Thursday, January 1, 2015

Encouraging the Christian Walk

A previous version of this post was titled "Encouraging Faith Formation" and had some slight differences in content. After working through the post with my pastor, I have revised and reposted the article to be more theologically and practically accurate.

The key in all the stages of life is exposure to Word and Sacraments. After studying the developmental theories of different psychologists, particularly Professor James Fowler, I have assessed various ways that God meets spiritual needs throughout the life span. Different life stages are in bold, with the key need in that stage italicized.

Prenatal: Parental faith
  • Your faith does not save your child, but parents should be concerned with the feeding of their own faith during pregnancy. Remain entrenched in the Word and Sacraments while you (or your wife, for the guys) is pregnant.
  • Read Scripture aloud to your child and be in church regularly. Research shows that even as early as 16 weeks, unborn babies can hear. We know that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," (Romans 10:17) so the earlier your child hears Scripture, the better.
  • Begin planning for the baptism! Ideally, this should be done by your pastor as soon after the birth as possible.

Infant and Toddler: Exposure
  • Baptize! This is the most important step in this stage—when the Holy Spirit comes to your child to create faith in them through baptism.
  • Make Christianity part of your daily discussion—talk about it! Talk about Scripture, the Sacraments, and what we believe.
  • Have child in worship (use the cry room if necessary, but know that it’s more important for you and your child to be in worship than it is to avoid nasty looks.)
  • Let them touch and see things related to Christianity—pictures of Jesus, crosses, etc.—and name them.
  • Pray in front of them and encourage them to pray with you. Start teaching them memorized prayers as soon as possible—the earlier, the better!

Preschool: Repetition
  • Pray with and read Bible stories to them.
  • Make prayer and Bible reading an important part of your life. If children see that their parents place a high importance on prayer and Scripture, they will begin to learn that it is important in their own life.
  • Pray memorized prayers, but talk about what you are saying. For example, when you say “Hallowed be Thy name”, talk about how “Hallowed” is another word for holy (not a name).
  • Let your child lead prayers, decide on things to pray about, pick Bible stories, etc. Let them take ownership of what they talk to God about.
  • Emphasize forgiveness when they feel guilty for making a mistake. Talk about how Jesus’s death paid for all our sins.
  • Have a children’s Bible for them to read.
  • Short memory verses can be learned at this age, but be sure not to over-tax them.

School-age: Productivity
  • Allow them to participate in the service life of the church whatever way your congregation allows. For some, this may be acolyting; for others, ushering or participating in church clean-up days is a good way to remain involved.
  • Children learn how to behave in church best when they see other people doing it. Keeping your child in the church service with you will help them learn how to participate in worship.
  • Sunday school is a great way for kids at this age to become more familiar with the stories and teachings of the church.
  • Make sure they have a Bible in an easy-to-read but still accurate version. The LCMS uses the ESV. A paraphrase Bible (like the Living Bible or the Message Bible) is not necessary for most children once they are out of the storybook Bible stage.
  • Encouraging familiarity with the Small Catechism is a good way to prepare them for confirmation. CPH sells a My First Catechism book for ages 6 to 10 that can help your child begin to become familiar with the Catechism and chief articles of our faith.
  • This would be a great age to talk your child through the parts of the sanctuary!

Preteen/Teenager: Continuity
  • Ongoing learning about faith—encourage questions, do research and talk to your pastor (and encourage them to do the same) when something comes up that you don’t know how to answer.
  • Encourage them to become familiar with their Small Catechism. The morning and evening prayers can help them continue in their prayer life, and if they have any questions about what we believe, teach, and confess, a lot of the answers can be found there.
  • Have them in confirmation classes (once they are old enough).
  • Mandate church attendance. Though an unpopular technique among some, this is still vital to your child’s faith. Even when you think your child is old enough to choose whether or not to go to church, they need to be there. In the same way that you wouldn’t let your sixteen-year-old decide if he should go to the dentist regularly, you shouldn’t let him decide if he should go to church regularly.
  • Get them involved in church activities—not just age-specific, but intergenerational as well. If your child enjoys singing but there are no other teens in the church choir, that’s ok! The intergenerational relationships will be good for everyone involved.
  • Don’t force them to remain involved in non-worship/non-learning activities they dislike (church services, Sunday school, Bible study, and confirmation are the exceptions to this rule). If the church youth group’s only activities are attending concerts and having game nights, but your child prefers quiet discussion and one-on-one time with friends, that’s ok. Church wasn’t intended to be a social club, so don’t force your child to see it like one.

Young Adult: Relationships
Many young adults “fall away” from church attendance brieflyafter high school. Almost a quarter fall away and never return. Receiving God’s grace in the first four stages is vital in preparing your child’s Christian walk, but parents are still an influence in this stage. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
  • Encourage connections with other peer Christians. This can be done through a Bible study, fellowship group, or small group study. It can also be done less formally, through regular friendship building.
  • Help them find a Christian adult to mentor them in their Christian walk.
  • Make sure they have a Book of Concord and Bible—and become familiar with both.
  • If they moved or are moving away from their home church, help them find a congregation to worship at in their new place. If you are Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, you can go to the LCMS church locator and find a congregation based on city, zip code, or LCMS district.

Adult: Involvement and leadership
  • Encourage them to remain involved not only in weekly worship, but also in church activities, such as a Bible study.
  • Encourage them to find younger Christians to mentor. (For safety’s sake, someone of the same gender in a similar life walk is the best idea. A pastor’s wife would do well to mentor a young woman dating a seminarian, for example, and an older man with four grown children would be a good mentor for a new father.)

*All Scripture references are from the ESV Bible.

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