The Necessity of Informal Teaching

One of the absolutes in leaving a lasting legacy that honors the Lord is that we are teaching vital lessons to our children.   The word “legacy” involves passing down what you have been given or have learned.    This is impossible to do unless we are teaching our kids. (This includes more than facts, but also principles, God’s commandments, and lessons learned from personal experiences.    Effective teaching that influences future generations must include all of the above).

Every parent teaches in their home.   The issue isn’t whether or not we give instruction, but rather how fruitful it is in the lives of our children.

What can a parent do to make their teaching effective?   This is such a crucial question that we must have the correct answer.    I believe the majority of those in prison today (not all of them, but most of them) did not receive transformative teaching in their childhood and teen years.   In fact, many were bereft of any positive instruction.   It has been said, “We don’t have a juvenile delinquency problem in our country as much as a parental delinquency problem”.  

In recent posts I have written that this means we must teach intentionally (Deuteronomy 4:9-10) and diligently (Deuteronomy 6:7).   Again, I want to draw from the passage in Deuteronomy 6:7 and emphasize a third simple, but powerful, component of teaching that impacts: life-changing teaching in the family is done constantly.   (Remember those three imperatives from the Bible for life-changing teaching: it is to be done intentionally, diligently, and constantly.   All three are unique in their application and practice, but done together they synergize and produce a powerful effect).

Pay close attention to the following verse how often and where we are to teach our children.

“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”    (Deuteronomy 6:7)

Note that there are four times mentioned in this text when we are to speak about biblical truths (“sittest in thine house…walkest by the way…liest down…risest up”).    Three of those four opportunities are within the home – and the other often involves time with the parents.   It is clear that we are to teach constantly.

Constant teaching does not mean formal teaching.    It would be impossible to do so in all of these settings.  It is clear that the primary focus is on informal teaching.

Formal teaching tends to be intentional and planned.   Informal teaching (which is just as powerful) is spontaneous and unplanned.    Both types of teaching are important in influencing your children for righteousness.   

Personally, I believe my children have been impacted greater and remember more the informal occasions than the formal times.   The challenge is taking advantage of the informal opportunities – and that requires alertness, wisdom, and time.   An effective teacher is not only knowledgeable in subject matter, but just as important, is available and sensitive to opportune times to teach.

Years ago there was a debate about what was most important in training and influencing our children – giving them quality time or quantity time.   I believe both are important.   In fact, quality moments usually occur unexpectedly and are the byproduct of spending a lot of time together.   It is silly to try and make a clean separation between the two of them.   They feed off of each other.

Parents can never tell when a seed will be sown into the heart of a son or daughter that will grow and stay with them for the rest of their lives.  And those precious truths will be taught to your children’s children and will continue on for generations as these principles of teaching (intentionally, diligently, and constantly) are practiced.    This is so motivating and encourages us to pay the price to make it happen.

As I was writing these words I paused to consider the informal times I spoke wisdom and truth into the hearts of my children today.   I counted five separate occasions when I spoke privately to five different children in my family.   It was unplanned, spontaneous, sometimes intense and sometimes very relaxed and casual.   But it happened and I believe will bear spiritual fruit in their lives.    (Please do not get the idea that I am trying to portray myself as a super parent.   Too often I miss important times when I should have spoken into their lives and failed to do so, usually because of busyness.   I simply wanted to make the point that I do take this seriously and try to practice it).

When I was in the eighth grade my mother told me she wanted to talk to me about something.   I thought I was in trouble because she was very serious.   We sat down and she began to talk to me out of her heart.   She said, “Rick, these next five years will be some of the best years of your life and I want you to enjoy them and be aware of what is happening.  The time will go by very quickly and you need to squeeze all you can out of each experience during these days”.

I remember that conversation in detail – the time of day, where it happened, what she said, and most of all, that I had better listen to what she was saying because of her sincerity.

This lesson she taught me was in a formal setting, but Mom modeled it in informal
settings.   And this is where I had it imprinted on my heart.  When we went on special trips and vacations she would always point out interesting things, spontaneously veer from the schedule if something worthwhile came across our path, and always made it all so much fun!   She truly made much of the moment and it had an impact on me.   I know my sister, Melanie, and my brother, Hoss, would vouch for what I have written.   We learned to value and enjoy the present because of the example and spontaneity of Mom’s teaching us; it was constantly in her life and we are the better for it.

Me and my brother, Hoss, with my Mom.

Some of the most substantive discussions I have ever had with my children have been while we have been watching a ball game together, when I was driving on a long trip with the family and we were just talking, sitting on the steps of a swimming pool together, and other seemingly monotonous activities.  At the moment it seemed to be devoid of any significance.   But my children were marked by them.

Remember, it is in the common moments of life that we make an uncommon difference in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

I want to mention a couple of resources that have been a great help me to me in teaching and perhaps they might bless you.    Both of these books were primarily written to improve teaching in a group setting, but the principles they contain are transferable to teaching your children.    The first book is “The Seven Laws of the Teacher” by Howard Hendricks and the second is “The Seven Laws of the Learner” by Bruce Wilkinson.    You can get them at a good price on Amazon.com.

Here’s a lyric from one of my favorite song-writers, Steve Chapman, from his song, “Tools for the Trade”.    It reminds us of the power of the mundane to influence our children for the rest of their lives.

“When you are a father, you are a builder,
and your children will become what you’ve made;
please do your best, and please don’t forget,                                                                                   God gave you the tools for the trade.

He gave you eyes to see where your child might go wrong,                                                         and feet to lead them safely through;                                                                                            hands to hold their hands,                                                                                                                     and lips to say ‘I love you’.

He gave you arms to hold them when they are afraid,                                                                  and time to wait until they’re calm;                                                                                                    ears to hear between their lines,                                                                                                           and tears to cry when they’re gone.

And your knees are for playing and they’re also for praying                                                       that God will watch over your child;                                                                                                  and those times you can’t say it, but they still need to hear it,                                                     you can say ‘I love you’ with your smile

When you are a father, you are a builder,                                                                                        and your children will become what you’ve made;
please do your best, and please don’t forget,                                                                                   God gave you the tools for the trade”.

(You can check out Steve and Annie Chapman’s music and books at Steveandanniechapman.com.    Their ministry will bless your family!)

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 37 years with seven children and six grandchildren.
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