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Benchmarks for Parents

There is no more powerful pulpit than your dinner table or your child’s bedside with you as the preacher and teacher.  We provide the following benchmarks simply as a guide to help you answer the question: How do I teach my children the basics of the faith and what should they know at what age?

The first step is daily Bible reading and prayers: one place to start is with Egermeier's Bible Story Book and Luther’s Morning Prayer and the Lord's Prayer.  Start when your children are infants, certainly before they reach age 2 or 3.  Infants are at the stage of faith development called Experienced Faith. In this stage, children observe the attitudes and faith practices of those around them and imitate them. Long before an infant is able to participate, they will benefit from being where faith practices are carried out. You can learn more about this in our “Raising a Healthy Baby/Baptism Course, the first of our eight Faith Stepping Stones courses (http://www.faithink.com/inkubators/stone1.asp).  Particular parts of your job now as parents include establishing a healthy bedtime routine with a blessing and establishing an every Sunday church habit.

The second step is simple, basic conversation at the supper table nightly... and be sure the television is off and cell phones are put away.  Mom or Dad, it is your job to lovingly fight for a family dinner hour.  When your children grow and learn to talk, then begin to ask and listen about the day.  By the time they are four or five, ask your children, "What was encouraging for you today?  And, what did you frustrate yourself over?" And listen to their response.  This will build their confidence, their ability to engage with people, and their ability to take responsibility for their own emotions.  As your children get older and enter school, keep asking these questions and keep listening… and begin to teach them to think critically and to continue to take responsibility for themselves and their emotions.  Open-ended questions like “tell me more about that” or “what are you thinking?” will deepen your relationship and will help them learn far more than questions that can simply be answered “yes” or “no.” 

Below are some grade level benchmarks for learning the basics of the Christian faith and the habits of a disciple (all of the benchmarks for first through fifth grades can be found in the handbook Martin Luther wrote for parents and congregations, the Small Catechism):

First grade: 10 Commandments with their explanations.  This helps each one know what God expects of us, what we are to do and not do.  The commandments are by nature down-to-earth and given to govern life in the family and the neighborhood.  As a parent, your favorite commandment will likely be number four.

Second grade: Apostles Creed with its explanations; this helps each one know what we believe and teach.  Also, second grade is time to learn the books of the Bible by heart.  If you are in church every Sunday singing the song, this comes easily.

3rd Grade: The explanations of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer; this helps each one know the profound depth of the way Jesus teaches us to pray, what all he gives, and where to get the help we need to live with each other under God. Our “My Bible Faith Stepping Stone course” will equip your family with a working knowledge of the Bible and is offered for parents and their children in the fall of the Third grade year. (www.faithink.com/inkubators/stone4.asp)

Fourth grade: the sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion.  Your children are now developing the ability for abstract thought… so learning more about these visible signs and acts given and done by a seemingly invisible Lord will be timely for them.  Our “Holy Communion Stepping Stone course” offered each year during Lent will help with this (www.faithink.com/inkubators/stone5.asp).

5th Grade: confession and absolution and the table of duties. Especially as adolescence will be coming on, your family will need to know how to tell right from wrong, how to forgive sin and retain sin (see John 20.21-22)… and each one will need clarification on what God expects of us and how neighbors are to live in his kingdom.

Middle school is time to deepen you and your children’s understanding of these basics and the Bible. Our “How to Survive Adolescence” Stepping Stone course and our Head to Heart Confirmation ministry are all about supporting you and your child through this stage of development. (www.faithink.com/inkubators/stone6.asp).

All along the way… Be sure to include routine acts of service for others. Again, our Head to Heart ministry and our congregation’s wider ministry and your own neighborhood provide plenty of opportunity for you to teach your children to serve their neighbor rather than just themselves.

High school is the time to focus on apologetics. During these years, build on the foundation laid when your children were younger and be sure your children are equipped to calmly, confidently, and with a sense of humor state their case for why they believe in Christ. Our senior high curriculum and mission trips focus on this.  When your children go off to college or enter the workforce, the world and the Devil will attack their faith.  By preparing them now, you will equip them to calmly, confidently withstand those attacks and to bear witness to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

Hint: if you have read this and realize you are behind in helping your children reach these benchmarks, don’t panic or get angry.  Get on your knees, apologize, and ask the Lord and your children for forgiveness and for help.  Then start fresh today… the Lord will help you, just listen to him instead of yourself.

One more hint: when you take your children to college or help them move out, do your homework ahead of time and GO WITH THEM for at least a whole weekend and TAKE THEM TO CHURCH AND THEN OUT TO EAT AFTERWARD, be really nice to them and offer to pay for their Sunday lunch next week if they go to church on their own or with friends.