We thrive best in relationship.
We need partners, friends and supporters in life and ministry. As far as our hope for children and young people growing up with faith is concerned there are three main spaces where they gain that support and encouragement for the journey.
My graphic below highlights what I think is one of the biggest lacks in the church, I have hardly heard it ever talked about and – when sharing this recently – those I discussed it with found the illustration helpful (if disturbing!) so, I’m sharing it here with a bit of my thought behind it.
These three spaces where our children live and move and have their being should be a kind of beautiful community – constantly interacting, sharing and learning from each other to create a rich environment of growth and love for children.
But, is that what happens?
Lets take a look.
Church – School. I have always been involved in schools ministry – as long as I have been a full time children’s, youth and families worker. Whether that is a church school or community school. Where these relationships thrive there might be assemblies, collective worship, visits of students to a place of worship, involvement in RE lessons, delivering a “prayer space”, (see “Prayer Spaces in Schools“) going in to share “Open the Book” (See “Open the Book“). Nationally there are schools teams all over the place, from Youth For Christ to Scripture Union to Festive to independent groups supported by local churches, such as “Splash” (based in Sussex). ALL of this is excellent, to be celebrated and really important! Obviously, in some places there is more to do – but, there are plenty of resources that support and encourage this relationship. Churches should explore how to create stronger links – check out some of the organisations mentioned if you want to do that.
School – Home. Where do I begin? As a parent I am inundated with communication from my childrens school. Regular (almost daily) emails with after school club information, trips being planned, key aspects of the curriculum currently being studied. My children come home with work to do that reinforces the learning in lessons. Right from when they began in reception we have been part of their formal education. Encouraged by the school to be reading with our children, doing spellings with our children, watching them and helping them write their first letters and words, doing maths times tables . . . a partnership, a shared journey. With the way things are now being taught at the top end of Key Stage 2, my eldest daughter now knows more than I think I did when I took my O levels! Then there are the activities at school we get invited to be part of – we could be a governor, on the parent teacher association, we could be a “friend of the school” which organises fund raising activities to buy resources and paint / decorate or improve areas of the school grounds. Wow. We are left in no doubt that the formal education of our children and young people should a shared responsibility between the teachers and parents.
Church – Home. Ok. This is where I dry up and struggle to write anything. What is happening in this area? Often – nothing. Sometimes parents might just be able to sus out where their children are to go when they arrive at church (i.e. which hall has the 5-11s in it). Beyond that, there is often scant information – a kind of mutual abdication takes place. Parents may abdicate their child’s spiritual formation to the church – hoping that in 30 minutes the Sunday school volunteer or youth group leader will be able to “be the difference” their child needs. On the flip side, maybe the leaders of those groups abdicate its responsibility to communicate with parents what is going on (i.e. this is what we are studying this week, this is what we have learnt, this is our theme for this term, it would be great if you could encourage your children to do these memory verses for next time!). Then, dare I say this – the church abdicates to some extent by having a different teaching programme for the adults to the one the children have – creating a barrier or level of difference that makes it hard for families to reconnect around their learning. What about visits? What about support material to follow up Sunday teaching? what about ideas for doing “church at home” and encouraging parents to be involved in the spiritual formation of their own children.
We have an environment where there is great backwards and forwards communication and a sense of partnership around the formal education of our children but not their spiritual formation.
We need to fix this.
Additional reflection :: I’m adding this after a conversation on Facebook (my thanks to James Ellin for calling me out). I talk above about the need for partnership in the spiritual formation of our children between home and church – yes, this is needed. However, I wasn’t strong enough on the crux of the challenge. There is something quite dramatic – in terms of its impact on faith and growth – when family (or “household” as I prefer to call it) own their role in passing on faith. I did deliberately say above “Church” and “Home” not “junior church” or “Sunday school” because it is the community of faith that makes the difference. Just look at this from the Evangelical Alliance a few years ago,
Wow. 54%. Now, I know stats can say all sorts of things and can lend support to our argument (or not, so we ignore those stats!) but, all the evidence I have looked at where decent research has been carried out bears out this truth.
Family, and being part of an intergenerational community of faith makes the most difference when we are wanting to see faith grow in the next generation.
I was recently involved in a meeting in London with a bunch of great youth workers from all over the place. We had gathered to talk about how we “pass on” faith to young people, what needs to change, what needs to be done for the church to become more effective? You can read a summary of what we talked about here if you are interested [Pass it On discussion].
What came through strongly from our time together was one thing.
We need to give parents confidence to live and share their faith in front of their children.
A couple more stats suggest we have work to do on this and that it is VITAL for the health of the Church.
Looking at this stat – is it that they don’t consider it important for children to learn at home, or is it that they lack the confidence, the words, the ways and a decent model?
There are many, many resources for equipping the church when it is gathered (worship resources, teaching resources, preaching resources, youth and children’s work resources, holiday club resources, courses whether they be Pilgrim, Alpha, Christianity Explored, Emmaus . . . )
Thankfully, one has been produced recently – and I pray that more might follow – that could not be more practical honest and straight forward. It isn’t written by experts in the field, it isn’t about what academics think we could be doing – it is simply families sharing what they do in their own homes to encourage and inspire other families to have a go. This one book should become an essential tool, an essential read, an essential guide in bringing confidence and hope to families.
Get this :
“Together with God” – An Introduction to Family Worship. 15 stories of family worship to encourage and inspire.
Kenda Creasy Dean, author of “Almost Christian” argues that “The best way for young people to become more serious about their faith is for their parents to become more serious about their faith.”
This book should give parents (and households, whatever they look like) the confidence to have a go and just do some simple things together regularly that are about living our faith in front of each other – through prayer, bible reading, conversation, singing . . . creating a natural environment where God is part of our lives together, at the centre of our lives together.
To do this in the home.
Imagine that. Imagine the impact on the church when we all gather together! Then, each space we find ourselves in – whether at home, church, school – might be a place of learning, discovery and growth in faith.
Oh, to fix this missing partnership by equipping and enabling parents could achieve more we could hope for imagine – we just have to do it.