Doing Theology: How do we raise our children in the faith?

“I want my kid to know God, but I’m struggling on how to do it.”

On Monday night, 50 of us gathered on Zoom to discuss a question that many parents with faith have pondered: How do I raise my child in the faith? In Circle of Hope, when we dedicate our children, we ask the congregation to do their part in raising them in the faith. We call that village parenting. But specifically, we wondered, how do we raise them? How important are Bible stories or Christian doctrine? What should focus on?

One parent frankly said, that he grew up with twisted theology. But theology is still important to him, even if it’s not the twisted part. He wants his kids to know God, but he is struggling to do it. I think many of us can relate to that.

To start, both myself and Alison, shared our own perspectives.

Alison shared that her primary work has been about emotional care and trauma. He wants to make sure that her children feel safe in her home. She has no curriculum, and no specific plan for raising them in the faith. For her, modeling faith is the best way to raise up our children in the faith, just like you might model other behaviors. Forming relationships with loving adults is more important than curriculum. Building trust relationships is more important than doctrine. 

I said that a secure relationship with parents is essential for believing that God loves them. I had a different experience with my father and it made it hard to believe that God might love me too.

Modeling, storytelling, imagination

When we opened the discussion to the group to do more theology, others suggested that modeling and focusing on God’s love were important. We also affirmed storytelling and naming where God is in the lives of our children. It was also important to share about how God was working on our lives. 

One person named her meaningful spiritual life, and she became aware that she was nervous about placing her ideas upon her children. Then she realized that we all need containers for faith. They needed to learn how to ask questions. We can be assertive about what we believe and open to our children exploring other ideas.

Another parent shared that her nine-year-old son asks big questions and is dissatisfied when it’s not an answer. She encourages questions and exploration, and talks about her own experience with God. But he’s always dissatisfied with it. Keep bringing a non-anxious presence.

Don’t feel pressured to have all the right answers, faith is about wondering

What do you say to “this is all made up?” Alison suggests that bible writers wrote about their experiences as a product of their time; and she also teaches her kids that scripture comes in a variety of genres.

One child asked their parent: Is the Bible true? Sometimes a concrete thinker might have difficulty with some of the abstract or even miraculous parts of the Bible. Other times, using books like Harry Potter and C.S. Lewis’ novels brought out that truth can be found even in fiction.

Even as children look for concrete answers, we might want to encourage them to have imagination and explore mystery. Sharing as much about what we don’t know, as what we know is good to breed curiosity and also humility. Inquisitive children learn that even their parents don’t have all the answers. Being too theologically conclusive may actually damage faith.

Our kids may surprise us too, one child, after reading about Martin Luther King, made a connection between King’s assassination and the crucifixion of Christ!

The village really does help

For many of our participants, community in church via youth group was important to them. One person shared that youth group that helped her collect faith, and it was a a close family friend that made the connection more than her parents.

One person shared that they grew up as a pastor’s kid, and when her dad was using his “sermon voice,” she’d ignore the entire thing. What worked for her was going to camp and meeting others who were doing a relational thing, like in Circle of Hope. In contrast, another person said that he grew up without a youth group, but his family really helped his faith.

We think that raising our kids in a community of faith, with children, is a good way to maintain faith. A lot of folks loved their youth groups. I shared that my faith was threatened by my youth group, but had a pastor that allowed me to express that. A lot of my peers in that youth group have since lost their faith.

Finally, regarding communion, we leave it up to the parent to decide when their child is ready to take it. The same applies for baptism, though we believe that the child must be able to authentically profess his or her faith. We encourage all of our parents to dedicate their children to being raised in the faith, in community.

The big takeaways:

  • Answer this question: What is what you give that endures? 
  • When looking for concrete things we might tell our kids, two rang the loudest: tell them God loves them, and model that love. And share about your own experience with faith and God.
  • Raising our children together where love and trust relationships are the rules, and not just the right doctrines or ideas. 
  • Giving our children a voice, allowing one to ask questions. Encourages mystery and curiosity. Allowing parents to be secure in not knowing.
  • A secure attachment to Jesus via their secure attachment to us.
  • Trusting that God will show up for them as God showed up for me.

Kids’ Bible Recommendations:

One parent recommended Godly Play, which allows children to explore faith through play and wonder.

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