I’ve been doing this kind of work since before my children were born, and in general my husband is there to look after them while I do it. However, over the last year or two my children have become a lot more conscious of what I do and have started to present me with ideas for GodVenture. The Easter Sunday service was no exception.
My talk was about bread, linking the bread at the last supper and in the meal at Emmaus (post-resurrection) with the bread in the first Passover meal, the manna in the desert and the ‘bread of the presence’ in the tabernacle and temple. This has been a talking point at family meals for a few months as I’ve been exploring and wrestling with the concepts, especially with the bread of the presence, lechem panim in Hebrew, or literally ‘bread face’ – a term my children have picked up on!
My usual pattern is to do a short talk then provide a variety of ways for people to respond and explore further, including stations around the room. A few weeks before Easter my 6-year-old suggested placing a labyrinth on the floor as part of our response to the story.
She said: “We could walk about the labyrinth thinking about the bread of the presence, then in the middle there could be some bread for us to eat as we are coming out of the labyrinth.” Genius. “And,” she continued, “we should also have a running area, so we can run.” Ok, yep, sounds like a plan.
So we had a designated running area and a labyrinth with fresh bread in the middle of it, along with other creative responses. And I went down a treat with children and adults alike (including adults who were not accompanied by children, which I always count as an extra special success).
But I also need to say that when I was a minute into my talk she came up and whispered in my ear that she wanted to act out the story I was telling. I had to decline as it wasn’t going to work at that moment. I was delighted to have included her ideas, and hope that by crediting her publicly with them she won’t hold it against me that I didn’t go with her impromptu drama idea.
I’m pretty new to this, and am cautious about writing about it, but I think it’s a really important topic as it brings an authenticity to what we teach when people can see us doing it. It’s really important to me that my children get a say in how we ‘do faith’, including faith at home and faith at church. It’s important their ideas are taken seriously, and that they are credited. I had another two families come and help set up, with children aged 4 to 13 present, all of whom helped in age and personality-appropriate ways alongside their parents.
I’ve taken my children to conferences where I’ve been working before, and I’ve had mixed reactions from delegates and organisers. Some have obviously felt I should have arranged childcare, while others have gone out of their way to make my children feel welcome. One even went out shopping and bought my 4-year-old a chocolate cake because she didn’t like any of the (completely delicious) options provided. She now thinks this happens at all conferences!
But it’s not just about doing church stuff. I’ve wondered about this after reading a post on Facebook where a well-known pastor accused parents of prioritising their families over mission work. His theory was that people did lots of risky stuff for God in their 20s then settled down, got married, had children and focused solely on them.
It’s really important to me that my children get a say in how we ‘do faith’
This clearly isn’t the case for every family, but it is true for many. However, I wonder whether it depends on what we see as mission and what we see as focusing on our families. I happen to think that raising my children so they have the best chance possible to know God and live for him for the rest of their lives is very important, and worthy of much of my focus. I’m also passionate about spreading the good news about Jesus and serving the poor. However, I don’t think that means our family needs to move to a slum in India.
We’ve found it’s possible to connect our children with God’s generous heart from the UK by involving them in our giving from a young age, encouraging them to know the details of the people we are giving to as well as being part of the practical giving itself. I remember an offering we had at church which we’d had notice about, so we could chat about it at home beforehand. My children, then 4 and 5, were the first ones out of their seats when the offering was announced and poured a coin collection they had brought with them into the offering bucket. We had already given online, but they were keen to give their own money.
Giving is a bit of a ‘thing’ for us, so many of the faith activities we’ve involved our children in have been around giving and blessing others. We had a friend in hospital the other week, so we went and visited with a hamper of food. The girls weren’t keen on the trip until I explained why we were doing it: that the child was very poorly, that the parent was hungry and that they would appreciate some food and things to play with. Throwing in a request for a story in the car they agreed and were happy to do so. (They even got to see incubating chick eggs in the hospital chapel, but that’s another story!)
What is your family’s ‘thing’? What do you do to serve God together? What does the ‘action’ bit of your faith look like? How do you, or could you, involve your children in it? Do you do things within your church community, either on Sundays or during the week? Whatever the action part of your faith looks like, find a way to involve your children. It could be as simple as asking them to pray for you before you go and do it!