Navigating Your Child's Education: Ages 3-K

4 min read

Raising Kids to Have Resilient Faith

Feb 23, 2023 8:00 PM

A child's holistic development includes physical, mental, emotional growth and spiritual growth. A loving, safe community of faith is vital to a child's spiritual development and can offer tremendous support to moms and dads on their parenting journey.

Yet, since 1999, church membership in the United States has steadily declined to now an all-time low of less than 50% of Americans claiming affiliation with a local faith community. Perhaps connected to this trend is the reality that a recent Barna study determined that only 10% of twentysomethings have resilient faith.  

As a dad of four young children, I often think about what I model for my kids that sets them up for the time in their lives when they are making adult decisions. Eventually, they will have to make conscious choices and decisions that are not just about mom and dad’s faith, but it’s something that they have embraced on their own.

The first thing we ought to consider in thinking of ways to guide children into their own faith is: What is our relationship to the local church? For parents who desire to raise their children to have a resilient faith, I believe they need to view involvement in the local church as central to their child’s spiritual development—not just a part of it. 

It’s important for families to consider how they view the church and how they communicate that view to their children. Most Christians have a less-than-comprehensive understanding of the nature, identity, and mission of the local church. Church is often seen as an event or a place. This perspective--that church is an event we go to or a place we drive our car--is pervasive. It often appears even in the language we use to talk with our kids about our faith community. The common statement on a Sunday morning, “It’s time to go to church,” may communicate to our kids that “church” is an event or building. 

Church should be seen as a group of people, a family, not a building. Sharing this vision of the church with our kids can be as simple as reframing and rephrasing the language we use about it. One of the ways I do this with my own four children is that, on the way to our church gathering each Sunday morning, I lead a prayer in the car. I make sure to emphasize “as we gather together with our church family today...”.  

Lower School Boy

If the church relationship is primarily one of attending a service once a week, just showing up right before a service begins and leaving right after, our children may be missing out on a comprehensive experience of what biblical church involvement is intended to be. If we view ourselves primarily as attenders of a church, we are not showing the glory of what the local church is meant to be. Our children may not see the church as a body represented by unity in diversity, a collection of people, across generations, across ethnicities. The unity of Christ is a beautiful thing. So many of the New Testament letters talk about being one in Christ. When we move from just consuming something from the church to serving in the local church, I think that helps change some of that dynamic. This factor contributes to children growing up with resilient faith: Do families serve together in a local church? 

Though I have been in formal pastoral ministry roles for over 15 years, I always tell people that my first ministry experience actually started when I was seven years old. My dad and I held the door open as greeters at our church building each Sunday when I was a child. As families serve together, they start to say things like, “This is more than just a part of our lives. It’s central to how we walk with Jesus, how other believers instruct us, how we build relationships, and this is a place for us to serve.”  

The other aspect of the move from consumer to servant, I believe, involves the idea of catechism. That is, providing our kids with a theological vision for life and ministry. We do not think twice about sending our kids to school to learn complex subjects such as trigonometry, chemistry—deep and difficult things. Yet, we feel like we cannot teach them the doctrine of the trinity in a Sunday school class or other complex theological ideas. 

As parents, we’ve all found ourselves in conversations with our children in which they ask difficult questions. Every parent becomes a theologian when they face a question from their children like, “How is God one God and three persons?” I tell parents when faced with difficult questions like this: You don’t have to pretend to have an answer that you don’t already have. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know...but let’s go find that answer out together.” I believe that providing answers for children or seeking answers out together sets them up to embrace a robust faith because they have reasons for believing.  

Editor's Note: This blog post was adapted from excerpts of the podcast episode "It Takes a Village" on the Navigating Your Child's Education podcast, a conversation featuring Pastor Hess.

Zac Hess
Written by Zac Hess

Zac Hess is the Lead Pastor at Grace Polaris Church where he has served since 2012. In his role, he teaches people how to effectively study and understand the Bible and share the gospel with others. He and his wife Sarah have four young children.