Our research found that there are 8 factors that churches can do to help parents shape children’s faith development:
1. A hospitable climate
Welcoming, open, “there’s a place for you.” Perhaps environmentally safe and secure.
2. Inspirational worship
Worship that leads to great thoughts and feelings about God, in adoration. This seems to be a “feeling” or “emotional” piece.
3. A caring environment
Old adage: A child doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Supportive. Emotionally safe.
4. A thinking climate
Is there substance behind the inspiration? What is the undergirding philosophy, core values and a sense of mission and purpose? Is only fun to be had, or is there an intentional learning taking place?
5. Families who help families
Communal, relational, the opposite of isolation. Perhaps getting families to talk to each other… not forcing a conversation, but providing space and an environment for dialogue and connection.
6. An emphasis on prayer
We have to be dependent on God. If we only depend on our plans, our thoughts, our creation of various environments and feelings, then it will not touch or transform our deep, humanly fallen, hearts that need to be redeemed and restored.
7. Intergenerational service efforts
What would it look like to serve or rub shoulders or play with each other across the age spectrum? Children sitting at the feet of grandparents hearing stories. Teenagers serving at an elderly care facility. Etc.
8. A sense of mission
Enacting, doing, participating in the work of the kingdom of God. That it doesn’t stop with facts.
As you can see, there is an active shaping to the Interior world that helps shape Identity (worship, prayer, thinking) and the External world that shapes how we act out of that Identity (caring, prayer, service, mission).
Interior: Jesus as my personal Savior who died and rescued me.
Exterior: Embracing God’s mission to “make all things new…” “…on earth as it is in heaven.”
There’s been seasons where the church (or particular churches) focus on either interior (personal relationship) or exterior (joining God’s mission for his people in the world) to the exclusion of the other. Or one is primary while the other is secondary.
Sure, we need to be redeemed and ransomed and we need to grow in character and Christlikeness, but that doesn’t happen out of pure will-training. It happens when we join God’s mission (exterior) and seek to make all things new and be a representative for Him in this world.
Conversely, to only pound the pulpit on social justice issues and being a part of God’s fixing things in this world, misses the beauty of transformation and redemption (interior) as well as dependency on the Holy Spirit to realize (through our ever deepening relationship with God through Jesus).
The two worlds, interior and exterior, need to be in dynamic interplay with each other.
We would also add that it is essential that churches see themselves as equippers of parents first and facilitate that relationship and faith development. The better they can teach parents to disciple their kids and create environments for this to happen naturally, the better.
As was said in a previous post, parents need to embrace their role in the spiritual formation of their children as primary. Because, and this is important, parental instruction and relationship needs to happen in the context of “natural, real, human, everyday” life. Outside of instructional times, it’s the process of average, mundane, everyday life that living like Jesus is realized, and what better way to accomplish this learning task is in the midst of it.
I kind of think of it like random teachable moments. You don’t know when they are going to occur, but as parents we need to be ready to capitalize on the teachable moments as they happen. One of the major things I’ve learned from being a children’s pastor for over 8 years now, is that children learn and listening when they are in trouble. Interesting, eh? Yeah… when they are in trouble. So, while some adults try to avoid the behavior problems, I love them! Why? Because when a child doesn’t know what is going to happen, or what a consequence is going to be, they are LISTENING. The teachable moment is active and present. These are the moments, of everyday life, where some really significant shaping can occur.
Your thoughts, critique and questions are welcome in the comments below!