I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psa 78:2-4 ESV)
It seems almost weekly that a new article is published detailing how many children raised in Christian homes do not retain their Christian faith into adulthood. It’s a sad and tragic growing concern. I’m sure there are multiple reasons that these stories are becoming more frequent, reasons that are unique to each child and family. However, I wonder if one of the contributing factors is the growing separation between church and family.
Don’t get me wrong. Most churches have plenty of things for families to do. There are children’s programs, youth groups, camps, and activities offered for almost any desire your child might have. Like ordering off a menu, each nuclear family can pick and choose various things that they think will be best for their kids. These programs are usually great. I’m certainly a big fan of children’s ministry and youth groups! But if children are always siloed off into age specific programs, their lack of interaction with the church as a whole will hinder their spiritual growth. They will have a lot of fun and hopefully learn some good things along the way. But they will not get to see adults live out their faith. And so, when it comes time for them to be adults, our children are not ready to live out the Christian faith because they haven’t seen many examples.
Throughout the Bible, we see a different paradigm given for raising children. Raising children is not described only as a parental task, but something that is to be embraced by the whole faith community. For example, in Psalm 78, we see the Psalmist writing about what “Our fathers have told us,” but then notice the switch in pronoun as he writes, “We will not hide them from their children.” He is speaking about taking things that he learned from his parents and passing them on to other people’s children. Telling the “glorious deeds of the Lord” to children was not something for only their Mom and Dad to do. It was an essential part of what their community was called to do.
Children need adults investing in their lives. They need people who are older than them taking time to know them, build relationships with them, and teach them. I’m grateful for my godly parents. They were the primary shaping influence in my life. But I’m also thankful I grew up in a church that embraced caring about kids beyond just shuffling them off into programs so that adults could be undistracted in “real church.” I’m so grateful for the adults who prayed for me, got to know me, spent time with me, encouraged me, and yes, even corrected me. I might not have always appreciated the attention at the time and definitely preferred just doing my thing with my friends. But looking back, I don’t think I’d be who I am today without the many adults who took time to care about an arrogant, know-it-all and teach me from a place of grace.
So here are some practical suggestions for investing in the next generation.
- Make a list of children in the church and pray for each one of them regularly.
- When you go to your Sunday Service, don’t walk past kids. Instead, make eye contact and greet them. If they are small, get down to their level. It’s amazing what a kind smile and a few moments can do.
- Take an interest in their interests. I wouldn’t recommend trying to learn the latest tick-tock dances (Remember, if you are over the age of 20, you are old to a kid). But just because you might not personally do what you see kids doing doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate what they are doing. Pay attention to what they care about and draw them out about what they like about it.
- Spend time with kids and make memories. I had my first Philly cheesesteak when I went into the city with a group of young adults to take a tour of Dickens’ Village. Find something fun to do and share that experience with a kid. Building relationships opens doors to speak into their lives.
- Don’t just do stuff that you have to do, but think about how you can include kids in what you are doing. I’m so grateful for the adults who took the time to teach me how to set up chairs and run sound cables for our Sunday worship service. I remember a guy who took me to his office and showed me how to build computers. Some asked me to join them in a prayer meeting. We serve kids by not letting them stay on the sidelines.
- Catch kids doing the right thing and praise them for it. A few weeks ago, I saw a little girl fall, and her brother came over to help her up. I immediately went over to encourage him for caring. Keep an eye out for the good things that kids are doing and encourage them to do it.
- Share gospel applications with kids. I’ll never forget a day when I had blown it and messed up, and an adult took time to sit down with me and share about a time when they blew it and how the gospel speaks into failure. Church kids learn the gospel from a young age, but understanding the gospel and applying the gospel are two different things. They need to see how the gospel works out in real life. So show them.
- Love Jesus. Kids are watching you more than you think. While our example will never be perfect, we can show what it looks like to love our perfect Savior. I’m convinced that the greatest gift you can give a child is the gift of your passion for Christ.
- Get your kids involved in the life of the church. Take them to worship. Have them present for baptisms. Involve them in serving. Do outreach events with them. Obviously, get them involved in children’s programs too, but don’t only have them involved in things that cater to them. Get them involved in seeing things that adults are doing.
- Direct your kids to get advice from other adults in addition to yourself. Obviously, make sure the adult is someone you trust 🙂 But having other adults speak into your child’s life is something that the Bible says your child needs.
- Sadly, a reality in this fallen world is that you will also have to think about protecting your kids from potential predators. I did a whole blog post on this. You can read it here. However, protection should not result in the prevention of all adult interactions. Your kids need other adults in their lives. So pray and be wise as you act as a gatekeeper for them.
- Get to know your kid’s friends. The adults that had the most significant impact on my life were undoubtedly my friend’s parents. When your kid has friends over, don’t take a break from family dinner, but include those friends in your dinner. Look for ways to draw them out, do something fun together with your kid and them, and make memories. Years of playing nerf wars and eating pasta with my friend’s Dad lead to serious and significant talks as I grew older.
I’m so grateful that I grew up in a church with a culture of investing in the next generation. Of course, I still had many struggles, and it was certainly quite a process for me to become a Christian. But I’m so grateful for the many adults who are part of my story. May we all have the vision to be part of a kid’s story as we seek to invest in the next generation intentionally.
Grace and peace,