“When our children see us wholeheartedly share in their laughter and dances, they will more readily trust us with their tears and concerns.”

Join co-hosts Andy Lamberton and Stephen Mullan as they chat with Sam Balmer from Bible Education Services (PBS).

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music

We need to apologise for the audio quality of this episode. The mic settings were off, and we were in the wrong type of room. Forgive us – we’re still learning how to do this! This is no reflection on the content, Sam has nuggets of gold!


Fathers, play. – Article by Stephen Mullan

In this episode, we’re talking with Sam Balmer from Bible Education Services (PBS) about having fun as a family and teaching our children the Bible. In his reflection article, Stephen thinks more about the first of these things: playing with your children.

There’s a phrase that Sam uses in the middle of this conversation that neatly ties together the big theme: ‘you need to do two things with your family: we need to play with them and we need to pray with them.’

Fun matters in faith formation.

As dads, we can feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. We can fear where society is heading and what kind of world our children will have to navigate. And sometimes we bear the strain of too much work on too little sleep. One consequence of all this is that we can lose our joy. Another consequence, from our children’s perspective, is that the spirit of fun disappears from our home. 

What a shame.

Of all places, the Christian home ought to be full of joy. As Sam says in the episode, “God is no kill-joy. He has given mankind every good thing to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) and appointed times for laughter and dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:4).”

When my son was born, a friend said this: ‘When I hear a baby laugh, I remember that we’re made for joy.’ I love that. Laughter, dancing, fun and games – these are all good gifts from God that we can enjoy with a full heart. 

Play to the glory of God.

I love to view the Christian home as a little outpost of God’s kingdom – somewhere our children get to experience life lived in God’s way. God’s righteousness, peace and joy should be literally felt in our homes. Even play is elevated by faith. When our children see us happy to play with them and to give of our time without a grudge, and without sideglancing at our phones, they learn something about the good God we worship.

As Christian fathers, we can also show our children how to laugh and play to the glory of God. Certain things will not be welcome in our homes. But with every ‘no’, there should be a ‘yes’ to something better. We can show our children the goodness and richness of true friendship, clean fun and simple play. 

To apply a quote from our episode: our kids should learn first-hand through their life at home that ‘you never miss out when you choose to follow Jesus.’ 

If we don’t play with our children, they will look for fun elsewhere. And we all know where that will lead. There is plenty on offer in this old world of ours – a corrupted kind of fun that neither honours God nor benefits our children.

Therefore, as we raise our children – teaching them about God, praying for their souls, preparing them for the world – let’s not forget the opportunity and gift of play. 

How play benefits our children

When children play, they learn.
It’s been amazing to watch how play has been a perfect learning environment for my three-year-old son to develop his language, learn basic maths and solve problems. There is a lot of research out there that advocates all kinds of play:

Some examples spring to mind:

  • Open play – consider the virtues of Lego in this 2010 study
  • Unsupervised play – e.g. this 2023 article by Jonathan Haidt
  • Outdoor play – both body and mind benefit from an adventure in the woods (see this article)

Another kind of play needs to be prioritised: let’s call it father play
Dads, we need to play with our children for at least two reasons. First, it is one of the clearest ways to show our children we genuinely love them. Second, it is one of the best ways to build a bond with our sons and daughters.

The more we play with our children, the more trust and affection is built – and that is the foundation for everything else. Playfulness leads to openness. When our children see us wholeheartedly share in their laughter and dances, they will more readily trust us with their tears and concerns.

By Stephen Mullan
Cohost of the Legacy Podcast.

Stephen directs the work of Dreamscheme Northern Ireland, a youth work charity that provides support and opportunities to young people growing up in housing estates. He also writes on the subject of youth via his newsletter Rethinking Youth. Stephen is married to Sharon and has two young children.

– Did you enjoy the podcast? Please share with other fathers you know and tell us what you think. Email: hello@legacyfathers.org