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COVID-19 has been incredibly costly — it has cost millions of people their jobs, thousands of people their lives, and has changed the shape of our lives in countless ways. In fact, it seems that every day we are discovering new ways our lives and the lives of our neighbors are changing for the worse. In the midst of all the anxiety and uncertainty, it can be difficult to stay hopeful. However, if we really believe that God works all things together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), we should expect for God to be providing us opportunities to grow in our relationship to Him.
One of the clearest good things that has arisen out of COVID-19 is the amount of time familes are spending together. I am incredibly thankful for the focused time I have been able to devote to my wife and children. Time, however, is beneficial only when we put it to good use. In light of this, I want to point out five ways you can promote spiritual health in your family during these strange times.
Practice Family Worship. One way I have sought to hold on to hope lately is by taking inventory or the things I am thankful for. COVID-19 has forced me to work at home and I am deeply thankful for the ability to have breakfast every morning with my family. Prior to COVID-19, I would be up and headed to work long before breakfast due to the length of my commute. Breakfast with my family is special not only because we get to eat together each morning but because of some simple routines we have worked into this time. Creating a routine to study God’s Word together provides an opportunity to prioritize loving God together and putting His words before our children (Deut. 6:7).
I think one of the reasons many families fail to have spiritual conversations with their children is they don’t know where to start. Many parents feel ill-equipped to lead family devotions or think they don’t have the time necessary to prepare for them. What I love about our time together each morning is that it requires almost no preparation and very little expertise. We basically just read a short passage of the Bible and talk about it. Lately we have been reading through the book of Luke. Each morning we read a short section and we simply ask our kids what they think the passage was about and if they have any questions. We redirect the conversation if they get off track, but we keep it short and simple. Surprisingly this often results in some fruitful conversation, but even when it doesn’t, by reading the Bible, we have already put spiritual truth before our children.
After reading a passage of the Bible, we will work on a memory verse together. My wife simply found a list of memory verses for kids and then each week she searches Spotify for a memory verse song for us to sing together as our memory verse review time. And then we sing a hymn together — none of us are trained musicians, we just sing. At first our kids would rarely sing because they don’t know the words, but each time they sing a little more. And finally we pray. We ask our children what they would like to pray about and invite them to pray. We never force them to pray or make them feel bad for not wanting to. We simply give them the opportunity and trust the Lord to give them the desire.
I would like to tell you that our time together as a family has resulted in each of my children confessing Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that hasn’t happened. What has happened, however, is that we have had more conversations about the gospel, the Bible, and even about ways we might love and serve our neighbors.
Family Hikes. Let’s be honest, all our time together with our families is not only a blessing but also a significant source of stress. I recently chatted with a pastor in Brooklyn who lives with his wife and three children in a 800 sq. ft. apartment. To say that they have invaded each other’s personal space as they have been stuck inside lately would be an understatement. This pastor, however, shared with me that each day he and his family all make the trek to a nearby park and either play soccer or go for a walk.
Numerous studies have shown that time in nature is good for kids’ physical and emotional wellbeing — just five minutes in nature improves children’s mood, self-esteem, and relaxation.1 Knowing that our bodies are given by God, we should take seriously the Bible’s exhortation to take care of them (1 Cor. 3:16–17, 6:19–20). Furthermore, as Paul made clear to the church at Rome, the world around us is constantly testifying to us of God’s divinity and power (Rom. 1:20). While Scripture is our clearest revelation of who God is, the created world around us constantly testifies to God’s “awe-inspiring ‘glory’ and artistic craftsmanship.”2 Some theologians have even called nature the second of God’s two books:
The entire cosmos and the laws of nature make known to all people God’s spectacular creative acts, His transcendent and sovereign power, and His splendor expressed in the beauty of creation. The Book of Nature, then, is God’s second “book.” It discloses real truth and knowledge about God in and through creation. Everywhere we look in the natural world, there are symbols and pictures of God’s divine nature, character, and eternal truths: His presence, creativity, grandeur, wisdom, love, care, glory, provision, and eternal promises to both human and nonhuman life.3
If we really believe this, we should incorporate intentional time in nature into our family discipleship efforts.
David, John, Isaiah, and Moses all praised God for His glorious work in creation (Ps. 24; 19:1; Exod. 15; Isa. 55:12 ; Rev. 4:11). While we have all recently discovered how dangerous the broken world in which we live can be, being stuck inside our houses has been a constant reminder of how glorious the created world outside the confines of our homes really is. For our family, we have found hiking to be one of the few activities our family can do together outside the house while practicing safe social distancing. It should be noted that as more and more state and national parks open, some are overcrowded. I would encourage you, however, to get creative, look for the lesser known hiking trails in your area or the less visited parks.
While family devotions are wonderful, we should all be wary of assuming they are enough. Hikes provide families with less structured but equally focused time for family members to engage one another in meaningful conversation. For example, think of how much more powerful a conversation about how God’s glory and creativity are reflected in nature would be at an overlook, a waterfall, or on the shore of a lake than around your kitchen table.
Have Family Board Game Nights. It is important to remember that while God created us to work, He also created us to rest — to intentionally plan for time to cease from productivity. To some, games might not feel very restful, but games provide us opportunities to engage our minds with much lower stakes. Historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga said that games “are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”4 Games provide us with a unique space in which we and a group of people agree to a set of rules for a set period of time. In other words, board games bring people together and provide unique opportunities to interact. Playing games with your preteen who is frustrated that he can’t play with his friends or your teen who is constantly on her phone is a great way to get them to buy into focused family time.
When we play board games, we are forced to look each other in the eye and share the same space. And when we do so, there are countless lessons we can learn — through board games kids learn how to win and lose graciously, how to work together (there are many cooperative and team board games), and how to think strategically. There are also stories that arise out every board game experience with our families. As Mike Perna says, “With each die rolled, card played, miniature moved, and board opened, we are telling stories to each other. We are creating something beautiful every time we clear some time to be with each other, face to face, to play. ”5
Two years ago, I co-founded a nonprofit ministry called Love Thy Nerd 6 that is dedicated to being the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture. A big part of what we do is play games with people. Board games put everyone on level ground and present them with a safe place to interact with and experience each other. We live in a very divided culture — one in which people who are different politically or socio-economically hardly ever interact. We have found that playing games together is a tremendous tool for meaningful and intentional outreach ministry. Through the ministry of Love Thy Nerd, we have pointed countless people to Christ who otherwise would probably never want anything to do with Jesus or the church. Playing board games might just provide you a similar opportunity to deepen your relationship with your children. Perhaps your preteen is bored with church or your teenager begs you to let them sit out of each Sunday’s livestream. Quality family time with such children is equally difficult and likely a rare commodity. Playing board games with your children is a great way to invite them to meaningful family time on equal footing that will feel far less intrusive than your scheduled family devotions or church livestreams.
Remember that family discipleship involves more than just time together praying and reading the Bible. Board games provide parents countless opportunities for life-on-life discipleship. By gaming together, parents can model to their children: humility in victory, graciousness in defeat, peace-making when tempers flare, and forgiveness when they or their children get too wrapped up in winning.
- Recommended Board Games for Families of:
- Preschoolers (3–5 year olds)
- Animal Upon Animal (a simple stacking game)
- Rhino Hero
- Hoot Owl Hoot
- Children 6–8 years old
- Rhino Hero Super Battle
- Preteens 9–11 years old
- My Little Scythe
- Middle Schoolers 12–14
- Just One (cooperative word association game)
- Tokyo Highway
- Dinosaur Tea Party
- High schoolers 14–18
- Pandemic (Cooperative game)
- Pandemic Legacy (cooperative campaign version of Pandemic)
- Gorilla Marketing
- Preschoolers (3–5 year olds)
Practice Solitude. Time to yourself is a difficult commodity in the midst of quarantines and stay-at-home orders, but it is something we need to make margin for nonetheless. Moses (Exod. 33:7–11), Elijah (1 Kings 19), Jacob (Gen. 32:24–33), and Jesus were all known for seeking the Lord in solitude. If Jesus “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16), we should too. Get up early for a run, go for a bike ride, or simply retreat outside to read or watch the sunset.
If you are married, one of the kindest things you can do for your spouse during COVID-19 is give your spouse the gift of time alone. If your spouse is particularly goal-oriented or high-strung, you may need to be pretty insistent that she or he take you up on this.
If you are a single parent, time, responsibilities, and lack of support may make true solitude nearly impossible, but I would encourage you to get creative. If you have young children, use a baby monitor to get some alone time outside the house within range of the monitor. Perhaps you and a neighbor could swap watching each other’s kids, while exercising reasonable social distancing, so you can go for a run or a walk to recharge or decompress. In order to love our families well, we need to take a full-orbed approach to our spiritual health that takes our emotional and physical wellbeing into the equation.
Look for Ways to Serve Others. A recent research study by LifeWay Christian resources found that 66 percent of students who were active in church during high school stop attending regularly between the ages of 18 and 22.7 While there are many reasons why this happens, one of the things this study found is that those students who were active in serving in their churches and participated in mission projects and trips were far less likely to drop out of church after high school. This shouldn’t surprise us given that the call to follow Jesus is a call to make disciples. For students to see church as something that they want to commit to long term, they need to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. When it comes to family discipleship, your children need to see you making efforts to share the gospel, to minister to people in need, and to love and serve your neighbors. One of the most frustrating aspects of COVID-19 for me has been feeling like there is very little I can do to serve my neighbors when everyone is saying the best thing I can do is stay away from them. This is another area where we need to get creative.
One simple way you can serve your neighbors and friends is by checking up on them. Call, Zoom, or use Marco Polo to contact both your nonchristian friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a difficult time for everyone, your children seeing you simply take the time to check up on your neighbors will leave a lasting impact on them. You can also involve your children in this — set up a Zoom call with elderly neighbors or fellow church members and have your children spend some time on the call. When you call people, ask how you can pray for them and how you might help them. When you ask how you can help, be prepared to act.
I also talked to church leaders in New York and other places that have been hit hard by COVID-19 and they have shared with me about how they have put together care packages for the most vulnerable people in the communities around the church. For one local pastor, this led to creating care packages with basic necessities for the mosque near his church. He always includes gospel tracts in the care packages. Do some research and find out who in your neighborhood needs help — you and your teen could work together to do grocery shopping or home maintenance projects or lawncare for those in need. You could even set up online family game nights with another family as a means of developing a relationship with them and pointing them to Christ. When we love and serve people while we are also suffering, we demonstrate both to the people we serve and to our children where our hope lies.
While COVID-19 has been an incredibly difficult and frustrating time, it doesn’t have to be a stagnant time. This unique season of life brings with it unique opportunities for spiritual growth, mission, and deeper relationships. While there is much to lament in this time, there is also much to be gained and much to learn. I hope this list helps you make the most of all the extra family time you have so that you might point your family to Christ.
Drew Dixon is the team leader for Student Ongoing Bible Study at LifeWay Christian Resources and director of content for Love Thy Nerd (lovethynerd.com) — a ministry dedicated to being the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture. Drew has written Christianity Today, WORLD, Relevant, Think Christian, Paste and Christian Research Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82.
- “Hiking with Kids,” National Park Service, August 7, 2018 https://www.nps.gov/subjects/trails/hiking-with-kids.htm.
- Dan Story, “God’s Other Book: What It Is and How to ‘Read’ It,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 41, no. 02 (2018), Christian Research Institute, https://www.equip.org/article/gods-other-book-what-it-is-and-how-to-read-it/.
- Story, “God’s Other Book,” https://www.equip.org/article/gods-other-book-what-it-is-and-how-to-read-it/.
- Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: a Study of the Play-Element in Culture. (Boston, MA: The Beacon Press, 1955) 10.
- Mike Perna, “Why Do Board Games Matter?” Love Thy Nerd, February 18, 2019, https://lovethynerd.com/why-do-board-games-matter/.
- Ben Trueblood, Within Reach: The Power of Small Changes in Keeping Students Connected (Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 2019).