Nurturing a resilient faith in children

    Engaging younger generations
    26 May 2016

    I've just finished flicking through past editions of Childrenswork magazine and an interview with Rob Parsons (founder of Care for the Family) I stumbled upon had some really interesting thoughts on how churches can grow a more resilient faith in children and young people.

    Whilst researching for his book

    'How to get your kids through Church without them ending up hating God'

    (catchy title I know!), Rob discovered that the church children and young people experience can often be unhelpful: "I found that many of them had never been prepared in life for the disappointments that hit every follower of Jesus". Rob discovered that many of the young people he talked to had not walked away from God at all, but from something else.


    Something else? Now that's food for thought...

    When I think about my own children as they journey through the various groups, activities and experiences at our church, I’m asking myself what will their understanding of faith be like when they reach 18 and the end of the children’s and youth ministry conveyor belt? My hope is that they will have a solid foundation of Christianity; that they believe in God and I hope that they would have made a personal commitment to follow Christ too. I also hope that they believe that no matter what they do, by God's grace He will always welcome them back with open arms. I admit that's a lot of hoping!

    You may have heard the phrase 'belong, believe, behave'. It's used a quite a lot in Christian leadership to describe a shift in attitudes and approaches towards mission. Personally I prefer the word 'become' to 'behave' (as it translates better the transformative aspect of faith rather than simply living to a restrictive set of rules). However, regardless of postmodern views and values, the sense of belonging to something still prevails. Knowing that you belong and are accepted, valued and loved is nourishment to the soul.

    When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he replied; 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' (Matthew 22:37). Providing children and young people with opportunities to learn, explore the Biblical narrative is paramount to their spiritual development. Churches by and large are pretty good at this so that's the 'mind' bit ticked. But what about the heart and soul? As disciples of Jesus Christ we must love God with our heart, soul and mind.

    Think for a minute about the 'somethings' that Rob highlights that can cause young people to walk away from the Church:

    Many young people find their experpiences of church unhelpful to say the least. Many of them talk of very judgemental things, or people saying, 'You could never be a follower of Jesus if you've got a tattoo or you smoke.'

    Children, young people (and adults too) need to understand and believe that God is interested in their hearts too. Being a follower of Jesus is not about perfection. God knows this - isn't that why God sent His son into the world? God calls us to do some hard things, and He doesn’t expect us to make it through each day without picking up some scratches along the way. Followers of Christ aren’t made perfect on day one—rather, day one involves acknowledging perfection as the goal. Every day after is about pressing toward it and that's what children and young people need to hear more about. If we're more open and honest about our trials and tribulations children and young people's faith will become more resilient and strong enough to persevere when disappointment and difficulty come their way, and it will do! (Romans 5:1-5).

    I think we can make people belong – all kinds of people. It’s easy to walk away from an institution; it’s harder to walk away from a family. When I was touring round the world for

    Bringing home the prodigals,

    I came across some incredible stories. There was one story of a Hell’s Angel who was dared to go to church by his friends. He was 26 with long greasy hair, and enough iron in his face to open a small hardware shop! On his knuckles he had very rude words - that was his statement to the world. Someone dared him to go to church and he went and sat on the front row. Unfortunately for him, that church allocates certain seats to certain people who welcome. He’d sat himself in Marge Staples’ area. Marge is almost 90 and she sees him and says: ‘Oh young man, it’s so lovely to see you. Come here and let me hug you!’ And as she’s hugging him, she feels the metal, and then she feels something else - he’s crying. He doesn’t stop crying until the preacher finishes, and he became a Christian that day. Six weeks later a consultant plastic surgeon gave him a skin graft to remove the rude tattoos. When they baptised him the wounds still hadn’t healed, and he had to wear plastic bags over his hands tied with rubber bands as he went under the water! I want the spirit of Marge Staples. I want to say to kids on the edge that they are accepted and that God looks at the heart. I want them to feel that they belong.

    Well put Rob! Nurturing a resilient faith in children; heart, soul and mind - is the DNA for resilient faith that simple? Imagine if children, young people and adults in our congregations (and communities) experienced acceptance and belonging, and encountered the love and grace of God?

    Wow! What an amazing Church that would be!

    Read the full interview with Rob Parsons