TIL 216 | Setting Your Child’s Spiritual Trajectory

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, our Communications Coordinator Taron Defevers was able to catch up with Pastor Mike Fabarez. Mike is the founding pastor of Compass Bible Church in South Orange County, California, and he’s been in pastoral ministry for more than 25 years. He’s committed to clearly communicating God’s Word verse-by-verse and encourages his listeners to apply what they have learned to their daily lives. Pastor Mike is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, The Talbot School of Theology, and also Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Pastor Mike is heard on hundreds of radio programs across the country on the Focal Point radio program and has authored several books. Taron and Pastor Mike discuss setting your child’s spiritual trajectory on today’s podcast.

Taron Defevers: Thanks Dale. Pastor Mike, we are so excited to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mike Fabarez: Great to be here, thanks Taron.

Taron Defevers: Today we’re going to talk about parenting and particularly about discipling your children. Pastor Mike has two young adult men who are now married as well as a young daughter, and he has gone through the various seasons of parenting and discipling his children. We want to gain wisdom from him today as he talks about parenting and discipling your children. How did you set up a spiritual trajectory in your home for your kids?

Mike Fabarez: It’s hard for us to ever set a trajectory that we ourselves are not on. Even as Jesus said, every disciple, when he’s fully trained, will be just like his teacher. You’ve got to make sure that these issues that you’re concerned about in your kids’ lives spiritually are vibrant and happening in your life. That’s really where it starts. Do you have the kind of passion for Christ that you want to see in your kids and is it expressing itself through worship, Bible study, and godliness? Sometimes we want our kids to do as we say and not as we do, and we need to recognize that there’s a lot of active elements to discipling our kids. We’ve got to make sure that we are allowing God to disciple us and people in our church to disciple us so that we’re passionate about the things that we want to see developed in our children. First and foremost to disciple our kids, we’ve got to make sure that we are growing and vibrant disciples ourselves.

Taron Defevers: Many people want to see their own kids, or they’re a pastor and they’re trying to shepherd families in leading their families well in Bible reading, discipling their kids, and teaching them the foundation of the gospel. How can a parent teach their child the gospel?

Mike Fabarez: Think about the foundational things that we all need. If we’re going to actively disciple our kids, we need to make sure that the Bible is central in our house. We need to be talking about it, studying it, and discussing everything through the lens of Scripture. Parents can’t think that Sunday school is going to solve the problem, or a program at their church, or if they send them to a Christian school, or if they have a curriculum that they use if they’re home-schooled. None of that is going to substitute for parents that are describing, discussing, and analyzing the world through the lens of Scripture. We need a Bible-saturated home. We need a home that shows our dependence upon God through the expression of our prayer lives.

We cannot possibly have God be the priority in our home if prayer is not an active part of our parenting. I don’t just mean sitting in private and praying for our kids, which I trust we all do if we love the Lord and we love our kids, but praying with our kids as well. My wife and I were not in the habit of having my kids pray. Some parents think it’s so cute to have their four or five-year-old try and stumble out some prayers, and I’m not against that, but I’m talking about leading them in prayer. Praying in the mornings, praying at mealtimes, praying when we drop them off at school, praying when we go to little league practice, praying with them in the car as we’re driving to church, the prayer life that we want to see our kids develop one day. We need to express and be very transparent about our prayer life. Prayer life needs to be expressed in our actions, behavior, and habits.

You mentioned the gospel, Taron. The gospel is predicated on the fact that we have a problem, and here’s where we often go wrong as parents. We see these kids and, if we believe anything their grandparents say, we think they’re just this bundle of joy. Parents should know that they’re more than an angel dropped from heaven. We have a sin problem. That’s what the gospel is predicated on. The sin problem needs to be understood. It needs to be a big, big concern for us as parents. In other words, our kids are not born neutral. According to Romans 5, our kids are born with the effects of the fall in their own hearts. They’re born alienated from God. The sin problem is bigger than we think. If we’re going to talk about the good news of the gospel, we can’t get the good news of the gospel to mean anything until we understand the bad news of sin. Sin is more than just a naughty streak in our children, sin is a real issue our kids need to understand.

There are many ways to help our kids recognize their need for Christ by showing how we are not in fellowship with God. We need to see our sin for what it is, confess our sin, and agree with God about our sin. The first move our kids make toward recognizing that or even saying, “I want to be a Christian like you,” is not to immediately say, “Any move toward Christ is game over, spike the football, they’re saved now.” Realize that the process of discipleship to the place of genuine repentance can take many, many years and we need to keep focusing on and revealing the fact that our hearts without Christ are desperately wicked, sick, deceitful, and they need to be remade.

The doctrine of regeneration is so often neglected today in our Christian books and preaching, but we need to recognize what a miracle that is. We’re never going to see people born again, as Jesus put it to Nicodemus in John 3, until we really help our kids to see they have a sin problem. There’s a way to do that without exasperating our kids. We don’t want to sit there and hammer on the fact that they’re a wretched sinner, but we do want them to get the fact of celebrating grace at one point in their lives where they can say, “God saved a wretch like me,” and really mean that. There’s a lot that goes into a gospel presentation that is learned and developed in the home when Mom and Dad are really careful to reveal the greatness of God, the problem of sin, and the redemption that’s found in Christ.

Any kid can be pro-Jesus. Any kid can go to church and say, “Wow, Mom and Dad are really into Jesus.” They can be pro-Lenin or Marx or pro-Trump, or whatever our home is. Any kid can parrot that, but what we want is kids that realize that Christ is the solution and the answer to the problem of sin, which means they need to see the bigness, greatness, and holiness of God. As uncomfortable as it is to see ourselves as lost sinners, it is then that Christ becomes precious and then the goal of seeing our hearts drawn to the Savior as the solution to our sins becomes the answer.

There’s so much that goes into a daily constant instilling of those things. When our kids were young, my wife and I have tried to make the daily habit of doing more than just reading the Bible together, which we did and required them to do from the youngest of ages. As soon as they could read, they were reading on their own and we were keeping them accountable for that. But read good Christian biographies too, read good Christian books, read books around the breakfast table that help our kids understand the greatness of God, the depth of sin, and the greatness of Christ and what he has done for us. Have a good library that’s age appropriate. It’s not just picture books about Bible stories, although those are good. We need to know the story and narrative of the Bible, but the real theme of the Bible needs to be communicated through the things we’re reading to our kids and celebrating in our own hearts as we read our own books and talk about them at the dinner table.

So much goes into that, but ultimately getting them to the place where there’s that crisis of recognizing, “I’m not saved because I grew up in church. I’m not saved because I am pro-Jesus, or I went to summer camp, or I memorized my verses at the kids club at church, but because I really desperately see the need for Christ, and I’ve cried out to God in repentance and faith.” That may not happen as soon as you want it to and that’s okay. Encourage their moves toward Christ but recognize that sometimes we slap this assurance on them as soon as they pray a prayer or walk an aisle or say, “I want go to heaven when I die.” We start slapping them on the back and they think, “Oh, that’s all there is to it. I don’t really need to see that I’m a bad person. I’ve added Jesus on as the club badge that I have at my church.”

I think that’s why the stats are so scary. It depends on who you read on the stats. There are many different surveys, but up to 80 or 85 percent of the kids who grow up in church check out and never come back by the time they’re 20. As Jesus said, real Christianity is borne out because we endure. Hebrews 3 makes this very clear. Real conversion, real regeneration is going to last. We know that a lot of kids think they’re Christians when they’re growing up in Christian homes in church, and they’re not actually Christians. Parents unfortunately are complicit in that when they’re too quick to slap their kid on the back and go, “Hey, I’m glad you’re on the team now because you made some pro-Jesus comment in our home.” Being sensitive to know there’s more to it in terms of that crisis of recognizing our problem and encouraging them with this healthy skepticism is critically important.

There are a lot of great Puritan writings about how we ought to take suspect any kid’s expression of piety. That is so healthy for us and you don’t hear much of it today. There are a couple of modern books out there that touch on it, but we need to have that healthy skepticism. My wife and I were always talking with our kids about, “When you become a genuine follower of Christ, when you have your heart changed by the Spirit, and when you become a devoted follower of Christ where Christ has invaded your life…” That was always a discussion like this is going to happen even though they had made moves toward Christ, even though they were active in church and in service as little kids. Thankfully, all three of our kids have made professions of faith and two are now in ministry full time. My daughter is still in high school, but she’s actively involved in ministry and has been very clear about her testimony at least in the last three years or so, and we see fruit of real conversion. But we could have slapped them all on the back when they were 4 and said, “Oh yeah, you’re pro-Jesus, you’re on the team.” That’s not popular today because people have a hard time thinking that maybe their seven-year-old isn’t really right with God and doesn’t really see the depth of their sin problem. Those things helped us get the gospel clarified in our kids’ lives.

Taron Defevers: You alluded to a couple practical strategies. One was having good Christian biographies in the home and you read those at the breakfast table. What are a couple of books that have been favorite Christian biographies for your family?

Mike Fabarez: One suggestion is Warren Wiersbe’s books, in particular Walking with Giants. There’s a lot of kids’ appropriate books, too, but those books are so well-researched. Warren Wiersbe recently passed away and I think he’s an underrated writer. He’s so good and engaging in his writing. He’s also written 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Those books are helpful and they’re well written, but Walking With Giants is one of my favorites that he wrote. At the end of every chapter he’s got examples of biographies from the people he sketched out that often led us to then find those biographies and read them. Some of the basic missionary biographies are helpful like Hudson Taylor or David Livingstone.

We would read those age-appropriate, pared-down biographies because they see us giving our lives for ministry, the gospel, and the church, and we want to read and hold up those missionaries as heroes who were thriving, pioneering folks that were going to go give their lives for Christ. That’s going to be the only place they’re going to get that. Even at church, sometimes people talk about their favorite sports hero or their favorite musician or songwriter. Those are great people, but we really want to model for them that we hold in the highest esteem those that, as Paul was, were expended for the souls of other people. We had a whole bookshelf full of them. If my wife were here, she could give you a ton of them. We have a little bookshelf I built right next to the kitchen table and we would stack books on there and pull them off and usually have the one we were reading sitting on our kitchen table every morning.

Taron Defevers: That’s a great idea. If I remember correctly, another thing that you have done at the dinner table has been to take postcards from church members and missionaries. You would put them in a box or basket, and you would build it into the discipline of having dinner to pray for someone else as a family before dinner.

Mike Fabarez: You must have a camera in our kitchen because right next to that little bookshelf I built is a box with all those Christmas cards. We have a rather large church, so we get plenty, but we encourage people, “We’re going to keep your Christmas card if your picture is on it.” It’s become a trend, a lot of people do it now, but we like to encourage our church to do that because then we take those cards and take out a stack of them, maybe three or five depending on how quickly our dinner is going to get cold, and we pray through those and thank God for those people. We get a chance to talk about people in our church and how they’re involved in this ministry or this guy’s got this health challenge and then we pray for them.

Not too long ago, I took some pictures off the wall that we had in our upstairs hallway and we bought this weird thing that looks like a frame that has these clothes lines on it with little pins, and we put the cards up there when we’re done praying with them and start to decorate our hallway with those Christmas cards. We needed to put them up because once we pray for them, I put them in the other box, we have a box we haven’t prayed for and a box we pray for, but now we’re starting to put them in the hallway. It’s great because then we walk by them even after we prayed for them and think of the people that we love, serve, and have been praying for. We have one kid left in the house, but she walks by those pictures every day and thinks, “Oh yeah, we prayed for those folks at the dinner table.” That’s another spiritual discipline that’s very important.

Speaking of prayer, we need to be praying thankful prayers. It’s easy to be negative in our day and to teach our kids that we’re going to God just to get the stuff that we want out of God. God invites us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and he takes pleasure in being a provider for us, but I think a thankful prayer life in our homes is critical. Our kids need to hear us as they grow up speaking real genuine words of thanksgiving about all kinds of things. Not just, “Thanks for this meal,” but, “God thanks for what you’ve done here in this last week.”

When we would leave on any trip that was of any distance, we would always pray in the driveway before we left and I’d always try to lead the prayer with, “God, hopefully you’ll get us back right here to this spot.” When we drove back to the driveway and got to that spot, we would always park before we opened the garage and thank God for our trip, “Thanks for getting us back here, thanks for caring for us, thanks for providing for us, thanks for the money to put gas in our car.” Those are the kinds of things that I hope impressed our children with the genuine reliance that we have on a God who gives us all good things. It’s more than just praying to God, “God bless the missionaries and help us with our stuff, help us with our homework,” or whatever we can ask for. Those are good things, but we want to be a prayerful family that really works on thoughtful specific thanksgiving.

Taron Defevers: Excellent, thank you Pastor Mike. One last resource I want to talk about before we wrap up is something you wrote for your children and for your church. It’s a Bible survey for kids to help them even before they get into school to have a simple understanding of every book of the Bible. Could you explain that resource?

Mike Fabarez: I wrote this initially for my children when they were young, my oldest was four, and I wanted to teach them something about how the books of the Bible fit together both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and then teach them something about it. I want them to be able to know that Nahum has a story, Isaiah has a story, and what’s so important about Deuteronomy. I put this together, and then I was going to preach a series on parenting at one point many years ago and one of my pastors said, “You should give them something that helps them put this into practice. If you want them to teach the Bible in their home, how do they do it?” I thought, well I know how I do it, so I rushed to throw together in print the things that I did in my own house. This is what got codified into this book.

It’s a student workbook and it’s got cards you cut out and put on a bulletin board, and I show a schematic as to how to put them up. It’s kind of involved and yet it’s very simple when you really get into it. It gives you one discussion about every book of the Bible, so it takes sixty-six days or if you do it once a week, it’ll take sixty-six weeks. It gives the kids a chance even at the youngest ages to be able to get a handle on how the Bible fits together. I got so many people writing me and telling me, “I went through Bible Survey for Kids and I learned as much as my kids.” It helps parents to think through how this all works. What’s the timeline of biblical chronology and history? It’s very simple though and it gives your kids a chance to color and draw and it helps them think through the Bible. It’s called Bible Survey for Kids and you can find it on Amazon or elsewhere, on our Focal Point website which is our radio ministry.

Taron Defevers: Thank you so much for joining us today, Pastor Mike.

Recommended Resources

Walking With the Giants: A Minister’s Guide to Good Reading and Great Preaching, Warren W. Wiersbe

10 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith, Warren W. Wiersbe

Bible Survey for Kids, Pastor Mike Fabarez