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There’s something about a new year which motivates us to adopt new habits, change an aspect of our lives, or turn over a new leaf in some way.
But so often we fail, don’t we? Habits die out after January, changes are short-lived, and we find ourselves falling back into our old cycles, old rhythms, some of which may be quite damaging.
As Christians, we believe that the only true and lasting change is that which is brought about by the Holy Spirit. So if we want to see proper change in our lives, the absolute best thing we can do – for ourselves and for our children – is draw closer to God!
I blogged the other day about ways that exhausted parents can boost their spiritual life this coming year – but how about our children? If you’re wondering how to help your child grow spiritually, you’ve come to the right place. Here are ten suggestions – please don’t do all of them! Just pick one or two which you feel are realistic for the season you’re in, and which are likely to have the biggest impact.
1. Read the Bible together daily
There’s no better way to help your child grow spiritually than to daily open God’s word together to get to know Him better and hear what He has to say to us!
We’ve definitely struggled with this as a family. Yes, we’ve used some great resources (Exploring the Bible comes to mind), but forming a regular day-in, day-out habit has not come easily to us.
Knowing, though, that the habits we form in childhood are going to be easier to keep in adulthood, I decided to do something about this for 2020. With my twins (5), we’re reading the Jesus Storybook Bible, one chapter a night, and getting near the end now. They each got a copy of Pens in their stocking, so we’ll move onto that when we’re finished.
For Missy (8) we’ll use Topz – for now, the old issues we bought for Mister and never used. (Yes. We are THAT family.) And then, if she gets into it, we’ll start buying it regularly. Otherwise we’ll try something else.
And for Mister (10), he’s currently enjoying having us read to him Diary of a Disciple: Peter and Paul’s Story – for the unaware, this is the book of Acts, written in easy-to-follow language for kids, illustrated a la Tom Gates. After this, we’re going to have a look at Head Heart Hands.
2. Get stuck into a great church
This is such an important one that it featured in my New Year’s Resolutions for Exhausted Parents too!
But it’s true: none of us – big or small – can survive very long outside of a nurturing church family. So, if you’ve been wavering, make that decision!
And if you are regularly going to a good church, why not encourage your children to get involved by serving, using the unique gifts God has given them? In the last few months Mister has started playing the cajon in some services – and Missy is down on the Welcome Rota for this term.
Whilst there’s a danger in putting someone too young in too responsible a position, there is so much good that comes from allowing small amounts of (overseen) service from a young age.
3. Prioritise a mid-week group
If your church runs a mid-week kids’ club or youth meeting, make it a priority for the coming year (if you haven’t already). As children get older, they increasingly need Christian role models outside of the family, and a good youth leader really comes into their own here, not to mention the solidarity of meeting with Christians their own age.
If your church doesn’t offer anything like this, and you feel your child needs some encouragement from a Christian peer group, why not check out local churches to see if anyone else is offering something?
4. Book onto a Christian camp or holiday club
For the last two summers, Mister has really enjoyed going on a Christian camp in Scotland, organised by churches locally. This year, Missy is old enough to go and is looking forward to joining him.
(Actually, to rephrase that, she’s looking forward to going on camp. She’s actually delighted that the girls’ and boys’ dorms are far away from each other, so that she can avoid her brother…)
From the age of around 8, there are overnight Christian camps which will provide your child with the most wonderful, eye-opening experience, full of exciting activities, all rooted in a Christian environment, with opportunities to explore the Bible, worship and pray together with peers and experienced leaders. If you want to know how to help your child grow spiritually, exposing them to a Christian environment outside your own home (obviously with the right safeguarding checks in place) is a fantastic place to start.
Check out Scripture Union camps right here if you’re keen to explore this further. Their camps have been running for years, with great recommendations from thousands of families who would say that going to an SU camp played a key part in their faith journey.
If your child is younger than 8, or if they don’t like staying away from home, is there a church holiday club that they can attend this year? These usually start from school age. If your church doesn’t run one, ask around – do local churches have anything suitable?
My older two got so much from a local Baptist church’s holiday club last Easter, so we’ll prioritise getting them there again this year – and with the twins now old enough to join in too, I’ll enjoy a bit of child-free time! (Did I mention there were perks to this spiritual development lark??)
Even if the booking facility for camps or holiday clubs isn’t open quite yet, find out the dates, put them in your diary, and make a note of when you can book.
Also – these things are much more fun with friends, so get asking around at school – would anyone like to join your kids? It can be a great way of opening up the idea of faith for your children’s friends, as well as being a bit less scary, walking in with someone you know!
5. Pray together as a family
This is another resolution that we’ve made for our bunch this year. I’m not so good at encouraging our kids to pray – so often our prayer time is at bedtime, and I’m rather over-keen to get downstairs for a bit of P&Q, so I tend to rush through a very formulaic prayer myself, rather than spend time inviting God to speak to us, and listening properly to what my children want to pray for.
So – how are we trying to change this for the new year?
We’ve bought Hope & Ginger’s marvellous Family Prayer Journal, and have started filling it in already (follow me on Instagram to check out our progress). We’re planning to use it at mealtimes, when we’re all together.
It’s so simple to use, and yet – for us – is the structure we need to remember to pray with, not just for, our family. Each page is undated (huzzah!), and there’s a verse to read and chat about, then spaces to write what you’re thankful for, as well as what and who you’re praying for – both in the family and outside.
There are also some gorgeous stickers to use when prayers are answered! I’m particularly looking forward to flicking through our journal at the end of the year, seeing how God has moved in our family. Hopefully this will build our children’s faith too!
6. See Christian friends regularly
This might seem a bit of an odd one, or perhaps a bit obvious, but I think we forget sometimes how lonely school can feel when you’re a Christian.
For many years we believed we were the only Christian family at our school. Last year, we discovered that one of Mister’s friends was also a Christian (but quiet about it!), and that was also the year when three Christian families joined the school with children in Reception.
Still – it’s not many, is it? To the best of my knowledge, it’s only Mister out of our four kids who has another Christian in his class. And currently none of them have any friends of their own age at church, either. Being a ministry family, we don’t have any option to move church, either!
It’s important, therefore, not to play down the importance of meeting up with our Christian friends regularly. I want to plan regular playdates for my friends to see their out-of-school Christian friends – and, fortunately, we do have some of these!
We don’t need to commandeer their conversations to include spiritual things – not at all – but just being able to relax in the company of others who share your world-view is so refreshing and encouraging for our kids, helping them know they’re not alone.
If you don’t have local Christian friends, another option might be to set up a pen-pal system. Perhaps you have Christian friends elsewhere in the country, whose kids would love to write to yours?
7. Watch the Parenting for Faith videos
These were a game-changer when I watched them a year ago (read my review here). They are easy to watch, funny and wise, with practical tools that you can put into practice straight away. If you want to know how to help your child grow spiritually, these videos will give you loads of helpful ideas.
We discussed them in our housegroup – but don’t worry if you’re not in a group as you can watch them on your own or with your spouse, and they’ll still be incredibly helpful as you seek to nurture your children’s burgeoning faith.
Best of all – the cost has been entirely covered by BRF, so they’re totally free! There are eight of them, around half an hour in length – why not swap your favourite Netflix show for Parenting for Faith every few days? You won’t regret it – and neither will your kids!
8. Read Christian biographies with your child
My older children have found it so interesting and inspiring to hear about some of the heroes of the faith who have gone before them. It helps to put their own faith in a wider context, to see beyond themselves and their own situation, and to realise God’s faithfulness through the years.
There are lots of good books which make excellent bedtime reading – but our favourites are Everyone a Child Should Know (very short stories for younger children, I’d say 3s-5s), and the Ten Boys/Ten Girls series for primary-aged children.
9. Prioritise faith discussions
I recently read of a mum whose 2020 resolution was to read a book to her 3-year-old every time she was asked, however busy she was or whatever she was doing.
It’s a great resolution, because don’t kids always come to us with requests and questions when we’re in the middle of something important? Don’t they always seem to have terrible timing for asking the big questions?
‘Where do babies come from?’ they’ll fling at you, out of nowhere, when you’re changing a nappy with the dinner bubbling over and the phone ringing.
‘Why does God allow bad things to happen?’ chirps your 5 year old as you’re madly trying to get shoes and coats on for school, which started 5 minutes ago.
So a great resolution for us for the new year (especially impatient souls like me!) is to remember what’s important, to be able to step back in these situations, gain a bit of perspective, and engage in a question or a discussion at the point our children are wanting to have them.
And, if that really is impossible, setting a time for later, so that it doesn’t get forgotten.
Our children are individuals, with their own schedule. Always expecting them to fall into ours is unrealistic, especially when it comes to the thinking and pondering they are starting to do about their faith. Let’s be open to encouraging this when it comes. Yes, even when the dinner is about to burn.
10. Pray for them
“Nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer,” a wise person once said – and it’s true. Hands-down, it’s THE most important way to help your child grow spiritually this year and beyond.
As parents, we’ve been given the wonderful job of nurturing our children’s relationship with the God who created them. It’s there already, inside them: we don’t need to force it, we simply need to water it and give it space to grow.
An excellent resource for this, which I’ve found invaluable this last year, is Nancy Guthrie’s Praying through the Bible for your Kids. Whether your child is 2 months old, or in their 50s, this is such a great book, with lots of helpful thoughts from the Bible about parenting and what is important to pray for our children.
Before this all becomes a bit glib, though, I do just want to reassure you that the personal choice our children make as to whether or not to pursue their faith into adulthood is not our responsibility, and we mustn’t feel as if we did something wrong if our children have not continued with their faith. (Read ‘For those whose Child Walked Away from their Faith’ for some encouragement if you’re in this boat.)
All we can do is watch how our children’s faith is growing, and reflect intentionally on this growth, stepping in when helpful and stepping back when necessary. And prayer underpins it all.
As we pray, we can use Paul’s words as our hope:
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6