In a bookstore we picked up the audio version of Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones). We started to ask: how can we use this as a congregation? It got me thinking about elders and the spiritual lives of children.
When I came home from vacation one of the first newspapers we received had an excerpt from a book by Peter Hitchens (brother to Christopher): it spoke about the need to pass on faith to children. He writes
It is also true, as I think most observant parents know, that children are much more interested in the universe and the fundamental questions of existence than are adults.
So this is the moment at which we try to pass on to them our deepest beliefs, and the moment when they are most likely to receive them. As Philip Pullman has rightly said, “ ‘ Once upon a time ...’ is always a more effective instructor than ‘Thou Shalt Not ...,’ ” so we do this most effectively with stories. But if we ourselves believe — and are asked by our own children what we believe — we will tell them, and they will instantly know if we mean it and also know how much it matters to us. They will learn from this that belief is a good thing.
This too got me thinking about faith nurture. Elders, as shepherds of the people of God, clearly have an interest in promoting the faith life of children. There are many aspects of our common life that hinder faith life in children. What can we encourage?
1. Practices for the faith life of children: There are so many ways in which the spiritual life of children is undermined by the cultural patterns of our time. From two working parents to shifting work schedules or long hours to sports and entertainment (on TV too) and many other disruptions, cultivating a spiritual life that encourages the faith life of children can be challenging. Add to this the difficulty in establishing good habits and the ease at which we lose them and we have a recipe for families to lose the practices of faith that help children grow. Children need to learn at least three things:
a. The habits and words of prayer
b. The stories of the bible (starting with children’s version but leading to full versions found in Biblical text)
c. The formation of a life that seeks to follow Christ (fruits of the Spirit, creation care practices, desire to serve in the Kingdom)
Elders can serve by encouraging parents in these practices of the Christian life.
2. Resources to help parents: Elders ought to have or have a list of some resources available to help parents. For instance, the Jesus Storybook Bible mentioned earlier. I would love it if you could list the resources you felt helped your family in their devotional life or in leading a family in Christian formation.
3. Ways of answering FAQ’s: So many times parents face the same questions and difficulties. On Websites they are the Frequently Asked Questions. Listen long enough to our senior citizens and you will discover that heard standard answers to standard questions or situations in their youth. The answers were quick ways to deal with persistent issues. The questions are different today. Or perhaps the old answers don’t work so well in our changing culture. Elders can help by having some directions and responses that help families through the maze. So I thought… I wonder what questions you have heard repeatedly over time? And what answers help the most?
Raising children so that they will love and serve the Lord is a call of every Christian parent and Christian community. Spend some time contemplating how elders can serve your community of faith in encouraging faith nurture.