Last year, I read a blog post between Christmas and New Year that suggested asking your family four questions as a launch pad for planning your year. The questions were things like: where would you like to go this year? What would you like to learn? What would you like to achieve? What would you like to do more of?
When I asked my daughters where they would like to go, my 7-year-old said: “To see a Shakespeare play.” My 6-year-old said: “To McDonald’s!” I am happy to report that we achieved both of these this year...
I wonder if this would be a good process in connection with our faith.
Before I had children, I read a few books about being a Christian parent. Two of these stood out because they were very practical in the way they talked about being clear on long-term goals and then creating a plan for the short term based on these. (The books were Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna and Parenting Children for a Life of Faith by Rachel Turner.) Each book challenged me to think about our goals for raising Christian children, about what we wanted our children to be like as adults, about the godly character and about Christian skill sets we wanted them to have.
If you’ve never done this, take a few minutes to try it now:
•What godly attributes would I like my children to have?
•How would I like to be able to describe them?
•Which Christian skills would I like my children to have?
•What would I like them to be able to do?
For me, the key characteristics include being generous, kind, courageous and forgiving. I want my children to be able to navigate the Bible and to know a range of Christian rituals, such as different ways of praying and worshipping.
The books recommended using our long-term goals to make plans for the next season (under 5s, 5-8s, 8-11s, 11-14s, 14-18s)and also to make a plan for this year or this season, detailing the specific elements of skill and character we wanted to help our children develop. For example, you could say: “By the time our children are school age we would like them to know that the Bible is a precious book full of stories that help us get to know God. Therefore, we will buy Bible storybooks this year and read Bible stories to our children regularly as well as letting them see us reading the Bible. And we will chat with them when the occasion arises about what the Bible is and why we value it.”
Or you could say: “By the time our children are teenagers we would like them to have relationships with other Christians who can help them navigate the teen years. Therefore, this year we will plan opportunities for them to develop relationships with their Christian aunties and uncles, godparents and other older Christians at church by inviting them over for meals at our house and encouraging them to be part of our lives.”
This might seem obvious, but articulating what we would like to see happen helps us make plans for how we can help our children get there. Then we can make short-term goals to help us move intentionally in the direction of our long-term goals. It also helps to remember that this is a marathon not a sprint, so what happens today and this week is not the end goal. We are in it for the long haul, so we can let some things slide and wait for the right season to work on them while allowing other things take priority now.
Let’s also remember that these are not meant to be plans to beat ourselves up with, but pointers to help us move intention-ally through the seasons of being Christian parents. As we look forward to a new year, why not think about this for you and for your family?
While it would be helpful to spend time in prayer on your own and with your partner about this, a more challenging and therefore probably more effective way would be to have a family discussion. Gather some cake and warm drinks, then invite everyone to chat about what you would like to do this year to grow in your faith together.
If you’re thinking about this as a parent, you might like to start with question one below to help give you direction for the other questions. However, this may be too abstract, especially for younger family members, so it might be easier to start with question two.
1. Which area of our faith would we like to grow this year?
For example Bible knowledge, prayer life, blessing others, private prayer, public prayer, showing God’s love to others, sharing faith with others, private or public worship, getting involved in serving in a new area at church or looking for opportunities to use gifts of teaching / leading worship / serving others / hospitality.
2. Which faith activity would we like to do more of this year?
For example reading the Bible, praying, being still with God, meeting God through nature, remembering baptism birthdays, going to church groups, meeting people who aren’t Christians, being hospitable or celebrating church feasts such as Lent.
3. Where could we go that would help us grow in our faith?
For example a local cathedral, a homeless charity, a different church, a place of pilgrimage, a Bible college open day, a Christian conference, a remote island, a local food bank or MakeLunch kitchen, a saint’s birthplace, a Christian bookshop, a local hospital or an old people’s home.
4. Which resources might help us grow in our faith?
For example new Bibles, new worship albums or playlists, Bible commentary, atlas or infographic books, books written by conference or podcast speakers, DVDs or online films, podcasts or online courses.
5. Who could we ask to help us grow in our faith?
For example grandparents, godparents, church leaders, group leaders, teachers, book authors, conference speakers or friends.
Discussing your goals is a great way to focus on your direction, so don’t be surprised if the answers take longer to get to, or if you don’t agree on any as a family. It might be that you each have one or two answers that are personal, and one or two that are for you all as a family. This is good, and it reflects the personal and corporate nature of your faith together.
If you do discover things you’d like to do this year, write them down and put the list somewhere you’ll remember it. I find it helpful to review my goals each month, as the weeks spin by so quickly and it’s easy to forget those good intentions you made only a few months ago.
Once you have set your goals, it will probably be helpful to come back to them in a few days or weeks and chat about what you might do in the month ahead to work towards them. Sometimes, like with my daughter’s goal of going to McDonald’s, it doesn’t take much planning. In fact, I left this one until much later in the year when we were moving house and needed a quick-fix meal. Others, like watching Shakespeare, might need more planning. We bought a book of a play and watched versions of it on YouTube, and I researched lots of different places we could go and see it before settling on an outdoor performance, where we could eat a picnic throughout the performance!
You might need to save up to pay for a trip or to buy resources. You might need to book a conference for later in the year or plan something you want to do for Lent or for Easter. Agree on your plans and put them in the calendar. That way they are far more likely to actually happen.