By Stephanie Thompson, Crosswalk.com
As parents, we long to shape our children into the people God created them to be.
That process involves implementing values, and holding out hope through each stage. Ultimately, our greatest desire is that our children embrace a relationship with Jesus and live out their God-given purposes in all they do.
However, each child comes with genetic and environmental factors which affect how that unfolds. No “one size fits all” approach exists for nurturing your child’s spiritual journey.
While there is no book that will offer parents a detailed list of every step that will ensure our expectations are met, we can glean wisdom from scripture. Here are 4 steps to help your child meet spiritual goals.
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1. Model the Faith Community as a Family
Families serve as small reflections of the faith community.
Shelly Wildman, in her book, First Ask Why, writes, “Our families are a flesh- and- blood picture of the gospel. When our neighbors see us living out our messy day-to-day lives, they get a small glimpse into what Jesus has done for us…He wants us to shine the light of Jesus into the dark corners of the world, and sometimes he uses our families to hold the lantern.”
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 implies that helping our children reach spiritual milestones involves whole life worship. Leading our children to explore their relationship with God is both taught and caught.
Bedtime and dinner time provide routines which lend themselves well to intentional teaching of Scripture using resources such as books, songs, and discussions. However, many teachable moments happen in the organic interactions of our days.
Listen for opportunities to incorporate scripture into conversations with your child when running errands together, unpacking a bad day, making hard decisions or receiving an answer to prayer.
How do they see the fruit of your faith in everyday moments? Challenging circumstances such as financial difficulties, relationship strains, health issues, death of a loved one, and job stress can be opportunities for them to see who informs your response.
How you spend your time and money and who you invest in demonstrate what provides your foundation. They are learning what you value by what is observed in your life.
That process will spur them to take ownership for their own faith walk.
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2. Encourage Church Involvement
Scripture gives no age restrictions regarding using our gifts and skills in the body of Christ. Its beauty lies in the sacred relationships we have with one another.
We are blessed through our interactions with a diverse group of image-bearers. Children discern their fit within both the local congregation and the larger church when given opportunities to serve.
Truthfully, realizing the value of being part of the body begins young. Simple interactions between teachers/caregivers and children form the roots of relationships that will grow stronger with time.
My own young adult children view some of the adults in our congregation as “second” parents and grandparents. Not only have my children interacted with these individuals in the church setting but also outside of it. I am thankful for these other “family” members who have contributed to shaping my children.
As children grow, they yearn for purpose. By involving them in age-appropriate ministry opportunities, they not only learn about serving but begin to understand the beauty and mission of the body of Christ.
For example, when my daughter was around 8 years old, she began the monthly task of placing the communion cups in the tray. My son has been working the soundboard since he was 11 (and even makes the coffee!)
Our church’s homeless shelter is staffed by some adults who bring their older children to help. These children experience functioning as a member of the body and as well as the joy of embracing scriptural truths. In addition, they recognize our sacred relationships with one another.
Children need opportunities to catch the vision of the global church. Where can your child best find them? Christian camps, youth events, mission trips and ecumenical ministries can offer the chance to grow in the understanding of God’s story and their place in it.
Being challenged to move out of our comfort zones sparks spiritual growth.
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3. Embrace Where the Holy Spirit Leads Them
One of the most challenging truths of parenting involves recognizing that your child is ultimately God’s.
Parents are given the blessing of stewarding that life. As much as we love our children, God loves them more and has created them uniquely to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes, the path they feel led to pursue aligns with our expectations and comfort zones.
But other times, we encounter fear at the thought of our children moving into areas that seem risky-whether geographically or figuratively.
In scripture, we read the accounts of Timothy’s life as a young church planter. He found a disciple there by the name of Timothy, son of a devout Jewish mother and Greek father. Friends in Lystra and Iconium all said what a fine young man he was.
Paul wanted to recruit him for their mission, but first took him aside and circumcised him so he wouldn’t offend the Jews who lived in those parts (Acts 16:1-3).
Certainly, his mother must have felt some concerns about letting her son move far away. Technological tools of communication did not exist. The risks of persecution, and dangerous travel had to have entered her mind.
Yet, like Hannah, she surrendered him to God to be used for his purposes.
Encouraging our children to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit demonstrates our love for them. We want them to learn to hear God’s voice and serve him wherever that might be.
Whether it be short term or long term, urban or rural, domestic or international, vocational ministry, mission trip, or career, how can God’s purposes best be accomplished through your child?
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4. Pray for Their Growth
Paul writes, “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Praying for our kids transforms them and us. It allows God’s outstretched hands to touch them in ways we cannot.
Many tools can be found online. Elisabeth Lee offers a helpful resource for this endeavor. She writes, “If you have ever worried about your kids, you are not alone. Worry seems to come with the job description of Parent. This struggle is why I share 8 ways to pray for your children and teenagers. Use this guide and watch yourself replace worry with confidence. Your foundation of parenting will evolve into parenting from a place of love rather than a place of fear.”
Many parents find the blessing in asking others to pray for their children. Asking others to lift up your child brings comfort, support, and liberation.
When others pray for your child, they feel connected to them in a sacred way. Two churches in which I was involved, paired up adults with children and teens to pray for them. Not surprisingly, the adults became important figures in the lives of the children as the relationship deepened.
No one appreciates the importance of praying for your children than other parents. Moms in Pscratch catalyzes moms to create neighborhood groups in which they gather weekly to focus on a scripture passage to lift up as a theme for prayer.
During that hour each week, the moms each choose one of their children as the focus and the whole group prays for the requests. This opportunity give moms the opportunity to share their burdens, know their children are covered in prayer.
We can trust that God hears the cries of our hearts.
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5. Build Upon the Foundation
Jesus describes the foundation for building our lives.
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
By teaching our children God’s story and how they fit into it, we, as parents, set them on the path toward spiritual growth. Every person has the deep longing to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As they grow, identify goals and help them find opportunities to reach them.
What will truly drive your children towards spiritual growth is understanding how much God loves them, cherishes them, and wants the best for them. If this understanding is in place, then it will only be their natural reaction to love God back with their whole heart.
We must remember that our timeline may not match theirs and our expectations for how their growth unfolds may differ. Every flower blossoms at different speeds. As well, spiritual growth might not look the same as what you envisioned as your child embraces their unique gifts.
However, we can be thankful for the blessing of investing in those lives gifted to us.
Stephanie Thompson is an ordained pastor, speaker, writer and mental health advocate. Her writing can be found on various sites around the web. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and three children. You can learn more about her at www.stephaniejthompson.com and follow her Facebook.
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