‘Taking our Children to Church: Is that Enough?
About the Guest
FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, talks today with pastor Jim Elliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide, about finding ways to impart the gospel into a child's life through singing hymns, pictures, and family worship.
FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, talks today with pastor Jim Elliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide, about finding ways to impart the gospel into a child’s life through singing hymns, pictures, and family worship.
‘Taking our Children to Church: Is that Enough?
Jim: The Scripture in 2 Timothy, chapter 3 – it says "You must continue in the things, which you have learned and been assured of," in verse 14, "knowing from whom you have learned them." And then it goes on to say this – "And that, from childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures." We must, in other words, teach the Scriptures to our children.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 7th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Even with children, faith does come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We are talking this week about how children come to faith in Christ and what we can do, as parents, to make sure they're exposed to the Gospel and then to lead them to a place where God might actually do a transforming work in their own hearts and in their own lives, and they might embrace their faith as their own.
And helping us through that this week is our friend, Jim Elliff.
Dennis: Jim, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jim: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Today we want to talk about how we teach the Gospel to our kids and how we lead them to Christ in a formal fashion by really helping them understand the Gospel.
Jim: Let me read a piece of doggerel, all right? Listen to this …
Dennis: A piece of what?
Jim: Doggerel, that means bad poetry. I didn't write this, but listen to it.
Dennis: I'm sorry, I'd never heard that term before. It was apparent that Bob had.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: You had?
Bob: I've been with the dogs myself, yes.
Dennis: I used to read that kind of poetry when I was a kid.
Jim: Here is the way it goes –
"On the table, side-by-side,
The Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
One is well-worn, but cherished with pride
Not the Bible, but the TV Guide.
One is used daily to help folk decide,
No, it isn't the Bible, it's the TV Guide.
As pages are turned, what shall they see?
Oh, what does it matter, turn on the TV.
Then confusion reigns, they can't all agree
On what they shall watch on the old TV
So they open the book in which they confide
No, not the Bible, it's the TV Guide.
The Word of God is seldom read,
Maybe a verse ere they fall into bed
Exhausted and sleepy and tired as can be
Not from reading the Bible but from watching TV.
So then back to the table, side by side
Is the Holy Bible and the TV Guide
No time for prayer, no time for the Word
The plan of salvation is seldom heard.
Forgiveness of sin so full and free
Is found in the Bible not the TV."
Dennis: You know, as you were reading that, I was thinking there's probably a parent going, "Ouch."
Jim: Did you know, Dennis, the – sometime ago – and Bob – I checked on the Nielsen ratings for TV viewing and found that the average American watches 29.5 hours a week of television. That's a little over 11 – something like 11.5 years of solid 24-hour days in a 70-year lifespan.
And so we are finding that television, unfortunately, has become the shaping influence for our families, and we just have to come to grips with something that we are lazily letting these influences such as the television dominate the home life. It also gives us an awful perception of being busy when we're really not as busy as we think we are. We clutter our day with this noise box that is giving us all of this kind of misinformation about life.
We need the truth, and that's found in the Scripture.
Dennis: I heard you taking a pretty careful aim at television. You're really saying here that we're in a game competing for the minds of our children, and if we passively go along with where the culture is taking our children, we're going to lose the game because the world will indoctrinate them through the box.
Dennis: But we've got to indoctrinate them from the Book.
Jim: That's right. It's like swimming upstream. We've got to make some choices, it's going to be costly, but we have to make these choices. Some years ago when I pastured a church, I realized that one hour, two hours a week, of church instruction was not nearly enough to take care of the needs of the people.
Dennis: Now, wait a second. Now, you really believe that? You're a pastor, and you believe that?
Jim: Absolutely, I believe it. Let me tell you what George Whitfield of The Great Awakening days said. You know, he was the great leader who put one foot in England and one foot in the United States and so many thousands were converted through his ministry in the mid-1700s.
He said, "I believe we must forever despair of seeing a primitive spirit of piety revived in the world until we are happy to see a revival of primitive family religion." It has to take place in the home. Unless it's going on on a regular basis in the home, we simply will not recover the ground that we've been losing so rapidly.
Bob: That's the stuff of family reformation.
Dennis: It is. It's individual moms and dads, first of all, paying attention to their own spiritual well being in what they're watching, what they're allowing to come into their minds, and then, secondly, really taking the admonitions of Scripture, which command us to pass down the truth of God's Word from generation to generation.
And if a family reformation is going to occur, I believe, Jim, what you've just read is a description of how it will occur – in pockets. Moms and dads getting committed saying, "We're going to do this. You know what? We're going to start reading the Bible, if not every day to our kids before breakfast, find some kind of family time just to establish a beachhead." And I'm not suggesting, by the way, of lowering the standard not reading it every day. I just know, for some families, they're not achieving that, so find some way to succeed on some level and recoup the territory that we're losing here.
Jim: That's right. Don't give up without a fight.
Dennis: That's right.
Jim: You know, there's a history to this. As you study the history of revival, which has been one of my studies through the years, I find consistently that when revival comes, and sometimes precipitating the revival, is recovery of family worship. Whether you're talking about the Reformation, whether you're talking about the Second Dutch Reformation, the Pietistic Movement in Germany, the Puritan Revival, the Great Awakening in our country, the rise of Methodism simultaneously, the Isle of Lewis off of Scotland in the '50s, and so forth. They've had many revivals.
But you find consistently this thread – family worship. The Gospel is being conveyed through family worship.
The Puritans, by the way, used to talk about the family as a little church. The dad was the pastor and the preacher, and he taught the family the Gospel.
Bob: You know, there are a lot of dads who just head you say that, and they say, "That counts me out. I am not a preacher."
Dennis: "I'm not a theologian."
Bob: Yeah, "I feel very inadequate to do the kinds of things that you're talking about me doing in my home."
Jim: But the problem is, he is a preacher. He's just not preaching the right thing.
Bob: What does biblical instruction look like at the Elliff home?
Jim: Well, it looks like a lot of things, but the main thing, I think, is this emphasis on a daily time in the Word of God. Personally, I like just opening the Bible. We read through, at this stage in our children's lives, the more narrative sections of the Bible.
I might suggest to the people listening, for instance, that they begin with the Book of Mark – short chapters, a lot of action, and they read a chapter of Scripture together, pray together, and then we like to learn hymns together.
Bob: Let me ask you, because we're talking about biblical instruction in the context of seeing our children come into a saving knowledge of Christ. I assume that some of this biblical instruction is going on with unconverted children.
Jim: Absolutely. It is the way of bringing the Gospel to children, I think – the most effective way. I find it almost impossible not to find some Gospel statement that can come out of the Scriptures that I read. It just is glaringly there, and so I'm always using it.
You know, if you're burdened about your children, you're going to find a way to speak about it some way. And as you're reading the Scriptures, this is the most fruitful material that you can have to explain the Gospel.
Dennis: Let's just test you out here, Jim. Let's read the 23rd Psalm. How would you turn that to the Gospel? "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul, He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
Jim: Yes, I think the way you use that passage of Scripture could be varied, of course, but right in the very first line – "The Lord is my shepherd," but He's not everybody's shepherd. And so I could describe the sheep that are His, the goats that are not His, if you know how the Scripture speaks, and I could make some clear statements about the Gospel right there.
Dennis: So you're using all the reading of Scripture to reinforce who God is and our relationship to Him and how we need His Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins?
Jim: It's always on my lips, always. It's simply because I'm so overcome with the need of my children coming to Christ, and that prompts me to use every available means to talk to them.
Bob: And, Dennis, I think that's something that we, as parents, dare not miss here. A part of the reason that Jim is so focused on this subject of childhood conversion is, as he said, it's a burden on his heart. I'm not sure that we can necessarily manufacture that burden or whip it up. It's got to be something that the Lord impresses on our heart.
Dennis: Yeah, and, Bob, I was thinking, as Jim was sharing, too, I think it's something that's contagious, that perhaps parents need to be infected with, and I think perhaps God has put this on Jim's heart to challenge the rest of us to really seriously consider this spiritual mandate, this spiritual responsibility, this spiritual burden we're supposed to carry on behalf of our children.
Because I think parents are having children today, and the Christian community is not equipping parents in how to introduce their kids to God. We are not helping parents know how to do this.
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: And we really need to spend the time like we are here on these broadcasts really giving parents practical tools. Now, I know one of the things you do is, you read "Pilgrim's Progress" and all kinds of variations of that great story to your children.
Jim: That's right, and outside of Scripture, I know nothing like "Pilgrim's Progress." Nothing brings out all the ins and outs of what it means to be a Christian and to persevere, to have persevering faith right to the end, like the book, "Pilgrim's Progress," by John Bunyan.
Dennis: Some of our listeners may not be familiar with that book. Explain quickly what it's all about.
Jim: Well, John Bunyan wrote this while he was in the Bedford Jail about 350 years ago, and it is a depiction of a man that is called Christian and his process of conviction and coming to the cross in a very colorful lively format, a story form, all the way through to the Celestial City.
And he encounters, of course, Appollyon – various encounters, really, with the enemy – various byways and paths, which would be deceptive, but it shows how God keeps him ultimately on the path and how he enters into the Celestial City.
Bob: You know, I've gotten my copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" at home, and 350 years, the language has changed a little bit. It's hard for me, as an adult, to read much less to read to my kids.
Jim: Well, interestingly enough, I think we mentioned this yesterday, kids used to speak in Elizabethan English, which means that …
Dennis: So you're suggesting we teach them that as we go along.
Jim: Let me give you a little sideline. I think my children have learned language much better for having studied "Pilgrim's Progress." They're not intimidated by words. They've learned a lot through that. And then the words give us an opportunity to explain.
But let me just say that we came on "Pilgrim's Progress" in an easy way. We first began with a book called "Dangerous Journey," which is a restatement of "Pilgrim's Progress," with the most vivid pictures you can possibly imagine. It's a large book, kind of a tabletop book …
Dennis: Written for younger children?
Jim: Yes, it's really just the language of "Pilgrim's Progress." It's hard to say if it's written just for children, but it is certainly reduced and simplified in the storyline in that it's selective.
But it does use the Elizabethan language. We find that inviting. It's not a problem at all. Here's the reason it's not a problem – it's because the story is so alive that it carries the language right along. They are learning what the language means by the story itself. Do you see what I'm saying?
Bob: I do. We've had the same experiences. We've read "The Chronicles of Narnia" to our kids, which has a very British feel to it, but the story, as you said, is so engaging that some of the British colloquialisms are easy to read through.
Jim: It sometimes causes your children to act a little strange, though. I remember my children back in the backyard one day, and they each had a stick, and they were swordfighting, and I heard one of them cry out, "Take that, thou foul fiend."
So they might be a little different than the neighborhood kids, but we began with this book. And then we found it on videotape as well. I think there are nine 15-minute segments in just kind of a redo of the "Dangerous Journey" book but very well done.
And then we found it on audiotape. And I remember my son at five years of age listening for a solid two hours of Elizabethan English on audiotape and just in rapt attention. He had hardly moved.
Dennis: We've posed the question to you – how do we introduce our kids to Christ? And you shared with us on yesterday's broadcast that we do that through our lives – we impart the Gospel through our own lives. And today we've talked about how you use books, how you use hymns, the reading of the Bible, videos, audios, anything else?
Jim: One of the things, which we've enjoyed, is the use of catechisms. Catechism is a good word. It is used by many denominations. In the past, the churches would always have their own catechism, which they would adopt and teach their families.
Dennis: Now, you've got one there in your hands. What's that one?
Jim: Yes, this is one we've reproduced – the "Tract Primer." It's actually from the American Bible Society – probably 150-year-old reprint. It contains several catechisms – a one-word catechism, for instance – "Who is the first man?" "Adam." "Who is the first woman?" "Eve," and so forth.
And then Dr. Isaac Watts' First Catechism, which is one of my favorites. Could I just read a few of these to let you hear the flavor of this and how it teaches you the truth of the Word of God.
Here, for instance, is one question – "Can you tell me, child, who made you?" The answer is "The great God who made heaven and earth." Then you go on down a ways, he says, "What if you do not fear God nor love Him nor seek to please Him?" The answer is, "Then I shall be a wicked child, and the great God will be very angry with me."
Now, you know, that's an important piece of theology, which we have bypassed in our day. The Bible speaks of the anger, the wrath, the fury, the terror of the Lord, but today we've got kind of a Santa Claus God who sits up there and loves everyone. But I think we have to ask some questions about that whole idea of God.
Dennis: Unfortunately, you're right. We are such a user-friendly culture in our messages, how would you use this catechism with your children? Around the dinner table, reading it to them and having them respond?
Jim: Yes, that's a wonderful way to do it. If you can use it at night before they go to bed or just some special, regular time, I think that's a great way to use the catechism. And then you can adopt different catechisms for different ages, or you can simplify as the need might be.
Bob: In Puritan days, children would memorize lengthy catechisms.
Jim: Oh, absolutely so. Lengthy catechisms and the adults would, as well. And the pastors would check them out to see if they're doing their job.
Bob: So maybe if we're going to read these to our kids, there's a call to us, too, as parents, Dennis, that we need to get involved in understanding the truth of these catechisms.
Dennis: Absolutely. In fact, I was thinking about Jim exhorting us to read these at bedtime. I remember, when our kids were smaller, they would do anything to keep from going to sleep.
Jim: That's it, yeah.
Dennis: And I would use that opportunity many times to instruct my kids about God, because they were wanting to stay up, and they would listen. And so we could tell stories that I made up. I know you tell missionary stories to your kids that you make up.
Jim: It's been one of our ways in the past days to just tell stories about going and presenting the Gospel to natives in some faraway country – going down the river in the canoe, and Benjamin and Brian and Laura are there, and we have a bunch of Bibles that we're going to give out, and a little native sticks his head out of a coconut tree someplace, and …
Dennis: You tell about this bravery.
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: How you were leading them into the jungle to present the Gospel.
Jim: That's right, and they get right into it. In fact, they're suggesting the storyline as we go, and we have a great time with it.
Dennis: Well, you know, the thing I like about what Jim is doing here, Bob, is he is giving us not merely a burden to present the Gospel but also some very practical ways and tools to be able to do that.
Bob: Yeah, in fact, I've been to your website, and you've got some of the resources we've talked about today on your website. We've got a link to your website at FamilyLife.com, and any of our listeners who come and click that red button that says "Go" in the middle of the home page, that will take them to a page where there's a link to your website, and they can look there for some of the things we've talked about here today.
Also, when you click that "Go" button on the page we take you to, you'll find information about the DVD of "The Dangerous Journey," which is "Pilgrim's Progress" in video form, which is, again, another great tool that families can use to help young children understand the story of the Gospel. It's the Gospel in story form. And this DVD is something that I would say children ages 4 through 10, 11, will be interested in.
There's information about it on our website at FamilyLife.com along with other resources that are available from us on this subject of how children come to faith in Christ including a book by Ray Comfort called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ and Keep Them There." A book that you and your wife, Barbara, wrote, Dennis, called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family."
So there's a lot of information on our website and then a link to Jim's website for more information. We want to equip parents with resources about what is, I think, our most important assignment as dads and as moms, and that is that we clearly communicate the Gospel to our children. Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go." That will take you right to the page where there is more information about all of these resources, and there's a link to Jim's website.
Or call us, if you'd like, at 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team can let you know how you can get these resources sent to you, and if you have any questions about any of the books or other resources, they can answer those questions for you as well.
One other tool I want to mention that we've used for years here at FamilyLife, as a way to present the story of Easter and the message of the Gospel to children is a resource called Resurrection Eggs, a dozen plastic eggs, each one of them containing a different symbol that represents something that happened to Jesus in the last week of His life on earth, and, as you open each egg and pull out that symbol, you are able to tell children the Easter story all the way from the Garden of Gethsemane through to the empty tomb.
Over the years, many of our listeners have acquired a set of these Resurrection Eggs either from us or by going to Family Christian Stores, your local Christian bookstore, Wal-Mart, someplace like that. This year we want to ask you to be a part of the distribution network for Resurrection Eggs.
We've made arrangements with our friends at Here's Life Inner City to get sets of Resurrection Eggs into the hands of children who live in the inner city – children who might not otherwise have a chance to hear the Gospel. And, at the same time, we'd like you to join with us and get these Resurrection Eggs into the hands of friends or neighbors or co-workers, people in your neighborhood.
So here's how we're doing that – when you make a donation to FamilyLife this month, a donation of any amount, we will send you a set of Resurrection Eggs. You can either use that with your family or pass it along to someone you know, and we're hoping that might be a family that doesn't go to church regularly; may not have heard the Gospel message and, at the same time, we will make sure a set of Resurrection Eggs gets handed out to a child in the inner city as an Easter gift through the ministry of Here's Life Inner City.
So, again, when you make a donation of any amount, we'll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs, and we'll make sure a child in the inner city gets a set of these eggs. And here's what you can do to help make that happen. Go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the button on the left side that says "Donate," and as you fill out your donation form online, just type the word "Eggs" in the keycode box or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and just mention that you'd like to take part in giving a set of eggs yourself and making sure a set gets given to a child in the inner city.
We appreciate your partnership with us on that, and we look forward to lots of kids hearing the Gospel this Easter as a result of this initiative. Dennis?
Dennis: Well, I kind of like what Jim's talked about on the broadcast. We really talked about some helpful tools and how to present the Gospel to our children and, Jim, you mentioned earlier in the broadcast how you used hymns during your family times. What does that consist of?
Jim: Well, Dennis, there's a whole generation of children coming up who don't know the great hymns of the faith. These hymns convey the Gospel. Martin Luther realized that the people were not learning the doctrines of the Reformation, and so he decided to put them in hymn form, and the people learned these doctrines where those hymns were sung. I like hymns because they give so much content, and we've memorized a number of hymns. In fact, I give a dollar to my children every time they memorize a hymn. I learned that from Charles Spurgeon, who got, I think, a shilling for every hymn that he memorized.
Just recently, we learned, for instance, the hymn "Whiter Than Snow," and it goes like this, just the first line – "Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole. I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe, now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." That preaches the Gospel.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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