AN ENVIRONMENT THAT NURTURES FAITH
Dr. Jennifer Schroeder wrote a compelling article entitled “An Environment That Nurtures Faith.” In it, she advocates for kids being a part of leadership discussions when decisions are being made in a church setting. These principles, though, can be formative for our lives with our families at home, also. Please click the button and read what she has to say.
Take special note of the four foundational pieces Dr. Schroeder highlights in connection with the spiritual formation of kids. By definition, “spiritual” is relating to something incorporeal inside oneself. In other words, being spiritual has to do with one’s spirit or soul and has nothing to do with anything of physical matter. Dr. Schroeder contends that we are spiritual people when we are born. Simple evidence exists in the fact that infants can recognize the voice of their mother. To reiterate Dr. Schroeder, “Spirituality … is present at birth, and it is a vibrant part of who (children) are.”1 In our homes as well as in our churches, we need to be aware of this fact and understand how to best nurture it. Singing praises, reading Scriptures, praying (especially common prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer that can be recognized quickly), telling stories, etc. are great ways to ensure our kids are having their spirituality nurtured, even from a young age.
I have two sons and one dog. My two sons as crawling babies enjoyed crawling over to the dog’s water dish and putting their hand into the water. They would then pull out their hand from the water and examine it before dipping it back in. They were always curious to know why the dog dish reflected light, why their hand would become wet when putting it into the dish, why it suddenly got colder, and whether or not the results would change if they tried it again. From infanthood, we are constantly grasping for a deeper understanding of the world around us. This is no different when it comes to grasping for a deeper understanding of God. When humans were created, all that was recorded is that they were created in the image of God. We naturally want to learn deeper and deeper theological truths about our Creator in whose image we are made. Church is a great place to learn and challenge our kids to grow in this way, but creating an environment for theological growth and cultivation in our homes creates the most fruitful outcome. Ask your kids questions. Discover theology with them. Be okay with not having all of the answers. Strive for an understanding of God that only comes to one who can be perfectly and intimately relational with him.
According to Sticky Faith, “Recent studies show that 40-50 percent of kids who are connected to a youth group throughout their senior year will fail to stick with their faith in college.”2 Being part of a church that disconnects kids and teenagers in all aspects can (not definitive) negatively impact those students from being a part of the Church in the long run. As young adults become independent, they’ll often connect themselves with people who have the same ideals, interests, and general age and stage of life. If they have not formed meaningful, intergenerational relationships in a church context, they won’t be missing much of anything at church when they leave the house. Developing these relationships is absolutely crucial for the spiritual formation of our children. It’s also absolutely crucial for the spiritual formation of our adults, including senior citizens! After all, Jesus told us we must accept the Kingdom of God like a child in order to enter it. Who can teach adults how to accept something like a child better than a child! Make sure your kids have trustworthy relationships with people of all ages in your church context to pour into and who can pour into them to help the church and the spiritual lives of the people in it thrive.
Dr. Schroeder’s distinction between presence and belonging is chilling. Having children present does nothing more than create show ponies for others to feel good about. Finding belonging for kids is when we can see their spirituality, recognize and nurture their theological curiosity, and truly become an intergenerational people. I often say that kids aren’t the future of the church; they are the church right now. We must recognize the full Kingdom citizenship kids have and elevate them to full church membership and key members of their communities. This has to start at home. We must find belonging for our kids where their input is valued and their voices are heard. This doesn’t have anything to do with what kids want; if that were the case, we could never reprimand them for their wrongdoings and raise them in an upright way. It does mean, though, that we create opportunities for kids to use their voice, knowledge, skills, and passions in order to be a part of something bigger. At church, find ways for your kids to serve whether by asking the kids ministers what they can do or by developing nurturing, intergenerational relationships with those who already serve. At home, find decisions (even a few important decisions) of which they can be a part (e.g. Where are we going for dinner? What activities are we going to do for a family night? Which of these options would you want our next vacation to be? What percentages should we divvy up for Christmas gifts this year from this specific budget? What should be the dinner menu next week and how do you plan on helping prepare some of them? etc.). Never stop striving to find belonging for your kids instead of just presence.
No one has an answer that will allow for perfect implementation of all these foundational pieces right away. Nonetheless, we owe it to our kids to recognize their spirituality, nurture their theological curiosity, give them intergenerational relationships, and find belonging for each one of them. Jesus shows without a doubt that children have belonging (not just presence) in the Kingdom of God. We must as parents and church members figure out how to make sure kids see the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
– Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)