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Back to Basics: A Master Plan for Faith Growth

Delia Halverson

Younger children often have trouble grasping some of our adult thelogical concepts, but they usually have little trouble accepting a God who can do anything. How can we help fertilize the soil for deeper growth?

Second Peter 1:5-8 is to faith growth as The Old Farmer's Almanac is to gardening. If we want a bountiful "faith crop" in our ministries, we do well to dig deeper into this passage. Peter's outline for faith growth is as follows: "To faith we add goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control patience, to patience service for God, to service for God kindness for brothers and sisters in Christ, and to kindness add love."

Pull on your overalls and grab your hoe. Because we're going to explore this passage to discover how to plant deeply and help kids grow in faith.

FAITH

What it looks like -- Younger children can't grasp some of our adult theological concepts, but they usually have little trouble accepting a God who can do anything. Developing a trust in adults who model Christlikeness fertilizes the soil for a deeper faith in God. As these children develop faith, their words and actions reflect the growth. You may find kids' faith reflected in conversations, in unprompted sharing, in prayers, and in drawings.

Older children may wrestle with their understanding of justice. For example, they may question God's justice after a drunk driver kills a child. This natural questioning actually indicates a growing faith. Older children are also more aware of God's ability to guide them in decisions.

What to do -- For younger children, create opportunities for kids to express their faith. Have children bring items that reflect evidence of God's provision, such as food, interesting things from God's world, or pictures of family members. Introduce Bible stories that tell of creation and the wonders of God's world. Speak often of ways you've trusted God. Watch for and affirm children's faith in God's ability to do anything.

Encourage older children's questioning faith growth by helping them recognize that God made us to be people, not puppets. Created in God's image, we make our own choices. Sometimes we make wrong choices, but God doesn't take the choice away. God may love with a sad heart when we make wrong decisions.

Use stories of Bible characters who had tough choices. Some made good choices and others made bad ones. Use role-plays and conversations. Pray with children for God's guidance as they're facing decisions. Watch for and affirm kids' trust in God for guidance in decisions.

Reinforce your efforts by training parents to nurture kids' faith growth. Lead a parents study on faith development.

GOODNESS

What it looks like -- In this kind of goodness, we open ourselves for God to work through us, admitting that we are God's as we follow Jesus. Goodness is displayed as children show concern for others as Jesus did.

Kids' goodness is often tested by peer pressure. Therefore, they need and appreciate heroes and stories of those in the early church who stood up for Christ even when it meant their death.

What to do -- Teach young children stories of Jesus' concern for others. Watch for goodness in children and affirm it by saying, "What you did was like Jesus. You and Jesus care for others." Young children can retell simple stories and make them their own. Use creative storytelling, pictures, drama, and songs to make stories come alive.

Use adventure stories, role-plays, or "What would you do?" situations to help older kids experience the pride Bible heroes felt as they stood their ground. Watch for occasions when children decide to act as Jesus would instead of following the crowd.

Set up a mission-project clearinghouse where children apply to work on small projects, such as helping in the nursery, weeding someone's garden, assisting an older person with grocery shopping, or reading to shut-ins. This helps your children develop a peer group that gives them peer approval for positive actions.

KNOWLEDGE

What it looks like -- Knowledge about God comes through the Scriptures and observations of God's work in the world. Young children continually explore the world around them. And older children try to make sense of their world. Many are confronted with scientific theories that contradict the Bible.

What to do -- Watch for opportunities to experience God's world with children. During young children's water play, stress that water is a gift from God. Take advantage of opportunities to remind kids of God's hand in creation, such as thanking God for a beautiful sunset or for creating mountains. Use Bible stories to tell about God's positive actions and love for people. Help children recognize Jesus as their friend.

SELF-CONTROL

What it looks like -- Throughout the Old Testament, people acted out of passion or anger instead of self-control. While feelings are neither good nor bad, what we do about our feelings makes the difference.

Young children need guidance in recognizing times they're on the brink of losing control. They need tools to maintain self-control, such as stopping to ask God for control.

Older children can understand that although the Bible tells of people who didn't express their feelings properly, God didn't approve of those actions. They can understand the consequences that result from actions.

What to do -- Watch for situations when children use emotions such as anger or fear in a positive way to bring about change. Create constructive action from anger through projects, such as serving in a soup kitchen to combat hunger.

PATIENCE

What it looks like -- There is an element of courage in this kind of patience. It doesn't simply mean enduring circumstances, but accepting circumstances because they point toward something better. Patience helps us follow God daily.

Young children have difficulty seeing beyond the present. They only understand their present circumstances. They may whine when asked to wait.

Older children can better appreciate and anticipate the results of patience. They may still have difficulty when there's no apparent reward for their suffering.

What to do -- Watch for times a child comes through inconveniences with a smile. Praise and encourage the child. Tell the child that he or she is growing in the way God wants him or her to grow. Share some of your frustrations over everyday difficulties. Watch for conversations about frustrations kids have overcome. Capitalize on times when circumstances seem hopeless, and give thanks for the assurance of God's presence even when we don't know the outcome. Develop support groups for families going through difficulties, such as a parent's job loss, a family member's death, or a divorce.

SERVICE FOR GOD

What it looks like -- Young children can and do worship God even before they can verbalize worship. They marvel at works in nature, lovely music, or even silence. Children serve God in worship before their words declare it. Older children serve out of their love and worship of God.

What to do -- Watch for evidence that kids aren't just hearers of the Word, but also doers. Work with the children to discover new avenues of expressing their love for God by service to others.

Develop children's choirs or acolyte programs that allow children of all ages to serve in worship services. Give children opportunities to read the Scripture during services.

KINDNESS

What it looks like -- We do not practice our faith in isolation. God set us to live among other people and to love them. Only through that sincere love do we fulfill our faith. Children will glow with pride after helping someone else.

Older children place importance in peers. They'll be proud of being Christians when their friends are also Christians. They can, however, be very cruel to "outsiders."

What to do -- Affirm acts of kindness by saying, "When you helped that person you made God happy too." Children will relate God's happiness to their happiness.

Watch for times when kids include new children in their circle, and commend them. Accentuate our alikeness, and speak of differences as a plus in friendship instead of a minus. Recall Jesus' attitude toward people of a different race or nationality.

Create opportunities for all of the church family to be together. Develop a community of believers by helping children meet Christians of all ages.

LOVE

What it looks like -- Christian love loves as God loves. It treats all people as equal and loves beyond limits. Love is the highest calling we have as Christians -- love for God and for others.

What to do -- Very simply, if you do all the things in the previous categories, your kids will learn to love. As they see God's love through Scripture and in the world. As they serve others through projects. As they participate in worship. As they are affirmed for acts of kindness. Kids will grow in faith, and the ultimate expression of that faith will be how they treat others.

Delia Halverson is the author of How Do Our Children Grow? from Abingdon Press.


TEACHER TRAINING MEETING

Use this article to train your teachers.

  1. Seed faith -- Give teachers each one seed. Have them mingle and discuss the following questions with at least two other teachers: What'll it take to make this seed grow? What does it take for children to grow in faith? What's my role in children's faith development?
  2. Row by row -- Form groups of three and have group members each number off. Have all the 1's get together and use this article to discuss faith, goodness, and knowledge; the 2's discuss self-control, patience, and service for God; and the 3's discuss kindness and love. After 10 minutes, have teachers return to their original group of three and each take five minutes to teach their group what they learned in their numbered group.
  3. Bumper crop -- Have teachers each tell one area where their class needs to grow in faith and what they'll do about it. Then close in prayer.

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