However, we wholeheartedly believe in intentional, purposeful parenting, that also sets the stage for those conversations to happen. Because we believe parents are called to be the primary disciplers of their children, we want to instill a regular family devotional time (or whatever you want to call it), where that atmosphere it lived.
In talking with friends, a set time for "family devotions" is not always easy to come by. Even if you don't have a lot of kids, bedtime often varies from child to child, evening activities vary, and the like. Since our kids are small, we still read to them out of an age appropriate Bible before bed, pray and sing with them. As they grow up, we plan on cultivating that into a time of guiding and teaching them to read and study the Bible on their own. However, this is not the family building time, with everyone together. We took the advice of a pastor we really enjoy and respect and started doing family devotions at dinnertime.
Here's a little bit of what this pastor has to say on this topic:
"Dinner is one of the great highlights of my day. Why? Because I get to sit in my home with the woman I love, laughing, chatting, and eating with our five children whom we deeply love and enjoy. Every time I sit at the table with my family I am reminded of the words of Psalm 128:3–4, which says, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.” As Scripture says, I am blessed. Some months ago we started a new tradition at the Driscoll dining table that has also been a blessing. We struggled to find a way to do regular family devotions with five children of different ages and attention spans. Dinner Bible discussions led by Grace and me have been a huge hit. Every time we sit down for dinner the dinner Bible is in its place on the table, opened to the section of Scripture we will discuss that evening. The younger kids are able to handle longer and more reflective discussions when their hands are busy as they eat. Also, with the casual conversation over dinner I have noticed that everyone gets an opportunity to speak as we take turns chewing our food, and our dinners last longer than they had before because everyone is engaged. The following steps are offered based upon my experience with our children over dinner. These steps are intended to help direct theological discussions between parents and their children while also building the children’s theological vocabularies so that they are increasingly familiar with biblical concepts.
Step 1. Eat dinner with your entire family regularly.
Step 2. Mom and Dad sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.
Step 3. Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.
Step 4. Someone opens in prayer and covers any requests. This task should be rotated among family members so that different people take turns learning to pray aloud.
Step 5. Start eating and discuss how everyone’s day went.
Step 6. Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age
appropriate for the kids’ reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the
Bible to the assigned text and read it aloud while everyone is eating
Step 7. Have a discussion about the text, what it means, etc. If your children are young, there are many great resources on going through a book of the Bible, or text of Scripture with your children.
Step 8. Let the conversation happen naturally, listen carefully to the kids, let them answer the questions, and fill in whatever they miss or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them.
Step 9. If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus’ work in your life and your need for him too, which demonstrates gospel humility.
Step 10. At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.
Do not feel bound by any questions or pressured to follow the steps too rigidly. Follow the Spirit’s leading and don’t be a religious parent who is rigidly inflexible, thereby making this sort of thing something they must be do in duty rather than something they get to do in delight. If you miss a night, or if conversation gets off track, or if your family occasionally just wants to talk about something else, don’t stress—it’s inevitable.
For your children, the point is to learn what they are thinking about God, to help them know and love Jesus as God and Savior, and to teach them how to articulate and explain their Christian faith.
For parents, the point is to lovingly instruct children and each other, thereby creating a family culture in which every member freely and naturally talks about God and prays to him together.
In short, the goal is simply that your family would open the Bible and grow in love for Jesus, one another, your church, and the world. Be sure to have some fun, enjoy some laughs, and build some memories."
So with a 3 and 1 year old, this is what this time looks like in our house. In the middle of our table we have the Jesus Storybook Bible, My 1st Book of Questions and Answers by Carine Mackenzie, and The Gospel Project cards from our church's children's ministry. One of us reads a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible and then we all talk about it. We try to go in order through the book, but sometimes, Mekonen's love for David and Goliath wins out. :)
After that we go through a couple of the catechism questions in My 1st Book of Questions and Answers.
Then we review the Gospel Project cards. These are a great resource that our church gave us that have picture cards for the timeline of the Bible starting in Genesis. The front of the card has the Bible story art that the kids would have seen in children's ministry while learning the Bible story. It includes a Scripture reference to read the story again with your child in the Bible (or you can read the same story in their age appropriate Bible like "The Jesus Storybook Bible"). The back of the card has the big picture questions and answer they learned that week. (For example with the creation story is the "catechism" question/answer, "Who made everything?" God made everything). Then there is a Jesus connection point that helps connect Jesus to the Bible story.
Important point to remember: We don't use the Bible as moral stories of do this and don't do that, or be like this Bible character and not like that Bible character. That simply fuels the already present default of our hearts towards works righteousness. Instead, we speak over and over about God's love, mercy, and grace- how we are sinners and deserve God's punishment, how God's law/rules do not make us good, but they just show us how sinful we are and that we need Jesus to make us good. Throughout the entire Bible, the message of the Gospel can be seen.... that if we take Jesus' goodness as our own, God looks upon as being perfectly obedient, no matter how many times we disobey. Now that is good news, and certainly something worthy of every day conversation!