How to Communicate Our Faith to Our Children
Recently, the women’s Sunday school class discussed the topic of how little the children of the 21st century know of the Bible and of their parents’ faith. The author of the article, David Gushee, interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, asked the question: “How do we communicate the Christian faith in such a way that kids will care enough to first make the effort to learn this new language and then decide that they want it to become the central language in their own life?” As a former teacher, mother of two, and grandmother of six, I began to ponder this question and how it could impact the children of Ascension.
It is a BIG question!! And there are no easy answers, but there are ways that we, as parents and grandparents and lovers of children, can address this situation. To help our children understand our beliefs and faith, Gushee suggested the use of more modern (understandable and readable) Bible translations, and he stressed the need to help children make connections between what is happening in their lives and what is said in the Bible. In the Episcopal Church the need to understand the liturgy is also important. All three of these points support the development of Christian faith. But how do we incorporate these ideals in our children’s lives here at Ascension? I hope to address these issues in this three part series, using what I have learned from my own experiences and what I have observed. These are simply ideas, but they are based on what has been successful for others.
Part 1: Understanding the Language of Faith
What can parents, grandparents, and the people of Ascension do to strengthen the language of Christian faith in our children? Foremost, we need to provide our children with intentional training. By this, I mean that we need to purposefully instruct our children in the Christian faith. One way is through Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. These classes offer much to expand our children’s knowledge. However, we know that education starts at home. Children can begin to understand the language of Christianity, even at an early age. The more language infants hear, the greater their capacity to understand and reproduce that language as they grow. Children also learn by example, through adult modeling. Following are some suggestions that have had a positive impact:
· Children love to hear stories, at any age. Parents can read simple Bible stories and discuss them using “how” and “why” questions. Through the experience of Bible stories children will be able to recognize these narratives and characters when they hear about them in the lessons at Church. For older children, the discussion of these stories can help them relate what they have read to what is happening in their own lives. There are also many “secular” books that have deep faith-related themes for children to make connections. Through this process the children will develop their faith and character and learn to question.
· Children look forward to activities in which they can participate. Mealtime blessings and bedtime prayers can be very special family times, but they are also sacred traditions that teach gratefulness and compassion.
· Children find comfort and security from knowing what to expect. It can be helpful to practice “Church behavior” at home. Children can rehearse whispering, which is not a skill mastered quickly! They can be taught to respond “Amen,” and later, to recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” Words like “reverence,” “respect,” and “God’s house” give children a sense of what a special place Church is, and it prepares them for their role in the Church service.
· Sometimes parents ask, “Is it better for my child to be in Church or go to the nursery?” That is entirely up to each parent and his/her comfort zone. And it varies from child to child. Ask yourself, “How can I best worship and be a positive role model while teaching my child the language of worship?” In preparing young children at home, parents are giving them skills to help them adapt to this new environment and eventually participate. It is a learning experience for both parent and child!
In part Two, I will talk about ways to engage children during the Church service.