Faith is vital. Many of us are passionate about cultivating faith in our children, especially in a faith-phobic time. According to studies, religious experience/education better prepares kids for a meaningful life and lessens chances of them getting in serious trouble, everywhere from violence to sexual promiscuity to drugs. It will also ground them in meaning, strength, wisdom, love, authentic joy, and an eternity that is otherwise unavailable.
My own kids are very young. But lately I’ve come across some great wisdom I want to share—mostly because it goes against what many of us have been taught about faith formation. First, I started reading things. Then I started to talk to people—and we had youth consultant Jeff Crawford speak to a group of 30-somethings called L.I.F.T. at our church. (Jeff, you rock.) Then I saw some studies. Then I talked to people in the midst of it all. Here are some things I learned:
1. Faith Begins at Home
Do you want to know who, according to studies, is the most influential faith-factor in a kids’ life? The church? The Sunday School? The youth program? No. No. No. The answer is: Mom. Number 2 is: Dad. Number 3 is: Grandparent. The research shows that the family and home is the most significant place of faith formation. (Keep in mind that most of the research is American; there is little research from a strictly Canadian point of view.) A big Scripture in this wisdom is Deuteronomy 6—that one where you love God with your whole being. Verse 7 says: “Recite [the commands] to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Parents. Children. Home.
2. Your Own Faith as a Parent is Huge
If you aren’t living out your faith in a significant way, kids get a message. “It’s not that big of a deal.” It’s just a show. Kids pick up on things: What do you spend your time doing; how do you treat others, or speak; what’s your prayer life like; do you serve others; is worship a regular part of your life; how do you spend your money? There’s an old expression (sometimes contested) that faith is caught, not taught. Although certain things are definitely taught, there’s something to it. Author James Baldwin says, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
3. Faith can’t be Downloaded to the Church
Think of the church as a significant helper in faith formation. A helper helps… in this case, the parent(s). I was looking at some church statistics a while ago, and there were 200 kids in a Sunday school program and 80 adults in worship. Did the people of parenting age just all have a lot of kids? No. The backstory is that buses were going out and picking up kids while parents slept in. That means that there was no harmony between church-teaching and home-example. Faith exterminated. Does your child excel in school if they never read stories at home or get help with homework? Of course not. Do they do great at hockey if they only practice an hour a week? They bomb. So with faith. The church provides support to what you’re already doing at home. No outsourcing.
Several decades ago, people got swamped. They had (and have) less time. What better way to get some back than to let others stick-handle our kids’ faith development (and probably even our own). Result? A faith so thin that it cracks in the slightest wind. If we’re working a billion hours and packing our schedules can we really wonder why our kids don’t believe in a God we barely have time for ourselves?
So how do we move forward?
Your own faith needs to be a major priority
You are a mission project. It’s not about having all the answers. It’s about a way of life; it’s about having honest conversations. Just have them. It’s about your relationship with Jesus. Authenticity. It’s about being a part of his body in a flesh-and-blood community of other travellers (a local church). One of the biggest factors in our child’s faith is our own faith. Fertilizer in a child’s spiritual formation, is a parent’s spiritual growth.
Take the pressure off
You are not totally responsible for your child’s faith. (Despite the pressure you may feel as a result of this blog!) Although you are a huge factor, the Holy Spirit is the One in charge. That doesn’t get you off the hook; but it gives you some breathing room in a world of guilt. Pray about it. If you’re reading this blog it means you’re probably sincerely concerned about this whole kids-and-faith-thing. Good for you! That’s awesome. That’s a big part of the journey.
Get a realistic perspective of the church
Many people are anxious and freaking out about how to “fix” whatever isn’t “working.” Part of the issue is that we drop kids off at a program or bring them to church and expect them to “get faith-itized.” Doesn’t happen like that. The church is a help—but for what you’re already doing at home. But you need to find a church home and stick with it, consistently. As Mark Holmen says, “when you don’t have time for church, you can’t establish a lasting partnership with the church.” And it can’t be periphery in this age of consumer-based spirituality. The church is Jesus’ body (which he loves and died for); it has challenges because it’s a gathering of real people, yes—but God-founded. Swim in the wisdom that is greater than any of us.
A great book is “Faith Begins at Home” by Mark Holmen. It’s not only a book but a movement. It draws out a lot of what I’ve been talking about, and has some great practical tips for faith-formation in the home no matter where you’re at in the theological spectrum. Or even if you’re unsure about the whole thing. Spend the 15 bucks. And it includes many insights about other big factors in faith formation. Another one I appreciated is “I Don’t Want to Go to Church: Practical Ways to Deal with Kids and Religion” by Scott Cooper. Both books are just over 100 pages, recent, and packed with practical ideas about faith in the home. Most of what I’ve said is in there.
None of this stuff is simple, But
Like all things related to God—this all requires sincerity of heart. When mom or dad doesn’t prioritize Jesus, that sends a message. And yet, I know many people who have lived very faithfully and authentically, but their kids struggle in their belief (or don’t have any). None of this stuff is fool-proof. No technique is sovereign. Sometimes it takes time; and maybe it won’t happen. It’s complex. But it’s better to be in the game than head-scratching from the sidelines.
It’s my view that our culture no longer cares for or supports your faith or the faith of your children. There’s only God, his church and us working at this. As Christianity descends from a place of cultural priviledge, I think it will get harder. But also more authentic and rewarding. If your heart is sincere, and you’re prepared to equip yourself, I think there’s incredible hope.
If you feel like it, share this blog or some of these resources with people you know, parents or the right people in your church family. I think it will help. Friends, it’s worth it.
The last word on this one is with Billy Graham: “The home should be a… kind of school where life’s basic lessons are taught; a kind of church where God is honoured; a place where wholesome recreation and simple pleasures are enjoyed.”
Wouldn’t that be wonder-full.