Faith is a four year old, curly haired girl growing up in the suburbs of Boston. Her favorite color is purple. She likes playing indoors and outdoors. Some of her favorite activities are dressing her dolls and teddy bears, playing soccer with her preschool friends, baking cookies with mom and washing the car with dad. Faith's parents love her and they love God. They seem to have it all. However, they struggle with how to raise Faith in the Christian faith. They want to help Faith have faith for a lifetime.
A new research study by Lifeway surveyed 2,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The purpose of the project was to discover what parenting practices were common in the families where young adults remained in the Christian faith. What practices affected their spiritual development? What "ingredients" help a little girl like Faith continue to have faith as an adult?
The most important ingredient is Bible reading. Children who regularly read their Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life as adults. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The narrative of the Bible lays out a bigger picture of the world around us and God's love for people (John 3:16). The Bible provides a framework for understanding life, salvation, and loving the world around us.
Fortunately Faith's parents purchased a number of great children's Bibles such as The Beginner's Bible, the Jesus Story Book Bible, and amazing little Arch Books. They take time at home to read together. Yes, they read stories like That's Not My Lion but they also read "God's Wonderful Surprise" in the Jesus Story Book Bible (page 310).
Close behind reading the Bible was time in prayer. Children who regularly prayed while growing up were more likely to have an active faith life as an adult. The type of prayer wasn't specific. It could have been a morning prayer, or praying for people at bedtime, or prayers of thanks during dinner, or praying at worship services. Parents and grandparents have a wonderful opportunity to teach their children how to pray. Jesus even gives us an example of how to pray with the Lord's Prayer.
Faith's parents can help faith brush her teeth, put on her pajamas, and pray together as a family before she goes to sleep. Faith's mom could start with the prayer and her dad could always say good night to their little girl with, "Daddy loves you and Jesus loves you more."
Children who regularly served in church often continue to have faith as an adult. This is more than Faith's parents regularly attending worship services, but actually integrating children into various aspects of service. The habit of serving others in the church and the world around us shaped young adults as disciples of Jesus who love and serve others. They are contributing rather than merely "consuming" spiritual services. Faith can serve even at four years old. She can sing in the children's choir. She can hand out flowers on Mother's Day and Easter. She can help pack a shoebox with gifts to remind her that Jesus is the greatest gift. Slightly lower on the ingredient list was things such as church mission trips highlighting the importance of acts of service.
Faith's parents enjoy streaming music on their smartphones. What they may not realize is the type of songs Faith is slowly learning is from mom and dad's playlist (for better or worse). Songs connect to the soul. The Psalms are a heartfelt hymn book. Martin Luther's Reformation taught the common person through song. At that time a new Bible cost about the price of an automobile. People learned the Word of God through song. For example, Martin Luther wrote many hymns including "All Glory Be to Christ" sung here by King's Kaleidoscope and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" sung here by CPH Children's Choir.
Parents on the go can easily create a new playlist of kids songs for the minivan or SUV. The selection for songs these days is much larger and more convenient than it was 20 years ago. In years past mom and dad sung "Jesus Loves Me" and "I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N" in the station wagon. Today there are resources on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime Music and Google Play. Today there are enormous options for parents which can be downloaded in seconds. There are many options for parents such as Songs Kids Love to Sing, 50 Bible Songs for Kids, Ultimate Kids Worship, and Hillsong Kids. Most music can be purchased for $6 to $21 for an entire album. Faith's parents can have fun and sing along with Faith's favorite songs.
CULTURE FOR FAMILY MINISTRY
Faith's parents are creating a culture for family ministry. They are creating a healthy environment where Faith can ask questions when she comes home from school. She can be mentored by other generations of Christians. She experiences a kids message on Sundays from her pastor. She learns about God's love at Sunday school from caring teachers. She hears her parents forgive and love one another through ups and downs in life. She encounters the good news of Jesus's love in the Bible and in her home. And as Faith gets older she comes alongside her parents to serve her neighborhood and on mission trips to help people around the world.
For many years Christian parents assumed the size of the church or the church's programs were the key ingredients in the child’s spiritual development. Parents felt pressure to have their children be a part of the largest children's ministry, attend the best Vacation Bible School, or participate in the most creative Sunday school. Lifeway's research study shows that these resources make an impact when they are added to essential ingredients of Bible reading, prayer, service and song. Raising Faith is creating a culture of bringing the home and church together in healthy ways to grow Faith's faith.
NOT A FORMULA
Parenting strategies and research studies are helpful but they are not a formula for success. In the Old Testament faithful kings like Josiah had children who departed from the faith. We believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and keeps us in the true faith.
Raising Faith requires childlike faith and trusting the Lord. We can trust his promises.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1–4)