Once upon a time, a certain man and woman fell in love, got married, and had two wonderful daughters.
Wonderful—but needing a little…er…direction.
Being Christians, the parents wanted to make sure that direction was toward Jesus. But how could they encourage such a holy, lifelong bent?
Somehow, they did. And somehow, almost thirty years later, those young women are still following Jesus. One of them is writing this.
In my last post, I talked about ways we can fuel each other’s faith when it flags. And I believe those means of encouragement can benefit people of any age.
But children seem to present their own unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to building faith. They’re new to life, God, and how to approach both.
So how can we foster genuine, enduring faith in the young people within our spheres of influence?
Below, I share a few of the things my own parents did to nurture the faith that has lasted me a lifetime.
But first, a caveat: As any parent of grown children will tell you, there are no guarantees in parenting. You can do everything right, and your child might still refuse a life of faith. Or you can do nothing, and your child might yet turn to Jesus.
But what you do will stay with them, whether you can see it or not. And as a parent or guardian, you possess the unique opportunity—and God-given responsibility—to give your child the best possible glimpse of God and the door of grace that’s open to them.
These are just a few examples of how to seize that opportunity. Not necessarily hard-and-fast rules of childrearing, but experiences that I hope others can learn from as they undertake the holy call to build up the next generation in the faith.
Teach them to pray
Prayer was one of my earliest introductions to hands-on faith. And it was a very simple one.
As soon as I could babble, my parents taught me a simple blessing to say before every meal. Though the words sometimes ran together on my tongue, they effectively served some very important purposes.
First, the words themselves carried some basic theology, painting one of my first impressions of God. This God was “great” and “good”, not only able but willing to meet needs. And, as the blessing also showed, the appropriate response to His goodness was thankfulness.
Further, approaching God regularly in this way kept Him in front of me and made turning to Him a natural part of life. Even though my dad worked to earn money for our needs, I learned that God was our family’s ultimate provider. Approaching Him, both in petition and thanksgiving, was therefore not only possible, but logical and right.
My parents didn’t teach me a bedtime prayer, but they did encourage me in my private prayer life. As I got older, I learned more prayers and prayer habits at church and (later) from devotionals. And eventually, I left the “God is great” blessing behind for my own personalized ones.
But the lessons from that early blessing stuck with me, if not in so many words. The Lord is still my great, good God who cares for me and to whom I owe eternal thanks.
Prayer is a life skill. As little as children may realize it (and parents wish it were otherwise), life is full of need. Teaching kids how to pray gives them a lifeline to the only One who can and will always be there for them. And encouraging them to regularly use that lifeline now will set them up to use it later when they need it most.
Take them to church—often
Growing up, my sister and I attended church almost every Sunday morning, rain or shine. We’d usually get there for opening assembly and stay through Sunday School and worship.
Exceptions were made for vacations and illness (and yes, a rare lazy day). But for the most part, church was simply the place to be on Sunday morning, just as school was the place to be on Monday.
When our church held evening services or special events, we usually attended those as well. As I got older and accumulated more schoolwork and autonomy, these became optional. But the “core” of Sunday morning services remained.
Attending church so often entrenched it as a major part of my life. It not only nourished my soul, but reinforced the importance of nourishing it. It not only fostered relationships with other believers, but made those relationships a priority.
The message such regular attendance communicated was that my church was my second family, and their gathering place my second home. Whether I felt like being there or not, I belonged among them.
Now, I was never involved in sports, nor did my parents have to work during regular church services. And my disabilities were never significant enough to clash with church facilities or logistics. So I can’t speak to those situations. (And did I mention there was no highly contagious, potentially debilitating virus at large?)
But I will suggest this: Take your kids to church as often as you safely, feasibly can—or bring it to them.
They need the support and nourishment of Christ-centered relationships. They need the experience of God’s love and the witness to His power that comes through His family.
And so do their parents.
Get them involved in service
This is one of the most overlooked yet impactful ways to shape a child’s faith. And you don’t need to be in vocational ministry to pull it off.
My mom especially was active in serving our church in various volunteer capacities—and took us along whenever she could.
In our elementary years, my sister and I spent many a Saturday morning with her at the church office while she copied and folded Sunday’s bulletin. In summer, we’d help decorate for Vacation Bible School, even lending some of our toys as props. On the church’s annual cleanup day, we’d be getting dusty alongside everyone else.
When our dad started helping with the sound equipment during worship, we couldn’t actually help. But after the service, we would run up to the tech booth and hang around while he and the other techie turned things off and put things away.
We didn’t always like using our school-free time to wait around on the grownups or perform boring tasks. But as with prayer, what started as duty set the stage for our own initiatives.
As I got older, I began volunteering myself. And as I discovered my own gifts—particularly writing—I looked for ways to use them for the church.
Because I’d come to see the church as not just a place to be and receive, but a place to do and give. I’d learned that the Body of Christ needed me as much as I needed it. And as a member of that Body, I was responsible for its wellbeing as much as it was for mine.
My disabilities sometimes frustrated my efforts to serve. But, as in all areas of my life, I saw them as either hurdles to overcome or guide rails directing me to a specific area—never as excuses. And, as I came to realize later, they could even be assets for reaching others.
Show them how the Bible applies to their lives
Kids need to know the Bible. But they also need to know how to apply it.
Prayer, service, worship, and Christian fellowship are some of its most obvious applications. But the Bible’s teaching goes beyond specific practices to offer principles that apply to our entire lives.
One way my parents helped me and my sister understand those principles was by setting standards of behavior. They taught us that bullying, disrespect, dishonesty, and “bad words” were unacceptable. They encouraged us to be kind and to do our best in all our undertakings. They also taught us to apologize when we did wrong.
They also set standards for what we put into our heads and hearts. While they didn’t insist we consume only explicitly Christian media, they did limit us to age-appropriate movies and TV shows. And as we became more interested in music, they played Christian songs and encouraged interest in Christian artists.
Finally, they gave us Christ-centered advice and encouragement. If we had a need, they encouraged us to pray. When we were afraid, they reminded us of God’s loving presence and protection. If we struggled, they reminded us that He was there to help us.
We didn’t always listen. But the messages of truth and encouragement were there like lights marking the way to Jesus. Lights we could always find and follow.
Let them see Jesus in your own life
Allowing me and my sister to see Jesus in their lives did as much for our faith as any of our parents’ efforts to bring Jesus into ours.
Yes, we needed to know that God’s truth applied to us, that His invitation was open to us. Yes, we needed direct experiences of prayer, worship, fellowship, and service. And yes, our church surrounded us with dozens of genuine people of faith.
But seeing that our own beloved, respected parents believed added credibility to the Gospel. And watching them live out their belief underscored its life-transforming and -consuming nature.
My parents weren’t super-spiritual. They didn’t spout Scripture nonstop or mention Jesus in every conversation. They didn’t go into missions or vocational ministry. They didn’t live or parent flawlessly.
But they did little things that pointed to Jesus’s presence in their lives. They prayed. They served the church. They loved us. They were faithful to each other. They didn’t cuss, drink, smoke, or do drugs.
I once passed a church sign that read, “Example is a language anyone can understand.”
And the best part is, anyone can speak that language to anyone else.
You don’t have to be a parent or guardian to influence a child in this way. You can show Jesus to every child you meet—simply by living out His love and truth.
I made the decision to follow Jesus the summer before fourth grade. During VBS, I kept asking to talk to the pastor. When my mom asked if I wanted to become a Christian, I remember responding, “Yes, Mom, I’ve always been a Christian.”
I’d been praying and participating in church all my life. I’d accepted everything I’d been taught about God and humanity, at church and at home. Now something—or Someone—was telling me it was time to respond in faith and make a commitment.
And I did.
As I hope you’ve inferred from past blog posts, the ensuing journey hasn’t been a straight line onward and upward. The faith built in childhood has trembled and groaned under the forces of suffering, sin, and doubt.
But it stands today. By nothing short of the grace of God.
And some of that grace came in the form of my parents.
Start a youth out on his way;Proverbs 22:6 (CSB)
even when he grows old he will not depart from it.