Sometimes when I go in my children's rooms at night to give them one last kiss, I stay a moment and watch them sleep. It's quiet, and I'm reflective, and my mind wanders to what I hope for their lives. It's not about their careers as much, but really about wanting them to be happy, to have purpose and meaning in their lives, and most of all for me, to stay rooted in their faith, trusting always that God will take care of them. I wonder if I'm doing what I need to do to help them have a lasting faith foundation.
A lot of wonderful people are working on this very question. How will our children have lasting faith that will ground them throughout their lives and help them have a good and meaningful life? As I read, I am discovering that two main players have a critical role. One will not surprise people: the church needs to provide the opportunity for our children to have meaningful encounters with God and Jesus Christ, encounters that will shape our children for years to come. This often happens through retreats, camps, mission trips, and other key activities our children and youth engage in with us. They need all of us, of all ages, to be their partners in faith. Having other adults in their lives who talk with them about faith makes a difference we'll never fully see.
The second key factor is changing the way I lead our church in ministry. Children model what they see at home. Although children can develop faith without their parents' strong leadership, almost every young adult active in faith surveyed reported that their parents' engagement with them in prayer, in discussing faith in God, in serving Christ through the community made the largest difference in them continuing to believe in God and orient their lives around God.
Did that surprise you? It surprises me a bit, considering I now have a teenager who loves to push the envelope and who complains about being a pastor's daughter. Many research groups are coming up with the same conclusion, though, and some are even gathering activities that children (now young adults) and parents considered to be significant in faith development to pass on to the rest of us as germinating ideas for our own home's spiritual practices.
Consider the secular world - we're told to talk to our children about drugs, about intimate relationships, about responsibility in terms of so many things. They tell us that our children listen to us far more than they let on. So why wouldn't that apply in terms of faith as well?
Here at Fallston Presbyterian Church, we are switching from a children's ministry to a family-based ministry. When we have classes to teach the children, parents and grandparents come also. The change is real - since parents received the same information about Communion as their children did, they now report that they can talk about Communion around the breakfast table together. They all learned the Lord's Prayer together, so they can say it and share what it means.
We've changed Vacation Bible School too, because when parents and children learn the same Bible stories, then they can go home and really share together about what they learned and how it impacts them. Adults have some separate time at Bible School to dig into the Bible more deeply and to enjoy being adults, and that time has helped to develop deeper relationships among our families.
We are committed to nurturing families, and nothing makes me more joyful than to see that our families love spending time together, are the last ones out the door on Sunday morning, and are enthusiastic about our programs and how their children are growing. My own children are growing as well, both from what we do at home, and from being in this transformative atmosphere. They have a lot of adults around them who are having conversations about faith, and I know that God has them in His hands, which is just where I need to leave them.