Deep and wide

Four strategies for helping children develop lifelong faith

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Barna Group estimates that about 70 percent of students entering college as Christians will leave with little to no faith. I don’t know about you, but that stirs a desire in me to help my kids develop a deep faith now that they won’t be likely to abandon when they leave home. The big question is “How?”

Attending church with our kids just isn’t enough, although it’s an important step. Check out these numbers. Kids spend well over 1,000 hours at school each year. That’s a lot of influence. Kids spend about 40 hours per year at church. That’s such a short time in comparison. But parents get a whopping 3,000 hours of influence per year with their kids. The numbers speak for themselves. Parents have the most influence and the greatest opportunity to help build authentic, lifelong faith in their kids.

God tasks parents with the responsibility of teaching their children about Jesus and building their faith. The commands in Deuteronomy 6:5-9 were originally given to the Israelites, but I believe they apply to us in 2023 as well. These verses make it clear that spiritual conversations with family are meant to be a significant part of our lives. You don’t have to be a pastor or have gone to Bible college to disciple your kids at home. A few simple strategies and habits can make all the difference.

Strategy 1: Attend to your own faith

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today” (Deut. 6:5-6).

My dad took me to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night when I was growing up. I was absolutely immersed in church. What made even more of an impact on my faith was my dad’s personal walk with Jesus. My dad was an early riser. He would usually be at work by the time I woke up. One of the things I noticed each morning was his open Bible sitting on the dining room table. He had clearly spent time with God that morning. Seeing how important it was to my dad to sit with Jesus helped me see my own need for time in God’s Word.

What does it look like to inspire your children toward Jesus by attending to your own faith? Take them into “big” church with you occasionally to let them see you worship. Serve at your church and let your kids be involved, if appropriate. Spend some of your time with God while your kids are awake and home, when they can see you opening your Bible.

The expression, “More is caught than taught,” rings true. If you attend to your own faith, making disciples of your children will be a natural overflow of the disciple you are becoming.

Strategy 2: Schedule the spiritual

God intends us to make faith a big deal in our lives and with our families. “Repeat them (God’s commands) again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7-9).

Sometimes we must schedule important things to make them happen. You aren’t going to randomly show up at the dentist because it’s convenient. You schedule and plan and make sure to floss for a few nights before the appointment. The same concept can be applied to having spiritual conversations.

Make a list of spiritual conversations you’d like to have with your kids. I keep a running list on my phone in the notes app, where my husband and I can both add ideas. When I think of something I want to talk about with my kids, I add it to the list. Then I take one item on the list and plan the opportunity to talk about it. Make it a habit, and it will be easier to get momentum.

The best way to create new habits is to connect them to existing habits. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to talk with our children when we are going to bed. If you tuck your kids in every night, this is the perfect time to add a habit of praying together or reading a devotional together. Grace for the Moment Family Devotional by Max Lucado is a great place to start with young kids.

Try listening to worship music in the morning. Ask everyone at dinner about their “high” (best moment) and “low” (worst moment) of the day. Parent Cue (theparentcue.org) has weekly “cues” to help you make the most of the moments you already have together. Family Time Training (famtime.com) has great simple tools that you can just open and start the conversation. What gets scheduled gets done. Be intentional, and you’ll see it pay off.

You don’t have to try all these strategies. Pick what resonates with you. You don’t have to do everything, just the next thing.

Strategy 3: Make the most of the moments

So much of faith-building will happen in random, everyday experiences. When your kid comes home from school with a story about a bully, listen and empathize. Then ask, “Should we see what God’s Word has to say about this?” It’s easy to search online for “Verses about ___.” Maybe you’ll read Matthew 5, where Jesus preaches about loving your enemies.

When your son mentions that he heard the neighbors are getting a divorce, that’s a great opportunity to talk about God’s design for marriage. Follow up by brainstorming ideas for how you can show love to those neighbors while they are going through a hard time. When kids see how God’s Word is relevant to their everyday lives, they will be more likely to continue to look to God for answers to life’s situations

Bonus strategy: Cultivate the connection

Cultivating a strong connection with your kids in the everyday will open doors to all sorts of conversations and opportunities. When your kids talk, stop what you are doing and listen. Avoid giving advice every time. Say “yes” to their requests as often as you can. Write them notes about positive qualities you see in them. All of this will create a strong connection between you and your kids. This strong, positive connection will pave the way for faith conversations your kids will listen to.

I wish I could promise that doing these things will guarantee that our children will grow up to love and follow Jesus. We may do everything “right,” and our children may still end up choosing a path separate from Jesus.  After all, faith in Jesus is a personal decision.

But don’t you want to know that you did all you could? If discipling your kids sounds overwhelming, start small and keep it simple. Pick up a devotional on Amazon or investigate the websites mentioned in this article. You’ll never regret the time you spend growing your kids’ faith and knowledge of Jesus.

Sarah Morgan is the elementary ministry director at Mosaic: A Jesus Centered Community, located in Denver, Colo.

 

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