Spiritual Generativity: Nourishing Vital Families

April 19th, 2013
This article is featured in the Families in the Family of God (May/June/July 2013) issue of Circuit Rider

“Well, at least God loves me!”

Those are the words that came out of my four-year old’s mouth after he had been scolded for unacceptable actions toward his sister. I was sort of shocked at first that he did not feel very loved by his mother, because I had been trying to help him reconsider his actions. At the same time, I was sort of delighted that in what he was considering a dark moment in his brief four years of existence, he remembered God’s love.

The good news of that experience was affirmation of our work as parents to plant the seeds for a spiritually generative faith.

In the past few years, generativity has become more important to me as a parent and as a leader in the church. Erik Erikson, a leader in the field of psychoanalysis and human development, introduced the world to the multiple stages of human development. He stated that in middle-adulthood, between approximately eighteen and fifty-seven years of age, our psychosocial challenge is between whether or not we are generative or stagnant. The challenge that we have before us in the mainline Protestant church is that many of our congregations have become stagnant. Could this be because too many people in our congregations have a stagnant, rather than generative, faith?

In his book, The Life Cycle Completed, Erikson defines generativity as that which “encompasses procreativity, productivity, and creativity, and thus the generation of new beings as well as new products and new ideas, including a kind of self-generation concerned with further identity development.” Generativity is rooted in a key fundamental and then blessed to grow, create, and produce from that foundation.

Kenda Creasy Dean began to explore the “generative faith” in her book, Almost Christian. Even though Christian education is part of our tradition in the church, we have taken our intentional roles in passing on the faith to our children and grandchildren for granted. Some have relinquished our responsibility and expected our pastors and people in children and youth ministry to accomplish this tremendous task.

When parents and family members really care about their children’s future and want to pass on something that they value, they are willing to invest and take time to articulate and ground them in the fundamentals. For example, a father who wants his son to be the best baseball player on the team will go out and practice with his child outside of the normal team practice. It’s important to that parent that the child learn to practice the fundamentals. A mother who absolutely wants her daughter to have excellent language skills will spend time with her child outside of the normal school hours and help her read and write. Most parents believe that the most essential fundamental their child can have is their education in the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.

So, my quandary is this, if we truly believe that God is the God of all creation and that a relationship with God will get us through every joyous and disastrous moment in our lives, why aren’t we intentionally spending the time to ground our children in this fundamental?

I’m not blaming our parents; but I’m also not convinced that the church has fulfilled its role in equipping parents to teach their children the fundamental Christian principles. A father can teach his child baseball because he at least knows the basics. A mother can teach her child to read and write, because at the very least, she herself has learned those basic principles. Some of our Christian parents know some Christian principles, but the challenge is that parents have rarely been taught the practices of these principles that can be applied in their own homes. Participating in children and youth ministry in local churches is one step, but it doesn’t instill all the practices that will lead to a lifetime of faith.

The Towers Watson research on vital congregations named a few elements that I think are appropriate for Christian families and congregations who care about these families, today.

  1. Congregations that have shown markers of health and vitality have more ministries for children and youth than low-vital congregations. These churches care enough about the spiritual health of their children and youth to offer something appropriate to their developmental stage of faith. Even very small congregations who were highly vital had one or two more ministries for children and youth than their counterparts.
  2. These congregations have highly effective lay leadership who demonstrate a vital personal faith. Children learn by watching. If parents and other people in congregations attend to their own personal faith by practicing the means of grace, these children will witness what transformed Christian living looks like. Faith has to start somewhere. So begin by practicing faith through the means of grace.
  3. Highly-vital congregations have pastoral leadership that focuses on developing, coaching, and mentoring the laity (which, by the way, includes children and youth). Too often I have heard clergy state that they don’t “do” children or youth ministry. This is a travesty in my mind because it sends a signal to the children, youth, and families that they are subordinate to whatever the pastor considers more important ministry. Children and youth are more aware of what good coaching and mentoring looks like in their lives. Pastors who include children and youth in their development, coaching, and mentoring are investing in a present possibility filled with hope for a spiritually generative future.

We can educate children and families in the fundamentals of our faith, which in my mind are rooted in two scriptures: Matthew 28, “The Great Commission,” and Matthew 22, “The Great Commandment.” The beauty of the Christian tradition that our family has claimed is that we have a methodology for practices that embody living out these two passages. Our Wesleyan heritage has given us the means of grace, which allows us to practice personal holiness and social holiness.

Families can practice the means of grace together by praying out loud, reading Scripture, participating in corporate worship, and serving God by serving others together. These are just a few of the habits and practices that I want my children to possess as they grow into adulthood. I believe that these are the practices and habits that will last them a lifetime and give them the foundation they need to thrive in life. By God’s grace they will always know “God loves them and wants them to love others too!”

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