Each year when our four kids were young, I’d spend the last few weeks of summer planning for the fall, entering our family’s school-year activities on a kitchen calendar the size of a classroom world map. I’d fill in music lessons, basketball practice, art class, and soccer games. On the side of each page I’d plot out who had to be where, when, and how they’d get there. By the time I was finished, each page looked like an airline route plan. Sound familiar?
Parents know the value of outsourcing. Seeking expert help makes sense when it’s time to teach kids skills in music, art, sports, and other areas where we may feel unqualified.
So it might also seem to make sense that the best people to teach our kids about God are the “experts” at church, right?
Wrong. Unlike extracurricular activities, where your main role is to cheer your kids on, when it comes to nurturing their faith, parents need to be active participants.
The good news is, you don’t need a theology degree to help your child know God. Faith nurture happens best during the everyday encounters you have with your kids. That’s how God planned it! We’re invited to share God’s story with our children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).
So read on for some ways to encourage your kids’ faith as you “do life” together.
Take advantage of teachable moments. Look for unplanned opportunities to help your child make a connection with God. Consider God’s incredible imagination as you pass by the variety of fresh produce at the grocery store. Point out that God is present when your kids experience success or failure, start something new, or finish an activity. During a Bible story, take time to pause and wonder. “I wonder how Noah and his family fed all those animals. . . .” “I wonder what Jonah saw when he was inside that big fish. . . .” In addition to being delightful conversation starters, the great thing about “wondering questions” is that they have no right or wrong answers!
Model spending time with God. Let your kids “catch” you praying or reading Scripture or listening to praise music on your own, outside of family devotional time.
Spend time with God together. Sing a praise song together as you drive to school or do the dishes, read from a story Bible at bedtime, share quiet times with God when you walk in the woods or look up at the stars. Marvel aloud at creation: “Doesn’t God have an amazing imagination?” “How did God do that?” Be intentional about setting aside time for family devotions. Start having a Sunday “show and tell” time each week during which your child shows you the take-home paper she received at church and tells you about the story she learned. Then talk—and wonder—about it together.
Include God in family traditions and rituals. Celebrations can provide ways to connect with God and to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. Some—such as lighting a candle on baptism anniversaries, holding hands in prayer around the table on Easter, making paper “Thank you God, for . . .” leaves to hang on a branch at Thanksgiving, adding a Jesus figure to the nativity scene on Christmas Day, including examples of God’s faithfulness on a “Year in Review” list you create together each January—might be connected to specific events. Others—such as praying before eating a meal or before everyone leaves for school in the morning, playing music that glorifies God as you prepare for church, reading a Bible story at bedtime—flow naturally out of the simple patterns of everyday life.
Lean on God in difficult times. During times of stress brought about by unemployment, illness, divorce, death, conflict at school, and other difficult situations that families face, assure your child that God never leaves. Pray together about the situation. Recall how God was faithful to the families of Noah, Abraham, Rahab, and Ruth, and how they clung to God’s promise to protect them. Remind your child that the same God promises to be faithful to us too. And know this: when God knit your child together, he included the gift of faith. So even if your family is filled with chaos right now, God is still at work in your child’s life.
Serve others together. Kids and teens need to know that Christ-followers do more than talk about and experience God’s love—we extend it too. Find something you can do for others as a family, and then do it.
Involve the village. The church family—parents, children’s ministry leaders, and everyone else—is part of the “village” it takes to raise children of faith. Shape your kids’ identity as members of God’s family by surrounding them with believers who will form relationships, share their faith stories, offer encouragement, and include them as valued members of a faith community. Spend time with people of all ages in your church family. Involve your children in the children’s ministry program at your church and talk with them about what they’re learning. Look for other people of faith who can connect with your kids and speak God’s love into their lives during the teenage years when they are seeking a perspective beyond yours.
The wonderful thing about nurturing children’s faith is that it’s not “one more thing” to add to an already packed family agenda. It happens in the sitting, standing, walking, talking, crying, laughing, playing, and all the other ordinary details of daily life. It’s as natural and necessary as breathing. And the best part? No complicated calendar is required.