Children of the Kingdom
By Jamie A. Hughes
Raising kids has always been a challenge, and today that task can feel more daunting than ever. But there’s hope for parents who want to instill godly values. When combined with the teachable moments life provides, the Bible can serve as the ultimate “instruction manual” for helping children adopt a worldview befitting God’s kingdom.
Dr. Kathy Koch, the founder and president of Celebrate Kids, Inc., has spent over two decades speaking and leading workshops for teachers, parents, and children. She uses biblical principles and practical tools from Scripture to help families make positive changes and establish healthy relationships at home and school.
In Touch: You believe all people have five core needs—security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence—that must be met. Which is most essential to raising a child with a kingdom perspective of success?
Dr. Kathy Koch: Definitely security—it’s the platform on which the other four are built. I’ve taught children who are very poor but also happy because they don’t miss what they don’t have. However, in America, children are constantly told what they lack. Rather than their security coming from God, they get it from “stuff.” For them, having “more stuff” equals “successful.”
How can parents combat that trend?
I always ask parents, “What are you modeling before your children? Are you displaying satisfaction with what you own?” If we proclaim through our actions that we have to have the best, they will likely develop that attitude as well.
You often give lectures about the Millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2002). Has technology made it more difficult to teach them what success is from a godly perspective?
It’s more difficult when you know God’s standard. Because of technology, children are accustomed to instant gratification and feel entitled to unlimited choice. They expect God to give them exactly what they desire immediately. However, those of us who stand against the world know success is being obedient and glorifying God rather than ourselves. I always tell people, “You were created on purpose with a purpose,” which is to become who they were designed by their Creator to be and to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus. That’s the definition of success we should be instilling.
If we want to raise Christlike children, we should celebrate appropriate behaviors—and correct what we see them doing that is not God-honoring. For instance, if you see your daughter on the phone and ignoring a friend who is with her, ask, “Why did you prioritize that phone call?” Making a child answer “why” allows us to enter into her belief system to discern her motivations. We can dialogue about her choices in order to change her beliefs and thoughts rather than just her behaviors.
When should we begin this process of helping children become who God wants them to be?
I think of it this way: I used to coach basketball and always enjoyed instructing fifth grade girls more than middle schoolers because they hadn’t developed bad habits. That’s why we have to “coach” them the right way using biblical principles early on. Our goal is to teach them how to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted . . . and put on the new self” (Eph. 4:22-24).
How do you recommend parents engage their children in spiritual development?
This time should include worship, prayer, and the reading and discussing of the Word; service can be a great component of a family’s devotional life as well. I recommend a combination of group and individual study time because teaching children how to independently handle the Word of God is ideal, but it needs to be modeled. After all, if we don’t get our kids into the Word or teach them to pray, how can we expect them to have spiritual discernment?
Although you have goals and are aware of what they need to learn, it’s also good to ask children what they want to learn. With school or youth group, it’s always, “Here’s today’s lesson.” At home, it’s better to periodically ask, “What do you want to know about God?” Imagine your son saying, “There’s this verse in Nehemiah. It sounded really cool, but I didn’t totally understand it.” If you study that book, you’ve honored your child by saying, “Your curiosity matters to me.” You’re allowing him the choice he’s been conditioned to crave and allowing him to make it in a way that glorifies God. He will be more engaged and motivated to learn and apply those truths.
Parents don’t have to go it alone when raising a child; the church is an ally. What should a parent look for in a youth group to make sure it is reinforcing what’s being taught at home?
First of all, parents have to know who they want their children to be. They have the responsibility of raising true gifts from God, so they must know what they want them to believe, do, and know—the path of righteousness they want their kids to walk—and choose the people and groups that will aid in accomplishing it. Parents need to have a road map they can use to direct their children.
Also, when I speak with parents and youth pastors, I mention engaging children versus entertaining them, making sure we present the truth of Scripture and our heavenly Father as the vibrant, amazing God He is. I’m concerned that there are too many churches that think it’s all about the games and the fun when there really needs to be a balance between what I call “the crazy creativity” of kids and focused Bible study and discipleship. Find a place that incorporates both.
Is it important to show children that adults are also growing in Christlikeness?
It’s okay to tell your children you’re not perfect. If children think you don’t understand that, they’re less likely to approach you when they make mistakes. Parents should always want their children to seek them first when they’re confused, embarrassed, or recognize sin in their lives. But they’re not going to feel free to do so if the parents have a plastic perspective and can’t admit they also fall short sometimes. They need to see our hearts are growing in God (Luke 6:45; Eph. 3:16-18; Phil. 2:1).
Do you believe the heart issue is an important one for parents to address?
Absolutely. We all must have a heart for God and for others. Where are today’s kids going to see that? Not in popular culture. It is only when a mom and a dad live beyond themselves and choose to live what I call the “one another life”—where they take the “one anothers” from the New Testament seriously—that a child can understand God’s heart (John 13:14, Jn. 13:34; Jn. 15:12, Jn. 13:17). Truly loving God and our neighbors means we must sacrifice ourselves and serve them humbly. Those are the biblical qualities that are going to teach children His definition of success.