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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Making the Connection: Your Children, Your Church

By Ryan Darrow
Aug. 8, 2010

The doorbell rang.

“Dad! Mom! They’re here,” our two oldest boys hollered together.

Answering the door with their 2-year-old baby brother in tow, they were suddenly unsure how to greet our guests.

“You’re the missionaries, aren’t you?” asked my middle son.

On the heels of my sons, I felt like I was witnessing two worlds collide. My young, tech-savvy, skateboard-riding, suburb-living sons were face-to-face with literal heroes of the faith: John and Betty Weidman, 43-year veteran Assemblies of God missionaries to Africa.

Each year that I teach child development to college students, I highlight one simple but important principle of good parenting: If you want to instill your values in your children, you must do more than simply tell them what to think or how to act.

First, you need to be sure that your actions back up what you say. Children are intuitive. They pick up much more than you would expect. Take special care of the example you put before them. In the end, modeling good behavior is far more important than any written or spoken list of rules.

Second, you must connect concepts, like God’s love, with tangible experiences. The Weidmans created such an experience when they brought African artifacts to our home that night. I wanted our children to understand the importance of missions, so I invited retired missionaries to represent this idea in our home, an invitation the Weidmans eagerly accepted.

At the end of our evening together, I asked John Weidman, “What is this generation missing?”

“They are missing the call,” he earnestly responded. “They are not learning to hear the voice of God. They are forsaking missions and the local church.”

With careful consideration I tucked this challenge in my heart and have recalled it frequently.

Today’s culture is fast paced, with an array of cultural influences aimed squarely at children’s hearts and minds. The church is competing with media programming, mass marketing, life on the Internet, and friends. It is a sad but real truth that our society is moving away — and much has already moved away — from the local church. The challenge for Christian parents is to connect our children within a local congregation in meaningful ways. Here are four simple suggestions for involving your kids in your church and helping assure they stay in church when they become adults.

1. Prioritize family.
God has placed a special desire for relationship within each person. At creation, Scripture shows us the condition of Adam’s lonely heart even prior to the fall of mankind. God declared in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone” (NKJV). God designed people to have relationships.

The most influential component of a child’s adoption of faith and values is the strength of the parent-child relationship. You may have heard the old adage, “A family that prays together stays together.” Family relations research supports this. One study reported that children who regularly interact with their nuclear family adopted almost 70 percent of their parents’ values. If you want your children to prioritize church later in life, start at home by prioritizing your family.

“It is imperative that our children know that God has designed us to live our lives in connection with, and not isolation from, each other,” says Mark Lehman, senior pastor of Family Life Assembly of God in Pittsburg, Kan. “For a child, a relationship with God begins with a relationship with family.”

Your children will learn to see God as they see you. If they can trust you, they can trust God. If they feel loved by you, they will develop an interest in loving and serving God. The challenge is to regularly engage in family-oriented activities with your children within the church that are supportive of spiritual growth.

2. Prioritize church.
When enacting discipline and seeking to curb unacceptable behavior, parents often limit a child’s interaction with friends. But if “grounding” is one of your preferred methods of correction, be careful not to cut your child off from church.

Countless times as a teenager, I was at church even while restricted from virtually every other activity. My dad and mom made it a strict policy that my church attendance continued regardless of my level of social freedom. It was inevitable, even during these times of discipline, that I would have fun and enjoy socializing during the youth service. But the alternative was isolation from Christian friends.

Parents, be sure the restrictions you place on your child do not limit spiritual activities. In times of trouble, the best influences your child may experience are spiritual. Enforcing discipline and still allowing them to participate in church activities can be a delicate balance. While restriction from youth activities such as game nights or paintball outings is reasonable, keeping a child from a church service, retreat or youth camp can be counterproductive.

3. Speak well.
Psalm 133:1 reminds us, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (NIV). Slight personality differences aside, there should be no greater places of unity than the home and church. When they are exposed to the skewed morals and dysfunction of modern culture, our children must learn that the local congregation is a place of refuge.

Use every opportunity to speak well of your church. When your kids are confronted with tough issues like hypocrisy or theological differences, remind them that the body of Christ has no perfect members. Help them to see the benefit of patiently and prayerfully trusting God to convict the hearts of others as He matures us daily.

From time to time, parents have differences with a pastor or other leaders in the church. When this happens to you, be careful to keep your discussions with your spouse private. When kids hear parents complain about their church, it taints their perspective of spiritual leaders and can turn them away from church involvement. Listening to your criticism of the church, your children might choose family loyalty over spiritual growth.

4. Make memories.
Making memories at church helps your child discover the importance of blending faith and family. Use annual church events as springboards for family functions. Connect the annual Easter morning service with a family breakfast. Attend a Christmas Eve service every year, and then return home for hot chocolate with marshmallows and let the kids open one gift. You may even create traditions they will want to continue with their children someday.

Drama productions, such as church plays and musicals, are classic memory makers in the church that blend faith and fine arts. Encourage your little ones to participate.

“The creative arts are an excellent way for kids to get involved, express their love for Jesus, and make lasting memories at church,” says Children’s Pastor Scott Wilcox. Pastor Scott regularly provides opportunities for the little ones at our church, Red Mountain Christian Center in Mesa, Ariz., to participate in fine arts. “Such memories stay with a child for the rest of their lives and serve as anchors of faith,” he says.

It’s a tall order to compete with the technology that attracts our children’s attention. But Proverbs 22:6 is clear: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This training is both intentional and spiritual in nature. We can only do the best we know. We must then trust the Holy Spirit to reveal himself to our children and guide them.

With only rare exception from the day of their birth I have prayed nightly for my boys, “Holy Spirit, help us to nurture an environment where it is safe and easy for them to come to know Christ as Lord and Savior. Keep them all the days of their lives.”

RYAN DARROW serves as family life pastor and counselor at Red Mountain Christian Center in Mesa, Ariz., and as adjunct faculty of child and family studies at Mesa Community College.

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