Okay, I admit it, I used an intentionally provocative title for this post (despite telling someone just last week how I don’t like to do that). And really, I’m thinking about more here than just keeping your children in church. But the image below, which I stumbled across the other day, makes a significant point:
Substitute ‘people’ for ‘Christians’ and you see what I mean. Children don’t just need to hear us teach the faith, but they need to see us enact the faith. And while of course that needs to happen all the time, observation and participation in corporate worship teaches children so much about what it means and looks like to be a Christian. The things we do and the postures we adopt as we gather to worship are absolutely key to our formation as disciples of Christ. That is no less true for children.
In the summer issue of Comment magazine, editor James K.A. Smith points to a new book by Vern Bengston, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations. Discussing Bengston’s findings, he writes,
When it comes to passing on faith, what matters is how you relate to your children. Authoritarian constriction doesn’t help (zealots only produce rebels, Bengston found); but neither does a hands-off, laissez-faire, let-the-kids-decide approach. Instead, as Stephen Warner helpfully summarizes in a Books & Culture review, ‘Emotional solidarity, consistent role modeling, and openness to adolescent and young adult experimentation are ingredients in successful intergenerational religious transmission.’ In other words: proclaim the faith to your children, immerse them in the practices of the body of Christ, model the faith for them, and given them room to question it – the sovereign Spirit will do the rest.
Smith concludes by saying that the worst thing we could do is to lower the bar for what’s expected of our children, and that we need to do away with 'the misguided suggestion that diluted Christianity is one that will "keep" our young people.' Equally problematic, I think, are practices that keep children from full participation in corporate worship, whether that be cutting them off from it until they are nearly adults, or limiting their exposure to corporate worship to contexts that look almost nothing like what constitutes corporate worship in most settings. Yet so often these are the convictions that shape our discipleship work amongst children.
The point is simple: Take your responsibility as parents seriously when it comes to the faith of your children. Don't shut them away in Sunday School for more than a decade or send them off to be entertained in different contexts and then expect them to fully integrate into the regular worshipping life of a local church. Research demonstrates this is less likely to happen than with children who have grown up in church. And that is because a key part of our responsibility as parents in handing down the faith to our children is intentionally engaging them in the practices of the faith and showing them how it’s done. To paraphrase Kid President again, 'Kids are learning how to be Christians by watching you.'
(HT: Gemma Dunning)