We can do better for our kids

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Do you dream of achieving more for our present generation of children and teens? We can. But in order to do things better we must do them differently. How? Read on . . .

Current statistics report that young people are walking away from church in huge numbers and that many children who remain are possibly only there because their parents insist they attend or their social life is linked to the church1. Jason Gardner comments that this may be because we are leaving the issues of discipleship too late. “Is that spiritual education we provide for our young people neither consistent enough, or rigorous enough, to provide them with the means to have a strong, stable faith in a time when there are many challenges to the authenticity and relevance of our beliefs?”2 Kara Powell and Chap Clark wonder if our programs are short on listening and thoughtful engagement3.

God's story needs to connect with their life story or it can become just another fable or exciting adventure story.


What is Faith Shaper?

Faith Shaper is an initiative based on Scripture and incorporates some of the recent recommendations of literature and research on faith development. We have organised these as seven essential experiences under the acronym of SHAPING: Service and Mission; Homes Empowered; Authentic Relationships; Participation; Intergenerational Connections; Noteworthy Memory events and God Encounters.

When children and teens receive these seven experiences they are more likely to develop a faith that helps them stay—a faith that’s deep enough, active, personal and relationally connected enough to keep growing for the rest of their lives. 


Service and mission

“Each one of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Children and teens need to be involved in serving and in responding with compassion to those less fortunate. Diana Garland in her research tells us: “As families serve together, they grip a deeper understanding of one another and God. They find their faith more resilient and meaningful. Their children develop a faith that helps them stick to the church and to their beliefs into young adulthood.”4


Homes empowered

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your heads and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Homes are the most significant places for shaping faith. Families need to be equipped and empowered to disciple their young people from birth. Vern L Bengtson found in his research that “the single most important social influence on the religious lives of adolescents is their parents”.5 Michelle Anthony comments that “churches are beginning to refocus their attention on the importance of spiritual formation in the home, recognising that faith is fostered and modelled”.6


Authentic relationships

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Children and teens need role models, mentors and positive peer communities. This needs to happen in the home (parents), at church (leaders and members) and at school (teachers). Children experience the world through relationships and the more positive and supportive these relationships are, the more likely it is that spiritual development will occur.

Kara Powell and Chap Clark write that parents need to ensure that their children include a 5:1 plan of having five significant adults for each child. “Through these empowering relationships your kids are able to spend time with adults who are further along in their spiritual journey.”


Participation

“When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ they were up in arms and took him to task. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s word, ‘From the mouths of children and babes I’ll furnish a place of praise’” (Matthew 21:15,16).

Children need to participate in the life of the church and feel that they belong. Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos write: “To participate in the life of a faith community, children need to be a part of this community. And to be a part of this community they need to be present for its central practices and seen as active and valuable members.”7


Intergenerational connections

“All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel together with your children and your wives” (Deuteronomy 29:10,11).

When Moses gave his farewell address all generations were present. Scriptures assume that children are participating both in the Baheth or household of faith and also in the Misbahor or community of faith. For long lasting faith to develop they need shared experiences with all generations. God never intended that children always be segregated from the total faith community. Ivy Beckwith states that children need to rub shoulders with and learn from people with more mature faith. “Children are spiritually formed when they observe their parents and other members of the faith community, practising the worship of God.”8


Noteworthy memory events

“In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground” (Joshua 4:21,22). The Bible shows us the importance of creating memory events. Children and teens need faith markers in their lives that powerfully reinforce the goodness and greatness of God. Wayne French writes that a memory event is a big enough activity so that young people “are so fully immersed . . . they will never forget it or its message”.9 Homes and churches provide memory events when they celebrate the faith milestones and make Sabbath the best day of the week.


God encounters

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalms 119:105). “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. The sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:3-5).

To enable children to know God’s voice and follow Him for themselves is our goal. Children encounter God through many experiences and by engaging in a variety of senses. We need to provide an environment that’s rich in these experiences. Not only do they need a knowledge of God, but to have a faith that sticks they need to build their own personal relationship with Him. They need to see their place in the big picture of the Bible and the great controversy. God’s story needs to connect with their life story or it can become just another fable or exciting adventure story.


Let’s make it happen!

Faith Shaper is not a program and it doesn’t sit with just one department. It’s a set of experiences that should determine how all departments at every level of the Church do ministry. Dr Barry Gane in Valuegenesis 2 found that “there is an increasing probability that young people will develop high Christian commitment, and high loyalty to the Church, if they have the benefits of effective homes, effective churches and effective Adventist schools”.10 We are asking that everyone—church, home and school—study and discuss how they can implement these experiences.             

For more information visit <children.adventist.org.au/faith-shaper>

1. Goodwin David. 2013. Lost In Transition – Or Not. Kids Reach, NSW.

2. Gardner, Jason. 2008. Mend the Gap.Inter-Varsity Press, UK.

3. Powell, Kara & Clark, Chap. 2011. Sticky Faith, Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in your Kids. Zondervan, Michigan.

4. Garland, Diana. 2010. Inside Out Families. Baylor University Press, Texas.

5. Bengtson, Vern L. 2013. Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations. Oxford University Press, New York.

6. Anthony, Michelle & Michael. 2011. A Theology for Family Ministries. B&H Publishing, Nashville Tennessee.

7. Beckwith, Ivy & Csinos David. 2013. Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus. InterVaristy Press, IL.

8. Beckwith, Ivy. 2012. Formational Children’s Ministries. Shaping children using story, ritual and relationship. Baker book, Grand Rapids MI.

9. French, Wayne. 2005. Creating Memories for Teens. Signs Publishing Company, Warburton, Victoria.

10. Gane, Barry. 2012. Valuegenesis 2. Avondale Academic Press, Cooranbong NSW.


Julie Weslake is director of Children’s Ministries for the South Pacific Division.