Our families and God’s mission through the church
Some of the practical things Grace and I have found helpful in catching up our kids in this are:
Take children to prayer meetings
Often parents will use their children as an excuse not to go to prayer meetings (“Oh, I need to make sure little Jonny gets his sleep”). While we have worked hard at making sure our kids have sensible bedtimes, we have found it is worth sacrificing a bedtime every so often for the greater benefit of our children being part of a praying community. Having our kids at prayer meetings does them good, even if they are not fully engaged in the praying, it is good for them just to be there and observe adults praying, and so learn to pray. Also, it is good for the adults present – it encourages them and is a visual reminder that the church is an all-age family.
Our kids have grown up being very used to having lots of people through our house. While this can be demanding, it also has all kinds of benefits. It teaches the value of community and the priority of working out what it means to be part of a church. It teaches them to share and be generous – especially if our guests bring their own ‘demanding’ children with them. It gets them used to mixing with people of different ages and backgrounds, which in turn helps them grow in social confidence.
Teach them good manners
I find it disappointing if I visit a home with children in it who do not know how to greet a visitor or hold any kind of conversation. If I walk into a house and the kids stay glued to the TV or their video games and don’t make any effort to acknowledge my presence that is a sure indication that they are the real gods in that family. We need to teach our children to show respect to visitors, especially adult visitors. Basic politeness is a pretty basic part of Christian discipleship and is something all our children should be capable of, regardless of how shy or confident they may be. This politeness should then extend to things like being able to sit at a meal table properly. This is not just me being old fashioned – it is part of our families being welcoming places to the wider family.
Get them serving
Jesus is the ultimate model of what humanity is meant to look like, and Jesus came as a servant. For our children to embrace their humanity fully they need to learn how to serve, and the primary place of serving is in God’s house – the church. So as soon as you can, get them serving at church! Different churches will have different policies and opportunities for this, but there are many different ways our children can serve in church. My three oldest kids (15, 13 & 11) all serve practically on Sundays – welcome team, song projection, crèche. Get them doing it!
One of the strongest natural impulses for parents is to say, “Be careful! Don’t do that!” Now, obviously we should not do things that deliberately endanger our children, but we need to train ourselves to encourage our children to take risks. Risk-free Christianity is no Christianity at all and if what we train our children in is nothing but caution it is unlikely that they will grow into adults who risk anything for the gospel. This may keep our families nice and cozy and safe, but it does nothing for Christ’s mission through his church.
As a father of girls I have worked hard at encouraging them to take physical risks. (The parents of boys will probably have to work at encouraging other kinds of risks!) I figure that if they have been encouraged to try climbing a tree they will be more likely to take a risk of faith when Jesus asks them to do something that doesn’t look “careful.”
And of course, as well as helping them get caught up in the mission of the church, kids that are not afraid to risk things, are well-mannered, helpful, and socially confident are much more likely to make a success of life generally then those molly-coddled and idolised kids from the family-as-god family.