ecently, a mom of a second-grade boy emailed me to say she was keeping her son out of kids’ church on Sunday as punishment for bad behavior. Not a good idea!
Then, another mom told me she did not know how to discipline her child and would be talking to her pediatrician for advice on handling her child’s misbehavior. What?
Yet another young couple recently expressed their gratitude for the resources our church provides to them because they previously had no idea how to approach child-rearing from a Biblical and spiritual standpoint.
These examples point to the great need for local churches to support and resource parents in raising their children to love and serve Jesus as they pass on a first-hand faith to the next generation.
In a 2018 Barna Research survey, three out of five Christian parents (59%) said they are primarily responsible to develop their children’s faith. More than one-third of parents (39%) said it’s mostly up to them, with the help of church leaders (barna.com/parentsandpastors).
Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, and Ephesians 6:4 urge parents to take the spiritual training of their children very seriously. As parents, our main effort at spiritual training is often bringing our kids to church. For example, in the Barna survey, 89 percent of the parents said they take their teen children to church, while only 59 percent said they pray with them. However, church attendance is only a small part of planting and nurturing spiritual truth in our kids’ lives.
In our local fellowship, we believe it is our job to equip parents to effectively train their children in the Christian faith as they engage in events of everyday life, including mealtime, homework, and recreation. Faith is far more important than just two hours on Sunday. This process of passing on faith begins even while the parents are expecting a child and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. Our aim is to partner with parents in the following ways as they endeavor to train their children in faith.
Our ministry to expectant parents and those with children up to one year of age is called “Expecting Something.” We gather with young parents three to four times per year for a light breakfast and an opportunity to hear stories of where they are in their parenting journey. For expectant parents, we want to know when their due date is, how mom is feeling, if they’ve heard the heartbeat yet, if they know the gender of their baby, if they’ve chosen a name, and all the other exciting components of expectant parenthood.
What about the parents who have recently given birth and are now experiencing for the first time (or once again) the sleepless nights, the uncertainty of nutrition and health concerns, the joy of the first smile, first words, and their love and pride blooming for their new little one? We give them the opportunity to tell their stories and ask for advice and opinions from other parents who are further along in their child-rearing journey. At every gathering, we pray for the parents and assign them partners who make themselves available for prayer and conversation as parents call on them for support.
In Expecting Something gatherings, we take tours of the nursery area of our church, meet the nursery workers, and help new parents become familiar with the procedures in anticipation of their child becoming part of the nursery ministry. Additionally, we determine a date that we can host a church-wide baby shower for the new parents. This is a dynamic way to introduce expecting parents to the church family as a whole and shower the expecting couple with gifts and necessities. We also present the opportunity for parents to dedicate their child to the Lord before the congregation.
Family Dedication includes a workshop with the family/children’s pastor helping new parents begin to understand the responsibility and privilege God has given them in entrusting them with their new child. We share the Biblical mandate from Deuteronomy 6:7: “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” (NLT).
We encourage young parents to begin having intentional faith talks with their little one by reading Bible stories, surrounding their child with spiritual music, making the most of teachable moments, and praying blessings over their child. At the dedication itself, besides the traditional elements of the pastor praying over the child and extended family and friends surrounding the couple, we encourage the parents, in their own way, to pray blessings and a prayer of dedication over their child.
We have witnessed parents pray their own personally written prayers based on Scripture, parents and other family members singing over the new little ones, toddler cousins laying their hands on their newest little cousin, and even babies being handed from grandparent to grandparent for prayer over their new grandchild. This personalization of the family dedication, after helping parents understand the privilege of spiritually training their child, gives special meaning and purpose to the event.
On Sundays, we resource parents with children of all ages with a weekly devotional activity for them to engage in with their children in preparation for the next Sunday. We don’t want parents to pick up their kids after church and ask, “What did you learn?” Instead, we want kids to be familiar with the truths of that week’s Bible lesson because mom and dad have already introduced it to their children during that week. This is God’s plan—that mom and dad “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).
At church, we will be surrogate spiritual parents to any child who should need that covering. However, that is not God’s best plan; parents leading the way is best.
As children grow to the preschool/kindergarten age, we invite families with kids in that age group to attend a fun luncheon activity. We serve a tasty, kid-friendly lunch, play games, and offer door prizes before the highlight of this special event—presenting Bibles and Bible storybooks. For children not yet ready for kindergarten, they receive a Bible storybook. For the children going into kindergarten, they are given a Bible.
After the awarding of the Bibles, we hand out the next week’s family devotional activity and, as an entire group, we walk through how to have family devotions. Parents and their children sit together in their own family group as step-by-step we lead parents in using the weekly devotionals we provide. Our desire for this luncheon is to equip parents with tools and some practice time to see how simple and rewarding it is to sit down with their children to read God’s Word and pray together.
Salvation and Baptism
During the elementary years, parents are invited to a “Leading Your Child in Salvation” workshop. The goal is to help them understand how to lead their children to a saving relationship with Jesus, as well as how to begin discipling their kids.
As the Holy Spirit begins to lead a child in the desire to know Jesus as Savior, parents should be ready to engage their child in a Scripturally based conversation and pray with their child for salvation.
Once a child has trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we encourage parents to help their child to follow the example of Jesus in baptism. We offer a short video about baptism for parents and children to watch together, with an accompanying fill-in- the-blank worksheet. This worksheet also helps the child to organize their thoughts about their salvation experience. The child’s words are used in a video testimony that is played at their baptism.
Equipping God’s People
God’s design for passing faith to the next generation is through the context of the family while the church plays a supportive and equipping role to this endeavor. The church’s responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT).
The intention of family ministries is to work toward the common goal of faith development in this generation of children by resourcing parents with tools to accomplish this task.