“With each of you were were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into his own kingdom, into this delightful life.” -1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
I really wanted to read something that gives insight into how to train children in the ways of God. Lately, I’ve gotten to experience a few ways that believers pass along the faith to children, and sadly, I was sort of disappointed. To put a disclaimer on this, know that I do not have any children, so I don’t know much about teaching a faith system to kids, and I don’t blame anyone in particular for the way our society is. Parents and church leaders alike, I thank you for what you do. I don’t know how to do it any better. But there’s still a problem.
You hear a lot of statistics on young people after they leave home and what happens in their faith. Something like 80% of “Christian” youth who graduate high school and walk away from home also walk away from Christianity. We all say “wow” to that, but don’t know how to change things that go on during the early years of these kids to make a dent in this astounding percentage.
I tell you, we have to do something. I still don’t know how, but something must change in our childhood training sessions! We must stop treating kids like they aren’t listening, because they are. They know all the Sunday School answers (gag). Going through the motions just doesn’t cut it though. But what I see being taught in some faith communities is a works-based faith, even though they would NEVER say they believe that. In my opinion, I think fixing this problem is part of the solution to lowering the 80% figure.
Let me flesh this out for you. If you grew up in a Christian environment, you were probably taught that you should read the Bible, and it should be everyday. You should also pray everyday, because this is how you talk with God. You should always be at church on Sunday, and Sunday School is a must. It’s a great thing when you memorize the order of the books of the Bible, and if you memorize the verse of the week, by golly, you deserve a piece of candy.
Yikes. Putting that in words makes me throw up a little. Let me ask you a question: How many of those things are bad? All of the stuff I rattled off is all good. But the one thing that drives me crazy is this: I never was trained HOW to do any of this stuff until I was in college! No wonder people walk away! They never really find meaning behind these activities.
Bible reading, prayer, being apart of a community and a small group, scripture GPS, and scripture memory are all key parts of having a vibrant life in Christ. But it is not a cause and effect relationship. If… then doesn’t fit the God mold. Many a time I have heard this basic statement: If you read the Bible and pray, then you’ll be closer to God. Really? So all I have to do is read some book and say a little prayer and I’ll be good. I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong here. These principles are true, but we must start giving kids some meat after we teach them these milky principles, and I think the earlier the better.
Teach kids things that answer these questions: How do you read the Bible? Good grief, there are adults who still don’t know! If you just read the Bible to read it and then put it down, you’re missing out. Answer the “why” questions. Why do we go to church? Why is a small group so important? How do we pray? Are there different ways? Do they need to be long? What are some strategies to memorize Scripture? Why is memorizing necessary? How are these things helpful? What’s the point? The list goes on.
In my opinion, we have to start answering these questions early on, otherwise, when that child grows up, all he will think is, “I don’t need these in my life, it hasn’t really done me much good” and out the door he goes. All he knows is the motions of Christianity, the Sunday School answers, but the relationship with Jesus is never fostered. And heaven forbid a tragedy strikes in his life. People are trained to believe IF I do all these things, THEN God will bless me. Then when something bad happens, they get burned. If God didn’t keep his end of the deal, then I’m outta here.
We cannot assume children know this stuff. And none of it will become habit until they see value in it. We must hold hands with them, like Paul said, showing them step-by-step how to live. The how to’s, the applications. We also must remember that children don’t eat as much. But they do eat the same food as adults. Maybe the bites are cut smaller. Attention spans are much less than an adult. Maturity levels are different. But that doesn’t mean they are exempt from learning the how’s and why’s.
Our life as Christians is supposed to be a delightful one, as Paul says. If 80% of 18 year olds view the Christian life as a bunch of rules and musts, of course they will walk away. I would too. That doesn’t sound delightful at all. There must be a shift in this view. And it starts with us. Will we help?