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Faith To Grow On

Tony P. Lane

7 essentials for developing, enhancing, and growing kids' faith.

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 12. That was a while ago.

Throughout my years in the classroom, I've always believed that children experience and know God in a personal and dynamic way. I think most of us who work with children understand the importance of God's impact in kids' lives. Most of us would agree that children hold a special place in God's heart. From the first mention of kids in the Bible, it's evident that God wants to nurture children in their faith walk.

Developing kids' faith isn't optional. Jesus expects us to support children and their potential for spiritual growth and maturity. As children's ministers, our understanding of how kids' faith is developed, enhanced, and shared is crucial. Here's what I've learned about kids' faith.



1.Kids' faith can be crushed.

Remember when Jesus' disciples rebuked people who were bringing children to him for blessing? When Jesus witnessed their actions, he was displeased. "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).

Children have a right -- and a natural desire -- to enter into Jesus' presence. They have a natural faith. Our job is to encourage and strengthen that faith.

"It's important for children's pastors to know and understand that a child's faith is both real and fragile," says Jack Miller, children's pastor at Grace Point Church in Irving, Texas. "It can be developed -- or destroyed."

Careless words and behavior can crush kids' spirits. In their innocent and childlike faith, kids often share prayer requests about their pets, toys, upcoming activities, television heroes, and family members. Wise children's ministers will encourage their faith by praying with kids and encouraging them to believe and trust in God. Sure, a prayer request may appear to be an obvious impossibility to an adult. But God listens and responds to his kids. Be careful about not taking kids' sincere requests seriously.

"When a child talks about a wonderful experience or incident of faith, we must believe and affirm the child," observes Irma Hendrix, director of children's ministry at Mt. Paran North in Atlanta. "Use Scripture to show children how God hears them and has answered. Be careful how you reply to children when their faith hasn't yet brought the result they've asked for. God is always on time and never late to answer."

2. Kids' faith has no boundaries.

It's a fact that faith comes by hearing and living God's Word. Whenever we teach kids the Word and they receive it, their faith grows. Each Sunday school class, each Bible study, and each interactive experience grants children the opportunity to grow their faith. With consistent, positive experiences, it's natural that children will want to exercise their faith, resulting in further growth. Their prayers grow stronger as they see and believe that God can do anything. Such confidence ignites powerful prayers.

"A child's pure faith doesn't falter," says Rodney Ragland, children's pastor at Christway Church in Alabama. "I had a girl in my children's ministry who began to pray that her dad would stop smoking. This was her prayer request for six years. When she left to go to the youth ministry program, her brother took over asking for prayer for their dad. This dad has been prayed for for over eight years. He still smokes, but the children know that one day God will answer their request, and they aren't giving up."

Affirm kids' faith. Teach them examples of faith in the Bible. Share personal testimonies of your faith growth. Allow children to talk about how their faith has resulted in answers to prayer. Display a chart with prayer requests and dates of answered prayer. Give kids a prayer journal to help build their faith.

3. Kids' faith should be Bible-based.

Knowledge of God's Word is foundational to kids' faith. You can develop kids' faith in healthy ways based on a solid scriptural foundation -- not on man-made interpretations of the Bible.

If kids' faith is Word-based, then teachers need to ask tough questions about what they're teaching. Is the information scripturally based? Are all activities and plans focused on God's Word? What media-based tools are appropriate? Media shouldn't only be used to keep kids engaged. Any media-based tools used need to directly support kids' faith development by having a clear link to what they're learning in the class.

4. Kids' faith is strengthened by relationships.

Children are an important part of the church...but many congregations haven't realized that. Some segregate children at all times and don't afford them the opportunity to learn from the entire faith community. Many churches want children to be still and quiet when they are part of a church service. Some churches never give kids the chance to worship with the entire church family.

However, when we segregate kids, we prevent them from learning from the older people in the church, and vice versa. When Jesus was in the temple, he was practicing the accepted method of teaching in his day by asking questions that provoked teachers to rethink their understanding of God's Word. Jesus wasn't asking questions just to learn their responses or obtain answers.

Children need to be involved in the overall ministry of your church. This includes worship, singing, leading praise and worship, reading the Scripture, testifying, praying, and speaking. The biblical image of God's people includes a community of people who've been redeemed regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic class. We are family. Children can worship.

In an orphanage I work with in Poza Rica, Vera Cruz, Mexico, the children often lift their hands in worship and praise or dancing. When it's time to pray, they kneel with their forehead touching the ground or by laying prostrate on the floor, face down, crying out to God. They walk by their faith, utterly depending on God. They rely on God for their daily needs. Their faith has grown exponentially as a result of seeing the hand of God working in their lives. They've been liberated from lives of sexual abuse, abandonment, and poverty. God's Word has built their faith. Their community of faith, the Casa Hogar family, has been the bond that's strengthened this faith.

My dad was a pastor. Both he and my mother believed in me. They poured into me the knowledge that God had a plan for my life, with God's Word being a focal point in our home. They encouraged me to put my talents to work for God. I recall one Sunday morning when the church organist quit. The Sunday school superintendent had led the congregation in the children's song "Jesus Loves Me." Believing that this song was "too childlike" for the worship service, the organist resigned. I'd been taking organ lessons, so my dad determined that it was my turn to play. Thank God for a community of faith who understood the importance of encouraging a young man to use his God-given talent and ability! Subsequently, I started teaching children's church at age 14 and began a junior choir at age 15.

A faith community is vital to faith development in the life of any person, but especially in a child's life. Kids need avenues to express their faith, and such a community can provide it.

5. Kids' faith is significantly shaped by experiences and relationships with parents.

"At the heart of our call to perpetuate faith in the lives of our children is the realization that the Great Commandment is not merely an ideal to be understood but an invitation to be experienced," observes John Kie Vining, director of family ministries for the Church of God International Offices.

In large part, parents shape their child's image of God by how they relate to their child. Therefore, to nurture a child who loves God, has a healthy sense of self-love, and who loves others necessitates an approach to parenting that's grace-filled. None of us can truly love a God who is distant, disrespectful, or disappointed in us. In this manner, parents are indeed the primary disciple-makers of their children, shaping the child's image of God, which ultimately is the foundation of children's faith development.

Your church must do its best to strengthen relationships with families, equipping parents for their role in faith development. Before God created the church, he created the family. Your church must perceive its role to be a support and resource for families as parents endeavor to make disciples of their children. Encourage parents to model their faith in their daily living. Equip them to share God's Word at home. Help them understand principles of child development so they know how to relate to their children in an effective way.

Wise teachers and parents understand the need for experiential learning. You can help them understand how important it is for children to experience what they learn rather than try to absorb life truths through passive learning. Parents teach their children 24/7. Birthday parties, religious celebrations, taking the Lord's Supper, family ministry events -- all these support and undergird family units and allow children opportunities to experience their faith. Only after faith has been explored and questioned can it really be developed and strengthened.

6. Kids' faith yields results.

God values children and honors their innocence. Jesus demonstrated this when he accepted a boy's small lunch and fed thousands.

"After a weekend Kidfest kids' event, I had one boy, 11 years old, who said he heard from God," says Kevin Edgington, children's pastor at the House of Restoration Worship Center in Milford, Ohio. "He believed that God wanted him to go home and start having services for kids in his neighborhood. His family supported him and helped him begin services for kids on Saturday mornings. In just a very short time, nine children accepted Jesus as their personal Savior."

7. Kids' faith development impacts their eternal destiny.

The impact of building a strong faith now can result in a healthy relationship with Jesus and the church in the future. The moral development of children is complete by age nine, according to research by the Barna Institute. Nonreligious-oriented research on children's moral and values development substantiates that the foundation for lifelong values and morals are formed during kids' earliest years.

Every child has a place in the body of Christ. Children's destinies await them. It's our responsibility to help kids determine their destinies and their purposes in life. And entire faith communities must be involved in developing and nurturing children and their parents.

Tony P. Lane is the coordinator of Christian education, Sunday school, and children's ministry for the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Get Developmental

Competent teachers spend time studying child-development experts such as Goldman, Stonehouse, and Piaget and their theories of developmental education and stages of moral development. That way they can create lessons that are appealing and applicable to kids according to their ability to receive information and act on it. Developmental insights for various ages are widely available and elemental to effective teaching.

A Lesson From the Master

Remember when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover? At the end of the celebration, Mary and Joseph started the journey home. Upon arriving at the Hebrew version of Motel 6 after a long day of traveling with a caravan of family and friends, Jesus' parents discovered that he was missing. Can you imagine their fear and dismay? They lost God! He was nowhere among their traveling companions.

After a frantic search, they located him in Jerusalem in the temple. Luke records the incident in his writing: "After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47). Jesus, through his questions, was causing teachers to challenge their beliefs. A child was teaching the teachers.

This event illustrates how important a role children play in their faith discovery -- and in ours. Give kids opportunities to grow their faith by exploring it.

• Encourage kids to ask questions. And don't pretend to always know the answer. Why did God give dogs tails?

• Open your mind and learn from your kids. Sometimes the most profound and surprising insights come from young minds because they see things in a much more concrete, simple way.

• Make faith exploration an element of your class. Ask open-ended questions. Challenge kids to exercise their faith. Stretch kids beyond what even they think they can do.

 



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