for whatever God has in store.

Kids, Free Play and God

If you were a child in the 1960’s your jobs were to go to school, do chores and play. There weren’t many expectations of participating in other activities until well into elementary school. Even then, it usually was an hour or two a week until your teen years in many cases.

Today’s kids live a very different life. They are in constant planned activities from infancy. There is very little if any time to just play like children used to play. Our kids are missing out on some of the benefits of free play that even teens used to regularly get. Some of those can also be impacting the spiritual lives of young people, too.

As the world gradually returns to normal, here are some reasons you should keep your kids’ schedules lighter and allow more time for free play. (Note: Free play does not include anything that involves a device.”

  • To show their hearts. Mr. Rogers once said,”Play allows us a safe distance as we work on what’s close to our hearts.” The free play your kids choose to engage in can tell you a lot about what is important to them. What is each of your kids’ favorite way to play? What does it reveal to you about what is important to them? Does it show a loving or an angry heart? They may never articulate the things their play reveals.
  • To try out new ideas. Play is a great way to safely test new ideas in a controlled environment. What happens when you build a tower of blocks and knock it over? How do others react when you are a grumpy store clerk when playing grocery store?
  • To better understand things or problem solve. Play is a great way to begin understanding things that are confusing or try out different solutions to problems. How is that toy put together? How can I fix it if it breaks? How would my “mommy” doll respond if I said different things to her?
  • Mimic what they see, hear and experience. Play therapists sometimes use play to encourage kids to open up about traumatic events they have experienced. In fact, if your child plays the same negative pretend game over and over, you may want to get professional help determining if your child has experienced a trauma of which you are unaware. On the other hand, how your kids play pretend games like “house” may give you an idea of how they interpret your marriage or your parenting. These may also be the qualities they carry into their future families.
  • Sharing their faith. Kids who love church often choose to “play” church. It’s a way for them to practice the various acts of worship and invite friends to share in that part of their world. It’s faith sharing in its purest, simplest form.
  • Gift discovery. Have a child whose toys are always organized? She might have the gift of organization. Kids often display an early aptitude that is actually a gift from God they can develop and use to serve God. If they appear to enjoy something and have an aptitude for it, consider providing things to help them to continue to explore and develop that potential gift.

What items do your kids need to get these benefits from play? The great news is that expensive toys are often the least helpful in providing benefits to children. Common objects like pots and pans, crayons and paper, sticks and rocks can give kids an opportunity to be truly creative in their play. And that’s when the benefits really begin to appear.