Big thanks to a very special guest columnist–my very own husband, Joshua Caleb Hutchens– for this awesome post!
Fatherhood comes with great responsibility. American culture portrays dads as either stern and distant or goofy and unreliable. Contrary to these depictions, it is the father–not the mother–who has the primary role in teaching the children about God. When Moses commands Israel, “You shall teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children,” he is speaking directly to fathers–the heads of the households and clans (Deut 6:6). This is why he can say that God is the God of their fathers (Deut 6:3).
Proverbs is essentially an entire book focused on the father-child teaching relationship.* Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” So, while Proverbs recognize the indispensable role of a mother, the father is portrayed as the primary teacher of wisdom (a.k.a. the fear of the Lord).
We fathers tend to think of our role as provider in material ways alone. It is our job to “bring home the bacon.” We need to remember the words of Jesus:
“Do not lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:19-20).
Material things are precarious and temporary. The spiritual treasure is eternal and of far greater worth. If we provide for our families materially but do not provide for them spiritually, then we have failed.
Like every job of fatherhood, a dad needs a good set of tools to instruct his children in the fear of the Lord. So, for this father’s day I’d like to share a few tools that our family has found helpful in beginning to teach Jude about God.
I start with this one because it is free. In my humble opinion, few modern songs can come close to the theological and emotional depth of hymns, especially the really, really old hymns. We put together a PDF document of lyrics, titled Lullaby Hymns, of the hymns that we sing most often when putting Jude to sleep. If you don’t know the tune, NetHymnal can be really helpful since they have the tune for tons of hymns online for free (as far as I know, this is the only website today still using those midi files that we all thought were so cool in the 90s). We also enjoy Indelible Grace, a group committed to helping churches recover old hymns. We know many of the hymns in our Lullaby Hymns collection from listening to their music. Or if you can read music, just pick up an old hymnal. Whatever you do, sing hymns to and with your children. Fill their little minds with lyrics about the greatness and the love of God.
The Big Picture Story Bible
There really is nothing like this story Bible on the market today. It doesn’t focus on individual stories like Noah’s Ark, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, or Daniel and the Lion’s Den. It tells the “big picture story” of the entire Bible. This focus on “the forest rather than the trees” is something that you really must do as a teacher. The Bible isn’t a book of isolated and unrelated stories like Aesop’s Fables. It is a book with a single story about God establishing his kingdom. All the individual stories are encompassed in the grand narrative. Children must be taught the big story, and this book does exactly that in a way that is understandable for kids and enjoyable for parents. The illustrations are great and will keep your kids’ attention.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
Now of course it is also important for your children to know the individual stories of the Bible. This book is great for doing just that. The problem with many story Bibles for little ones is that it ends up moralizing the story. The story of David and Goliath is given the meaning of courage in the face of adversity, while in fact the story points to Jesus by showing how God conquers his enemies through his anointed king. An important question to ask yourself when teaching the Old Testament is–”Would a conservative Jew agree with me or want to kill me?” It is obvious in the book of Acts that the Apostle’s interpretation of the Old Testament caused the latter reaction. The Old Testament wasn’t meant to teach us how to be nice moral people. It points to Jesus. This book tells the individual stories in a captivating way with wonderful illustrations, while at the same time showing how each story points to Jesus. We gave our copy away and are excited that our parents are bringing another when they come visit next month.
Seeds Family Worship
We’ve just discovered this in the last couple weeks. This group puts Bible verses (from the NIV) to music. The value of putting things to music for memory is universally recognized. So far, Seeds has five CDs based on themes like faith or courage. The songs are not the annoying children’s tunes that drive you bonkers. They are enjoyable to listen to, and except for the reserved use of children’s voices you wouldn’t even know that it is children’s music. CDs are fairly priced and also available on iTunes. If you can’t afford them all at once, you can still listen online for free.
Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God
Admittedly, we haven’t used this with Jude much yet since it has older children in mind, but we have already been familiarizing ourselves with this book. It is theologian Bruce Ware’s attempt to reconstruct the many conversations he had with his daughters about God and theology. He explains things clearly and uses some great illustrations. It will be a great resource for family worship in the future, and I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to read a short overview of systematic theology in layman’s terms.
“Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies”
This CD is mostly fun. It is a great combination of songs about God, silly songs, and lullabies from daddies. It has everything from the song “God Made Me,” where they sing, “God made me like he made the sea; he filled it up with green and blue. He sent his Son, his only one, to fill me up and make me new,” to “Bears,” where they sing, “Bears, bears, they got no cares. Bears don’t drink from a cup.”
“How I Pastor My Family”
This is a short article by Pastor Justin Hyde of Christ Church Brenham, Texas. It has some interesting suggestions and encouragement for dads. If you are a dad, then you are the pastor of your family. You will lead your family spiritually. The question is–in what direction?
There are many great children’s resources out there. These are just the current tools we use with our son. Even though he is just sixteen months old, it is never too soon to begin teaching. I suspect he is understanding much more than we can know and than he can communicate. All of these resources will be helpful at least through early elementary school.
Other resources that are on our wish list that you might also find helpful include:
Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book
Books by Debby Anderson
Books by Carine Mackenzie (especially the “Learn about God” series)
The “Big Book” Series by Sinclair Ferguson
*Some scholars believe that Proverbs was based on the teacher-pupil relationship since teachers were often addressed as fathers and likewise called their students sons. Even if this is so, that such language was adopted for the teacher-pupil relationship only serves to prove the point that fathers are instructors.