This is probably one of the most common questions I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids.
Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate versus just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?
This is what we do in our home. I am not saying it is for everyone, but we are supportive of it as a practice by conviction and experience. Our children range from 20 months to almost 16. There is quite a variety.
I’ll hit this from two angles, family and personal devotions.
Family Devotions: As a family, we work through books of the Bible. We typically do this after dinner in the evening. I read a section of Scripture and talk about it as we go. I weave in questions and application. I require everyone to participate and help the younger ones to do so.
We are also going through The Heidelberg Catechism to help provide a firm theological understanding.
Personal or Private Devotions: Once the kids are able to read, we require them to read their Bibles, journal and pray.
In the morning, our older children get up, take care of their chores and hygiene and then sit down to do their devotions. We ask them to think through the implications of the passage, journal the main idea, confess sin, connect the passage to the gospel and pray for grace-filled obedience. They can expect questions about what they’ve read, not always, but often.
One objection to mandating Bible reading is that it may discourage the children who don’t believe.
First, I want to remember that I am responsible for my children. I am a steward of them. I want to do everything I can in my power to see them become faithful Christians. I understand that the way people become Christians and then grow to maturity is through the word of God (Rom. 1.16; 10.17; John 17.17). Therefore, I want to expose them as much as I can to the Bible. We do this as a family and then in their individual time. So, instead of discouraging them, if God is gracious, the exposure to the Bible will actually encourage them. It will be the means of opening eyes and hearts to believe.
Second, I want to remember that our home is a Christian home. While living here does not make you a Christian, it does mean that the home is going to reflect traditional Christian values and practices. Therefore, we are going to read, pray, sing, and talk about Christ and his word. I should never feel bad or discouraged about this. It is part of being a Christian.
There are some acknowledged potential pitfalls to this type of devotional mandate.
The kids might mistakenly think that their righteousness is merited by doing these things. They have to understand the purpose and context of the gospel (Phil. 3.1-9). This is incumbent upon the parents, particularly Dads.
Also, they might fall into the trap of disconnecting their hearts from the discipline and merely producing mechanical obedience. Again, the answer to this is the continual restating of the gospel by the parents. This trap is not limited to kids (read Isaiah 1).
After seeing this in place for several years now, I can say that the kids have become more hungry for the Bible. The more they are exposed to it, the more hungry they seem to become. They are reading and learning their Bibles. Of course it is always difficult with kids to have a perfect read on them, however, the mandated Bible reading seems to have had a positive impact on them. They are not just learning the Bible, they seem to actually have come to love it.
I should also note that this is not a pragmatic formula. It is not a “Christian in a Box” just-add-water recipe. If there is true love for Christ and his Word, I know that has come through the work of God the Holy Spirit. But I am also reminded that God uses means. This encourages me to persevere and continue being intentional with their exposure to the Bible. At the end of the day, if there is a Christian on the right of the equal sign, it is because the Spirit of God and the word of God are on the left of it.