The twentieth century church did something that had never been done before and it is something that the twenty-first century church must work hard to un-do – they took the responsibility of faith formation of children and teens out of the hands of the parents. In the Old Testament, parents were instructed to love God fully and make faith impressions (Deut. 6). Jesus scolded the disciples when they got in the way of parents trying to bring their own children to Him (Matt. 19). The New Testament church took root in homes with entire families coming to faith in Christ together. John Wesley admonished parents to take their responsibility for the faith formation of their children seriously (Sermon “On Family Religion”). And today we once again understand that the primary responsibility for the faith formation of children and youth belongs in the home with the church’s role to empower, equip, support, and partner.
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” – (Joshua 24:15)
There’s a beam in my home that separates my kitchen from my living room. On the side that faces the kitchen and overlooks the kitchen table is the verse – “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.
We have wonderful conversations around that table – great faith formation conversations. I am forced to ask myself, however, are there times when what is said and done in the kitchen doesn’t represent that verse?
Wesley preached a sermon from that passage titled, “On Family Religion”. Although some of his methods for child rearing might be considered extreme in a 21st century culture, the principles he pulled from those verses still bear relevance for us today.
How does faith formation happen inside the home? What are keys to how a family should function that will encourage faith formation?
– Start early: Wesley suggested as early as children demonstrate they can reason, which in his era was understood to be about the age of one. Nearly three hundred years later we now know that children, even very young children, can comprehend far more than their verbal ability suggests.
Expectant mothers today understand the opportunity of early education – they play their babies classical music, read them poetry, and all the family members take turns reading to them so they learn their voices while in utero.
The Bible tells of a pre-birth John the Baptist who upon hearing Mary’s voice, leapt for joy. Start early –
– Speak plainly: Wesley also understood child development enough to know that while young children are capable of faith development, they need to be spoken to in a way they can comprehend. It isn’t about watering down the truth; it is about speaking plainly and in a way that clearly conveys your meaning to all the listeners – speaking so that the children can really hear what you’re saying. Wesley suggested using words that are already a part of their common vocabulary.
Speaking plainly also means nonverbally through your life style, behaviors, attitudes, and practices – making sure they match your spoken words. The Lord’s instructions given to the Israelites through Moses grasped the significance of nonverbal communication when parents were instructed to not just talk about God’s commands but impress them, bind them, and write them (Deut. 6: 7-9). Speak plainly –
– Teach frequently: Deuteronomy six also suggests that spiritual education should happen during the day when you are getting up, when you are eating, when you are walking along the road, and when you are going to bed. In other words every moment of every day involves spiritual formation; the call here is to be intentional about it.
Spiritual conversations need to be a part of our every day life, filling our homes with the words of love, life, joy, and hope. Research suggests (NSYR) that casual conversations about faith in the home have the biggest influence in the faith formation of our children and teens – more than family devotions and church attendance. Keith Drury suggested, “a church cannot not teach” , I would further suggest “a family cannot not teach”. What are you teaching? Teach things of the Lord and teach them frequently.
– Act patiently: It is interesting that Wesley felt the need to tell parents that they had to be patient about the faith formation of their children. Yes, children and teens are capable of faith – great faith; Wesley believed children were equal recipients of all of the graces – including sanctifying grace. However, their faith formation can’t be rushed. We are called to be faithful in our diligence and patient. To make an impression (Deut. 6:7) takes continued pressure over a period of time – it requires patience.
How does the home provide fertile soil for faith formation? Parents or caregivers who have their own hearts set on the Lord, must start early, speak plainly, teach frequently, and act patiently.
If you have a passion to see homes transformed and families grow in their faith, join us for a look at the twenty-first century family this January as we launch our new program, MA in Youth and Family Ministry.
Rev. Colleen Derr
Assistant Profesor of Congregational Formation and Christian Ministries