As a parent one of the greatest joys in life is to see our children growing and maturing in faith. As a young parent I read an article that suggested that for children from Christian homes, stepping into a faith they naturally owned should be as natural as a duck taking to water.
Natural, but not always easy. And our children have a mind and will of their own, after all. So what are some things we can do as parents that can help build faith in our children?
I, by no means, have all the answers, but these are what worked for our family:
1. Church. Ten years ago I would have thought this obvious and yet after years of youth ministry, my husband and I have been surprised at how often this has been a "choice" in Christian families. We were strict - and our rules may not be for everyone - but we did church every week and our children were encouraged to set aside this day for worshipping the Lord and enjoying time with family. No part-time job or sporting team was to interfere with us all worshipping together as a family. Some times my husband was forced to work Sundays (and some jobs, particularly those in essential services such as medical, fire, police, defence work, etc do not fit nicely into a five or six day working week) but everyone in our family knew that generally speaking, Sunday was for church. And we went together.
Our preference was for a church that allowed us to worship together as a family unit for at least part of the service, before everyone went off to their separate areas, as we felt that parents had a great opportunity to train children right there in the pew.
Whatever your beliefs and manner of worship, I believe this first activity for building faith shouldn't be overlooked.
2. Eat together. At the table. Where all family members can talk. With busy schedules, this can be difficult. I know that. We struggled with it too. Not because of busy schedules so much but because I hate being cold and New Zealand homes tend to be cold. Especially dining rooms with no heating. In winter we would migrate into the living room in front of the fire to eat. And the TV. I can guarantee that the meals in front of the fire did not provide the opportunities for discussion as did those around the dining room table simply because with that box directly in front of us it took a lot of willpower to keep it switched off. Willpower we often didn't possess, sadly. (Not being face-to-face with one another wasn't conducive to conversation either.) Wherever you choose to eat, keep the TV turned off, ban cell phones and other devices for the duration of the meal, and eat together.
Use this time to share news of the day. At first it might be awkward, but it can become a wonderful time of building relationships, learning what struggles and concerns other family members have, and supporting each other without distractions. It's important to put that phone away for half an hour or turn off the TV and give undivided attention to other members of the family. It might be the only time anyone truly listens to them all day.
3. Pray together. I would encourage whole-family devotions either at meal time or bed time. If there are a range of ages in the family, my suggestion is to gear it to the youngest member. You can always delve into a deeper study with older children at a later time when the younger ones are in bed. Bed-time prayers are also important for training young children in their faith and understanding.
Share prayer requests. No matter how small. Of course, you may not want to share all the details of your requests with young children but asking them to pray for Daddy's job without telling them your fears of redundancy and not being able to make the mortgage repayments shows them that you trust God to be interested in every aspect of your life. Pray with them about the friend that is hurting or the teacher who seems unfair (without judging the teacher) and share the answers when you receive them. "Remember we prayed for Daddy's job? Well, God answered our prayers and Daddy has received a promotion."
4. Get outside. Enjoy the outdoors together and all that God has created. This is easy for us as we live in a beautiful part of the world with access to the outdoors at our fingertips. I have stood on a mountain and felt the majesty of God and wanted to shout praises. My husband feels that the bush is a temple where he can worship God. Share these experiences with your children. Whatever it is that you like to do - climb mountains, scale rocks, swim in the ocean, kayak rapids, go stargazing, collect seashells, go bird watching, run cross country - whatever - do it with all your might and remember the God who created it all.
Explore the world's wonders. Volcanoes. Caves. Geysers. The Milky Way. Whatever your local area has to offer and those further afield. And remember the Creator. Share what He has done. Share Bible verses that talk of His wondrous acts. Enjoy and experience our natural world.
5. Enjoy events together. This can be whatever you enjoy doing together as a family. Picnics. Mini golf. Horse riding. Archery. Concerts. Team sports. A day at the beach. Camping. Drives in the country. Ten pin bowling. Golf. Musical recitals. Whatever it is that you love to do, do it as a family.
We would always pray together whenever we were about to embark on a car journey as a family (and still do even though our children are now adults). We would ask for safe travels, naturally, but we would also ask that the time we had together as a family would unite and strengthen our family. And then we would go off and have fun.
This doesn't mean everything always went smoothly. Sometimes we were rained out, or had car trouble, or forgot some essential item or items, or were snowed in during our spring holiday, but these "misfortunes" also created memories and bonded us more closely together as family.
I believe that our unspoken motto was that the family that prays and plays together, stays together. And by praying before enjoying any event together, we both prayed and played with the effect that it strengthened our family (and I believe still does so today with grandchildren in the mix).
6. Read together. I cannot guess at the number of books my husband and I have read to our children over the years. But it would be lots and lots. Any teacher will tell you how valuable it is to read to your child and the benefits to your child in terms of education and relationship. And, yes, that is important. But books also give you an opportunity to present a Christian worldview without sounding preachy (unless the books you choose to read are preachy). There are books that are overtly Christian, others like C. S. Lewis' Narnia tales that appeal to both Christian and non-Christian readers alike, and those that perhaps appear "neutral" as far as faith goes but which endorse Christian values. For the older child who is learning to dissect what they hear and read, reading a story that may differ from some of your beliefs can provide an opportunity to discuss your beliefs with your children and why you hold such beliefs. Obviously, if the book contains scenes and language that seriously challenge your own beliefs it may be better not to read it.
And do not forget biographies. These can open a window to viewing how faith is lived out in daily life. Ordinary people serving an extra-ordinary God.
7. Serve together. Find ways to serve together as a family. Go Christmas carolling. Help out at a soup kitchen or some event at church. Sponsor a child together. Host a visiting speaker in your home or write letters to a missionary. Prepare a family item for the Christmas Service or go door-to-door inviting neighbours. Clean your local Christian school. Wash a neighbour's windows or mow their lawns for free. Visit a rest home or elderly neighbour. Fold pamphlets for the church's Christmas drop. Collect items to send to an overseas orphanage. Go on a short-term mission as a family. Find ways to serve Christ together that utilise the gifts and abilities of members in the family.
While I believe these activities are all important for growing faith in children (and I didn't always do so well on some of them) I believe an important habit we should cultivate is the habit of including God in our daily conversation. Never miss a chance to talk about God with your children. When enjoying the outdoors, a comment such as "What an awesome God we have to create all this" inspires awe in children and grows their faith. When watching a documentary or movie, see this as an opportunity to express your faith. If the beliefs differ, don't be afraid to discuss this with older children. Examining what Scripture says in light of what they've seen or heard is valuable in helping them understand their own faith. Naturally, you are going to want to avoid movies or shows with scenes that are violent, sexual, or disturbing or which contain inappropriate language. And if you're struggling to find movies or shows that reflect your beliefs, you might like to check out Pure Flix's collection of Christian movies.
Encouraging children to pray and praying with them for each of their concerns teaches them to trust to God for answers. Teach them what God's Word says and how to put it into practice. And model faith in your own life. If you don't practice what you preach, they won't get it.
(Disclaimer: I do not receive any income, reimbursement or other from Pure Flix that could be considered payment or reimbursement.. I was happy to link their website as a site that offers support and resources for Christian families.)