Our Role in the Faith Development of Our Children

Our Role in the Faith Development of Our Children

Submitted by Jennifer Power

Faith development is an act of grace. It is a gift given by God. We cannot change by our own willpower. We may be able to change our habits by sheer willpower, but true heart-transformation that gives way to a life of easy virtue which reflects the laws and love of God is not something we can force upon ourselves or others. In the introduction to Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, he describes this attempting to act in a Godly manner by sheer force of will as “will-worship.” When we rely on our own wills to change us and make us more like Christ, we are actually worshiping our will, not our creator.

We must not worship or rely upon our wills, but neither should we sit idly by, thinking God will change us while we do nothing (or while we do whatever we want). God regularly gives grace to those who position themselves to receive it. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two ways we position ourselves to receive God’s free grace. Spiritual disciplines such as solitude, silence, prayer, meditation, study, fasting, giving, worship, and more are other ways in which we can position ourselves to receive God’s life-changing, life-breathing grace which actually will transform us.

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When it comes to the faith development of our children, it is not something we can simply gift them. Faith, after all, is not something we can give anyone – it is a gift of God, and as such it is His to give. What we can do as parents (and grandparents, friends, members of the family of faith, etc.) is train up children and help position them to receive God’s gifts of faith and grace. One way we position our children is through the sacraments: we bring our children to be baptized and to receive instruction on the Lord’s Supper.

Another way we can help our children be positioned to receive grace is through teaching and modeling spiritual disciplines. We teach our children to pray, listen to God, become aware of His presence, of stories of the Bible, how to study the Bible, how to meditate on God’s Word and on God’s presence, to give generously, live simply, celebrate God’s movements in our lives, to be alone with God regularly, and more.

We can also prepare our children to be recipients of grace rather than grace-blockers. There are many ways we can block the grace of God in our lives, and God will not force us to receive His gifts. We can prepare our children to be mentally, spiritually, and emotionally healthy enough to receive His graces and mercies and to be channels of His love. The way we treat our children can either help or hinder their health in these areas.

There are many specific ways we can help our children with their faith development. Some of these are more effective at certain ages than others, but most have value no matter how old your children are. What follows is a rough outline of specific faith development activities which are most important for certain ages. Each child will be a little different, and some may require adjustments to these suggestions. This is the result of my own personal and professional study and experience both with the Bible and with children. It is meant only to be helpful and not as an absolute authority.

Birth to Five-Years-Old

Birth to five is the most important window of time for us to invest in our children’s mental and emotional health. In this time frame it is crucial for children to learn they are loved and valued. This is a time for stability. Children who are loved, provided for, and who have all their needs routinely met will have a stronger mental and emotional foundation than those who do not receive adequate love, provision, or who do not have all their needs regularly met during this time. This is not to say that recovery and healing is not possible for those who do not have this strong foundation (God’s has the power to heal all hurts), but if our desire is to give our children strong foundations for spiritual health, this time frame is most important for developing the foundation.

Here are a few ways to strengthen your child’s mental and emotional foundation (thus providing a strong spiritual foundation on which to learn, understand, and receive the ongoing love of God):

  • Make use of regular, loving, appropriate physical touch (holding, rocking, hugging, high-fives, light rough-housing with responsible adult, physical play, etc.).
  • Speak calm, soothing words of affirmation (regularly say “I love you,” praise for small accomplishments [such as when a toddler looks at you when he puts a puzzle piece in place after several attempts], speaking positively of those around you, words of encouragement, avoiding yelling and arguing, expressing the joy you experience when you are around your little ones, etc.).
  • Meet your children’s needs regularly and quickly.

Five to Ten-Years-Old

At five to ten years of age, this is a great time to begin teaching your children truths from the Bible and about the world (after all, all truth is God’s truth). Kids in this age group soak up so much information through observation, listening, and doing. Here are some ways to give your children a strong Biblical foundation and worldview during these years:

  • Read Bible story books that work through the whole Bible story from beginning to end
  • Attend worship services with your children and bring them to age-appropriate educational opportunities.
  • Teach your children to pray through modeling prayer, encouraging them to pray, sharing what God’s word says about prayer, looking for opportunities to pray throughout the day, praying at set times, teaching memorized prayers, leading in unscripted prayers, pointing out answers to prayers, etc.
  • Help your children discover their unique giftedness. Look for small opportunities for them to serve in the body of Christ. Slowly provide them opportunities which require more and more responsibility and reliance upon God.
  • Answer their questions honestly.

Ten to Thirteen-Years-Old

Ten to thirteen years of age is a challenging time for kids. They are becoming self-conscious and eager to impress their peers. In their eagerness, they may feel uncomfortable expressing their faith with their peers (this can be especially true with boys). As such, one of the best things you can do for children in this age frame is to get them serving with other kids their age or in serving younger kids with the help of an adult. Older elementary aged children often do well helping out with younger children and should be given plenty of opportunities to do so. This will not only help with their confidence, but will give them a chance to practice their faith rather than only sitting and learning about God (which can be ineffective at this age).

For this age group:

  • Look for opportunities for them to serve utilizing their unique God-given giftedness.
  • Teach them through hands-on activities rather than just lecture or conversations.
  • Encourage them to try a prayer journal. This can be a great way for pre-teens young teenagers to express their feelings privately to God and to record the ways in which He is answering their prayers. Consider making a pact with your child that you will not read their prayer journals so that this can be something they can write in freely.

These suggestions are by no means complete or accurate for every child. You know your child better than anyone else (other than God), so spend time at every season in prayer for your child and let God direct your efforts to position your child to receive the grace of God.

Pray, always pray. In every season, whether your children are infants, teenagers, young adults, or mature adults, never cease in your prayers for them. Do not forget that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16), and before you start thinking you are not a righteous person, look up these: 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:17, and Philippians 3:9.

And remember, you are not in this parenting journey alone. We all feel both the challenges and joys of parenting. If you are in need of some support, do not be afraid to reach out to others. If you are in our congregation and you need parenting support, we at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church would love to help connect you with people who would pray with and for you and with whom you can share your struggles and joys. You can contact the church office at (217)423-6955 or you can email me personally at jennifer@spldecatur.org.

May God richly bless your home today!

Jen

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