Tedd Tripp On the Importance of Formative Instruction

Instructing a Child's Heart
Instructing a Child’s Heart

I asked Tedd Tripp what he means by formative instruction and why it is important for parents. Tedd believes that children are impacted by everything you do as a parent. Every moment is a teachable moment. The question, then, must be what is it that you, as a parent, are teaching?

Your responses to the daily events of life are formative for your children. God designed us to learn by example (Philippians 4:9), and your children learn by your example. Your goal, of course, is to have the examples that your children follow be ones that lead them to Christ and his ways. To honor God in your parenting you must be conscious of the importance of formative instruction. Your children live in a culture that sees God (if he exists at all) as the servant of man’s psychological needs. To counter this influence, you must address the culture of the world with your own formative instruction. Tedd turns to Deuteronomy 6:20-25 to explain this. Notice in particular verse 25:

“In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the 
stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?”

Essentially the child is asking what is the point of obeying God? This is the question that every child has, whether he articulates it or not. Why? Because children are born with hearts that question God’s ways. Our children are born in rebellion to God (Eph. 2:1-3). Like Eve, they question the goodness and intentions of God and his word.

Moses instructs parents to tell their children the reasons for following God, but the commands and directives of God do not exist in a vacuum. They fly in the face of the culture that you and your children inhabit–just as much as they did in the Canaanite culture that Israel was facing. Therefore, Tedd urges you to grasp the significance of giving your children formative instruction. God has reasons for his laws and ways. Ultimately, following in the way of God will result in good for children. That is the point of their obedience to your instruction.

The apostle Paul echoes these very words in Ephesians 6:3. What Tedd wants parents to see is that they must be consciously aggressive in presenting God’s truth to children. This does not mean just enforcing a set of rules. Rather, as Moses indicates, this instruction is to be from the heart, not just rote commands (Isaiah 29:13). There is deep spiritual concern for the wellbeing of the child receiving the formative instruction.

In the busyness of life it is vital to remember that your words are formative. Your words do teach about your view of God and your opinions of how God runs his world. Tedd desire for parents to embrace is one that recognizes the awesome formative impact that parents have in teaching their children. It also recognizes that this instruction is given in a cultural environment that is hostile to the gospel. So, formative instruction that depends on the words of Scripture, penned by the Holy Spirit, is an essential component of parenting for the glory of God.


Shepherd Press