Jenni Whymark believes all is not lost when we find that our children mixing with the wrong crowd.
I remember being in a girls’ discipleship group as a teenager. My group leader was pregnant with her first child, and when we split into prayer triplets her prayer was that her baby would know Jesus from a young age. The whole youth team’s passion for Jesus was matched with lives that lived out their faith day by day. Years later, when I was pregnant with my first child, I remember praying the same: that they might know Jesus from a young age. I’m sure it’s something many Christian parents want for their children.
But what do we do when the world around them isn’t so “Christian”? When we see the statistic that 95% of children and young people have no connection with church, how do we keep our children connected, when it’s so irrelevant to many of their peers?
Get the Foundations Right
We all know the story and the catchy song about the wise man who built his house upon the rock. So, if we want our children to be building their lives on the rock that is Jesus, we need to ensure we’re offering the right opportunities for them to build their foundations on Him. We need to make sure our faith is a very normal part of our life so that it’s “normal” for it to be part of theirs too. A friend used to always say “When you know who God is, who you are and what you’re called to do you can live in a place of peace and fulfilment”. So, how do we help our children know these things?
Live your faith out loud. Your children are watching you to see how you balance the faith side of your life. So, make sure you have integrity and live it out!
Get into the Bible
If you tell your children that reading the Bible is important (and you want them to do it) let them see you doing it. This isn’t always easy when you read the Bible on your phone! So make sure you have times when you sit down with the book and read it. For yourself. Modelling what that looks like. Read it with your family too. (Hopefilledfamily on Instagram has some great tips on this!). Buy them age-appropriate resources to help them to read the Bible. Equip them for what you want them to do.
Make prayer a very normal part of life. Say some of the prayers you say in your head out loud so that your children get the idea that you pray a lot! Pray together. Talk about prayers. Why not make your own family prayer board with a section for things you are praying for and a section for answered prayer so that you can all see prayers moving as they get answered. I have done this in youth groups and small groups I’ve led and found the visual side really helped.
Get to Church
Make going to church a regular thing for your family. Ensure that your children are having opportunities to connect in with good youth and children’s work, where they get to see others engaging with faith and make friends who go to church. Commit to driving them (and maybe their friends?!) to the youth groups so that they can be an active part of things. Encourage them to join in.
Offer them chances to go on residentials (my experience is that you can often access help with costs if needed).
As you live your faith out loud, make sharing your faith a normal part of your life. If you want your children to invite their friends along to things, model that by inviting people yourself! Share with them when you have done that and encourage them to pray with you for those who don’t yet know Jesus so the idea of sharing faith is normal to them.
So, as you seek to do what you can to help them build foundations through their childhood and youth, trust them. Trust the process. Work out how you deal with mistakes and behaviour that perhaps isn’t your ideal for them. Give them grace to make mistakes. Teach them real forgiveness by demonstrating it to them and to each other in your families. Why not turn your worries into prayers, asking God for wisdom with boundaries and how to love your child well in every situation and season of their life. Make your home a safe place for them and encourage honest and open conversations. If you’ve got the space, why not let your children use your house as a place to gather with friends, teaching hospitality in action.
Ultimately, we’re not going to be able to keep our children away from others who exhibit different life patterns or morals than we might want for our children. But we can help them build foundations to know who they are and who God is and pray that as they work out those things for themselves; that they will chose to live out their own faith and share it with others. Imagine what could happen if they do. A generation might be changed by the witnessing of our children as they live a life for Jesus. Let’s never forget that Jesus himself and his very first disciples didn’t just hang out with Christians. In fact, the opposite was true and countless lives were changed as a result.
Jenny Whymark works with Scripture Union as a Mission Enabler in the South East Region