Those of us in ministry feel that we are on the right track in our teaching when men and women truly hunger and thirst for more of God’s Word. Unfortunately, though, despite our prayers and greatest efforts, many people still view church as if it were a club membership, a social gathering, or a networking opportunity. For them, church is no more than an hour of their time on Sunday. So their children grow up learning to imitate the faith façade they may have seen at home. Then, when they start their own families, they perpetuate the cycle of pretense they observed growing up. They act one way at church but another way at home, at work, or with neighbors. It’s a sad cycle where the stopping must start with parents.
The church can play a significant role in helping break this cycle and equip parents with the tools they need to raise Christian kids. We must teach that Christianity is not about going to church or being outwardly religious. It’s about inner faith and commitment. Children don’t grow up to love God merely because they’ve been in Sunday school. They grow in spirit because they’ve had spiritual role models in their parents and church family and because they feel compelled to serve others. The goal is for their hearts to be in it, for them to care about faith and service, not out of duty or obligation, but out of devotion and desire.
So, where do we start? And what does this look like in practice? Let’s start with a call—to parents to live out authentic faith in front of their kids, to the church to become a mentoring community, and to families to serve the needs in their neighborhoods and beyond.
A Call to Parents
A Christian family doesn’t magically and instantly appear because we wish it into existence. Parents have to be serious about the task of passing on their faith, about living the way God calls them to live—not just when others are looking, but all day, every day.
So ask the parents in your pews this question: Are you a parent who just happens to be a Christian, or are you a Christian who just happens to be a parent?
There is a difference. It involves encouraging parents to model an authentic and genuine faith for their kids. God is looking for consistency and integrity. Not pretend religion but genuine faith and trust. No parent will ever be perfect and God doesn’t expect that. He is more concerned with direction than He is perfection. His desire is to see parents maturing in their relationships with Him and living what they believe in front of their kids.
A Call to the Church
I love participating in baby dedications. Proud parents stand in front of the congregation holding their chubby little ones, ready to dedicate them to God. When asked if they commit to raising their children in the ways of the Lord, they promise to do so. Then it’s the church’s turn. I turn to the congregation and ask, “Will you support this family as the church body?” Everyone answers in unison, “We will.” It’s a beautiful sound—an entire congregation in one voice making a vow to one another and to God. As pastors, we must be careful that this practice doesn’t become rote. We should urge the church body to become intentional in finding ways to mentor and model Christ to new parents and the children they are raising.
Beth and I are eternally grateful to the quality Christian role models God placed in the paths of our children. But this didn’t happen by accident or because they were the preacher’s kids; it happened because we were intentional. Whenever we met new people, our antennae went up for potential spiritual influencers who could impact our kids. We wanted to involve as many committed believers as we possibly could, to surround our kids with caring Christians.
Imagine for a moment a church community that is known by its Christian mentors and models . . . a church that stands by the promise to support parents and help guide their children? Do you think its possible for your church? Why don’t you challenge them to that task? Urge them to give their time and talents to grow a child’s faith and model true Christianity.
A Call to Service
Finally, can you guess the most effective way to help faith take root in children’s lives? You probably know by now that it doesn’t involve simply dragging them to church. It’s also not providing the best kids’ programs or even offering parenting classes. The single biggest “sticky” factor for faith taking root in children is the experience of serving alongside their parents. That’s right. It isn’t all what you or the church can offer children or their parents. It’s what you can call them to do—to serve. This can look like anything from baking cookies for a neighbor or picking up trash in your neighborhood.
What they choose to do isn’t important.
Who they do it with is.
Why? Because serving gets you out of your comfort zone, and it can be quite humbling. Getting your hands dirty removes the layers of pretension and pride which so many spectator Christians have.
Whether it’s serving food at a homeless shelter, cleaning up after a natural disaster, or spending time with a widow, when people serve, they start to look like Jesus.
Every act of service a family does together will bear fruit. Challenge them to turn the mirror outward and look at the needs around them.
Want to make church more than just an hour on Sunday? Urge the church body to be intentional about their personal relationship with Christ. Encourage them to take a real interest in one another through mentorship and modeling. And finally, challenge them to serve the needs in their community and beyond. And when you do, well, that is when you’ll see true church and authentic Christianity taking place.