How can we raise children and teens to become lifelong followers of Jesus? Family Pastor Jan Ozanne and Senior Pastor Andrew Brown say the process is easier, and often more successful, when there are faith formation partnerships between parents and churches.
Parents as leaders
I will never forget the moment I held my first daughter in my arms. In an instant life dramatically changed. I was head over heels in love and 100% committed to being the best parent I could possibly be.
But who defines what that looks like? We soon discovered there were conflicting ideas about what it means to be a parent. I felt the pressure to follow a list of ‘don’ts’. Don’t let her eat sugar! Don’t let her watch TV!
As she got older, parenting became all about the experiences we could provide—swimming, music and dancing. Being a good parent seemed to be about being busy. And in the busyness, the spiritual was neglected.
My husband and I both grew up in non-churched homes and we had no idea how to take leadership of our children’s faith formation or even that it was our responsibility. We had no role models for how to lead our children spiritually. Of course, we wanted our children to know God and choose to follow him, but we naively thought this would just happen because we were active members of the church.
When I read Mark Holmen’s Faith Begins at Home, my eyes were opened to the concept of spiritual parenting. I realised that God’s plan for parenting was that families would reflect his love and pass on faith in the home.
Scientists are discovering more and more about the importance of the early years and how foundational these are for all areas of life. God created childhood to be a time of life which moulds us, and this is true of the spiritual too. Who shows our kids what a life lived in relationship with Christ looks like? Who shows how following Jesus impacts the reality of daily life? Those we live with are in a prime position.
But is this yet another pressure on already stressed parents? It doesn’t have to be. The Bible reveals what this parental leadership can look like. Deuteronomy 6:7 paints a picture of extended families talking to their young people about God in the everyday rhythms of life: when sitting at home, travelling, in the morning and at bedtime. Psalm 78 illustrates the power of telling stories about “the glorious deeds of the Lord”, revealing to our children the God who is real and active in our lives. This is illustrated in the ritual of the Passover, where children ask, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” and the adults of the household answer by telling the story (Exodus 12:26 NIV).
These examples show faith formation in the home, not as another chore on the already overwhelming to-do list of parenting, but as an integrated and intentional part of family life. The question becomes how can parents, as the spiritual leaders of their family, add a God moment to what they are already doing?
It is vitally important parents take on spiritual leadership of their families but they are not meant to do this on their own. Parents need a church to partner with them.
Story: Jan Ozanne
Jan is the Family Pastor at Otumoetai Baptist Church in Tauranga and is the Children and Family Ministry Coach for the Bay of Plenty. She is married to Phil and has four children.
Churches as equippers
Every once in a while, there’s a fact that just leaps up, hits us square between the eyes and then changes our life forever. Around the time my son turned ten, I watched a presentation that showed two piles of balls. One pile had 3,000 balls in it and the other just 40. The latter represented all the hours the church has available in one whole year to shape a child’s life. The 3,000 balls represented the hours parents have available within a year to spiritually shape their child.
The conclusion was pretty clear. We needed to invest in our skills as Christian parents to spiritually nurture our child. But the big question was how to do this.
Every Christian parent in New Zealand society today faces this same opportunity and dilemma. The reality is that the world in general, Sunday School, and even Christian schools, aren’t going to be able to build the kind of foundations that children need to remain lifelong followers of Jesus. It is ultimately the family who will have the greatest long‑term influence upon a child’s faith. The good news is that the church family can equip and empower parents in this vital task.
About eight years ago Pakuranga Baptist introduced the Faith@Home1 programme at our church. Four times a year the parents and children of particular age groups meet during our regular service time to look at an age‑related topic that impacts their spiritual growth at home. The very first topic for the parents of infants is how to begin a regular practice of blessing their kids each day. Later topics include the practices of sharing highs and lows, reading the Bible together, attending worship as a family, giving and serving together, handling media use, and how to talk about sexuality. This year we introduced an annual ‘Marriage Night’ on communication so married couples can take their family development even further.
We can’t claim that this has solved every faith problem under the sun. However, what we have observed as pastors is that there is marked difference between those families who have engaged with the programme and those who have not. The spiritual maturity of their children is often much higher.
The point here is not to promote any particular model, but simply to say that it is possible for the wider church family and parents to work together in a way that sees intergenerational foundations built within Christian families. This has a synergistic effect. Not only are children better equipped for lifelong faith, but they also go on to bless and strengthen every church they and, God willing, their descendants are a part of.
So, if this is important, what one step can your church take next to equip parents to spiritually parent?
Story: Andrew Brown
Andrew is the Senior Pastor at Pakuranga Baptist Church in Auckland and is currently completing his Master’s thesis at Carey Baptist College, on the topic of spiritual growth. He is married to Nan Yong and has one son.
Leading by example: a teaching moment
Earlier this year, two teenagers were killed in a car accident in Pakuranga. The father of a family at Pakuranga Baptist Church that tries to live their faith out at home describes a teaching moment he shared with his sons.
“I took George and Joshua to show them the accident site because the sheer dynamics of it were almost overwhelming. Arriving in the car park under the building where the car had finally stopped, there were three teenagers. One of them, a Year 9 girl who was obviously hurting, wanted to tell us the story and the back story. We asked if we could pray for them and they willingly agreed.”
The father and his sons then left, but a friend had baked scones for them, and the children wanted to go back and deliver the baking to the teens at the crash site.
“Arriving, we found the numbers had swelled with older teenagers there, all sitting or standing in the gloomy car park. We announced ourselves and our connection with the girl we met earlier, gave our condolences and left. They thanked us nicely for the scones.
“The following evening I visited the car park to invite them to our Holy Spirit encounter service, but they were gone—to some place better, I hope.”
This family not only prayed for the families of the deceased, but for the grieving teenagers too. The parents were modelling their faith in prayer and generosity; they also created opportunities for their children to experience those faith habits themselves.
- Baptist Children & Family Ministries has developed a Faith@Home resource to help churches equip families. This resource is freely available on their website at baptistcfm.org.nz. Or email the team for details.
Scripture: Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™