Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Integrating Faith into Your Home Life

A study conducted by the Search Institute discovered that the most influential person in a teenager's faith journey is first Mom followed by Dad. And third? Grandparents.

Yet so many parents feel inept to teach their children at home. Isn't that why we take our kids to church, enroll them in Christian schools or send them off to church camp? Where do we start in teaching our kids about our faith? How do you raise your child to stay faithful to Jesus for a lifetime? To answer that, I've thought about who influenced me in my faith walk and what they did to influence me.

My mom was certainly a major component of my introduction to faith. In spite of a divorce and remarriage to a non-Christian, she took us to church every Sunday. She talked about our lessons at home. When she taught Jr. Church, she asked me as an eleven year old to play the piano for the singing time. She mentored my sister in learning to teach preschool worship. My most vivid childhood memories center around seeing my mom with her feet propped up, reading the Bible or some other Christian book. She loved to discuss what she was reading with us.

I grew up in the 70's, a time when the American church was just beginning to move out of its legalistic shell. My mother often challenged me to look beyond the externals. In rebellion, she would wear her oldest dress on Easter Sunday. She reminded me that being in church every time the doors were open did not constitute a relationship with God. She made her mistakes, but I could see her faith grow. She challenged herself to memorize Scriptures and got us to join her. She taught us about fasting by encouraging my sister and I to join her in a fast. We talked often about spiritual things. My mother, while not perfect, challenged me to embrace authentic Christianity.

In spite of this, ours was still a dysfunctional home and the non-Christian attitudes of my step-father took its toll. Perhaps the second greatest influence in my life was church camp. I still fondly remember the week I was a sophomore in high school. The theme of the week was the book of Ephesians. Each class session studied a different chapter of the book. We talked about Ephesians. We held debates about Ephesians. We memorized passages from Ephesians. We learned to live the principles of Ephesians. Godly pastors and Bible College professors shared their lives with us. Constantly, in our study and our play, in our cabins and in the mess hall, we were reminded of Christian principles and how to treat each other as Christ would have us do. Most impressive to me was that adults respected me, loved me for who I was and valued the gifts God instilled into me. They modeled grace and acceptance to me and challenged me to be better than I was.

Read through that last paragraph again. Why can't families apply these principles from my church camp in the home? Home should be a place where we freely talk about our faith, we're reminded how to apply godly principles to everyday situations, we have devotions right before bedtime, and prayer first thing in the morning. Home should be a haven where we can ask each other, "What do you see God doing in your life?" Home should be a place where we challenge each other to grow - in service projects, in spiritual disciplines, in Bible study and memorization, and in relationships. Home, like church camp, should be a place where praying about situations should be as natural a reaction as talking about the issue.

If you are a parent, what are you doing to infuse your faith into your home life? What is one thing you can do to mirror your faith to your children this week? What is one faith activity you can challenge your family to do together? Make it simple, start small, see what happens.

Here's a start: Check out Tony Kummer's web site for a worship devotional guide your family can use in preparing for the celebration of Easter this Sunday.

It's never too late. Like me, your children may benefit the most from watching you mature in your faith.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Retention in Children's Ministry: What's the Answer?

Children’s Ministry should be the primary focus of the church. I’ve quoted that concept for years and I’ve believed it with all my heart. Our youth are the future of the church, right? Therefore, we need to pour ourselves into creative programs that both attract and retain children, right? Doesn’t George Barna say as much in his book, “Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions?”

I wanted to use a quote from Barna’s book that expresses the above concept, but guess what? George Barna does not say that! It’s not that simple. Mark Holman, author of “
Building Faith at Home” puts into practical terms what George Barna was really trying to say – the parents are the primary nurturers of spiritual faith.

Holman quotes Barna as saying, “The local church should be an intimate and valuable partner in the effort to raise the coming generation of Christ’s followers and church leaders, but it is the parents whom God will hold primarily responsible for the spiritual maturation of their children.”

Do you remember how children’s ministry was done in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and “80’s? Do you remember the bus ministries as hordes of kids scampered off retired school buses and filled classrooms? Then we moved to having separate worship services for kids and youth. Our programs kept up with the times as we’ve used media, technology, created themed environments, and introduced lots of active games, drama and crafts to keep ‘em coming and keep ‘em interested.

Kids came. And when they graduated from high school, most of them left. In fact, many churches see a significant decrease in their children’s department after sixth grade. More kids will come to special programs like Vacation Bible School and tone-time events – but they don’t keep coming. What are we doing wrong?

For too long, says Holman, we’ve treated church like one more program, where children are dropped off by their parents. If you want your child to know how to play the piano, you take them to piano lessons. If you want them to enjoy basketball, you sign them up for basketball camp and let them play on a school team. If you want your child to get a little faith, you drop them off at the church. When church is placed in the same categories as other events, no wonder our kids drop it when they leave home. You don’t see them continue to play basketball or play the piano either, do you? The church has enabled this attitude, says Holman, by creating programs that try to compete with school and extra curricular activities. Sadly, I’ve seen churches sacrifice content for style because we’ve falsely believed the only way to reach the kids is through exciting programs that match what they get on Nintendo and DVD’s. Now the data is in and we’re realizing that programming isn’t the only answer.

What do we need to do to make their faith stick? Barna and Holman both agree. Our faith has to be authentically lived out at home. Mom and Dad have to live the faith walk. Faith talk has to be part of the family lifestyle. Devotions, prayer, Bible reading, memory work and values applied to everyday situations should be woven into home life and family discussions.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 becomes a family’s marching orders regarding God’s laws, worldview, and values: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols around your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”

Children’s ministry in the local church is still very much needed. Countless stories of kids who have brought their parents to Christ or who found out the true definition of love and grace at church when it was lacking at home propels us forward. But, as church leaders, teachers and people in the pew, we need to lower our expectations, realizing it is not the Church’s sole responsibility to teach children the Gospel message in a way that they will retain it. The best recipe for success is when the parents are actively in the mix, supporting their kids, attending church themselves, and reinforcing at home the lessons the kids learn at church.

How can parents “train their children in the way they should go?” And how can the local church influence parents to be a part of their child’s faith education? Those will be the topics of future blogs. If you have any practical ideas you would like me to add to the list, I invite you to email me at

Someone has said that the church is only one generation away from extinction. Let’s grow together in making our children spiritual champions, ones who will carry on the faith of our fathers!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Word of Encouragement

“Would you stop being a brat?” Against my better judgment, I turned slightly to see who was the recipient of such harsh words. A cute little boy, no more than two years old, sat quietly on a booster seat in a nice restaurant. The only infraction I could see was that he was looking around the room while his apparently tired mama tried to figure out the menu.

Only days before, a grandmother confided in me that her daughter-in-law frequently degrades her children, telling them they are stupid and won’t amount to anything, that she is uber-critical of what they try to accomplish.

As teachers, we have no idea of what happens behind the closed doors of the family homes our students leave each Sunday morning. Mark Holmen in his book “Faith Begins at Home” tells of a horrendous fight his family had in the car on the way to church one Sunday, yet when they walked into church and the pastor asked how they were, they chorused, “We’re fine!” Holemn’s family was known as a strong Christian family, yet his dad was a closet alcoholic. Our students walk into our classroom wearing masks over the hurt they bear. They need, they crave someone to listen to them, someone to care about them, someone to think they are worthy to exist on this earth.

I’m a purpose driven, goal oriented kind of gal. Sometimes I’m guilty of plowing through my lesson plan, eager to get to the punch line so the kids “get it,” I forget to use my peripheral vision to catch the needs of the kids surrounding me. Yet, scenes like these remind me that our kids, like anyone else, need encouragement. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” That applies to the children you teach inside your classroom as well.

How can you encourage your kids this week? You can:
Give them a hug.
Ask them about their week.
Praise their efforts.
Give them a special job to do.
Offer to pray for upcoming tests in school

To be fair, that mama in the restaurant looked tired. I noticed that every table was filled with happy couples but she sat alone with her small son. Where was Dad? Only the Lord knows the story of why she was alone on a Friday night in a nice restaurant. My heart constricted with compassion for her. I prayed that God would give me the opportunity to encourage her and have the boldness to be a little “nosey.”

After we finished our meal, I approached her table with a smile. “How old is your child?” “Two,” she responded. “Two is such a wonderful age,” I said. “I don’t believe a word of that terrible two stuff. My daughters are in college now and I miss those years so much. We need to make the most of every moment we have with these precious ones.” The mom nodded, “They grow up so fast.” I quickly recognized that her comment to her son was possibly more out of fatigue and frustration than true sentiment.

That mom was no different than the rest of us, for we all need periodic attitude alignments. How can you encourage your students’ parents? You can:
Tell them something good their child did during that session.
Ask them about their week.
Show concern for what is happening in their family life.
Send birthday cards, get well cards, thinking-of-you cards to different members of the family.

When you teach children, you are not just teaching a specific age group. You have the chance to minister and influence entire families with the love of Jesus.