For me, it’s when I cry.
When I start to tear up, I know the moment I’m in with one of my children is hugely important in their theological education. This is because I am most likely to shed tears in three different situations: when they’ve sinned, I’ve sinned, or we’re facing a tragedy.
It is in those three types of moments that you and I need to be most mindful of the theology we are teaching our children, be it intentional or not. As I’ve said before, I think we make the theological education of our kids harder than it needs to be, but that does not negate the importance of it, especially in these pivotal moments.
The three most important times to teach theology to your kids is when they mess up, when you mess up, and when the world is messed up.
When they mess up
It could be anything from arguing with their brother or sister to massive teenage rebellion. In those moments, when they have sinned, we are either going to reinforce a false view of God or continue to develop within them a biblical mindset.
We can make two crucial mistakes at this point—undercut the seriousness of sin or downplay the power of forgiveness.
I’ve written before about why our kids never say, “I’m sorry.” They have to ask the offended person to forgive them. That better represents the gospel as we don’t simply tell Jesus we are sorry, we confess our sin and place our trust in the relationship we have with Him.
But we can also punish harshly (and unbiblically) when we fail to discipline with redemption in mind. This often happens when we are responding to their actions based on how it could affect our reputation and not their sanctification.
They should leave these times of failure recognizing that sin matters more than they’d like to admit, but forgiveness is available more than they’d dare to dream.
When you mess up
In some ways, I hate these moments the most. I lost my temper, was short with my wife or any number of other things. I sinned and my kids were there to see it. What should I do?
For most of us, our natural instinct is to deny or downplay our mistake. For some reason, we believe that we must maintain some aura of perfection as a parent.
If we let them know we make mistakes as a parent, they’ll stop listening to us. It will give them a reason to not believe us or take us seriously.
That’s often what we think, but we are completely wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Your kids know you mess up and pretending otherwise actually does cause them to doubt your honesty and integrity.
Instead, show your children that you need grace and forgiveness just as much as they do. Model for them a life of repentance by asking their forgiveness when you wrong them.
When the world is messed up
I’ve wrestled before with what you say to your children in the midst of a tragedy. The only solution I know is that you continue to tell them the only thing that brings sense to this world—the gospel.
I can still see the wide eyes of my sons as they sat on the steps of our apartment while I told them their grandfather had passed away. In that moment, we rested in the gospel, trusting in our good God during a horrible time.
So often we try to shield them and their theological beliefs from the brute facts of this fallen world. But what good does that do when they still face the reality of the fall on a regular basis?
Our children need to know the gospel is not just for happy celebrations with family and friends, but also for the tear-soaked pillows of grief or the pain piercing their heart from betrayal.
They can take comfort in the fact that they worship a God who is acquainted with suffering and loss. He knows what pain and rejection feels like.
But above all that, they can maintain joy knowing that God has not merely faced death—He has conquered it. While death appears to be a ravaging monster devouring anyone in it’s path, it is, in fact, a defeated foe.
You can (and you should) teach your children theology. But the most important times to do so are not when things are easy and you feel like you have all the answers.
Our kids need to know the God we say we worship is big enough to handle all that we face. They need to know that no matter if they mess up, we mess up or this world messes up, Christ is still on His throne and He still loves us.
Teaching your kids theology is easier than you think, but more important than you could imagine.