If you are following the 12 month challenge to teach our children to live like Jesus, March is about having our children spend time with people who love Jesus. Sounds a little silly. After all, your home is probably filled with Christians and you most likely attend Church at least once a week. Getting your kids to read the Bible and pray on their own was a challenge, but this month your family can phone it in. Or can you?
Over the years, I have heard the same story over and over again. Parents whose children either no longer attend church or go somewhere the parents believe is teaching error because that is where their children’s friends are. Usually, if I ask a few more questions it turns out the child never made friends at Church and the school friends are the ones pulling their child either away from God or at least in a direction the parent is uncomfortable with on some level.
It’s not just a lack of friends at church our children are missing. Somewhere in the last thirty years, hospitality has become a lost art. When I was growing up, it seemed like there was a constant stream of visitors at our table. Many were preachers, elders, visiting missionaries, touring Christian college students or our friends from church. And it wasn’t just my family. I spent many nights at the homes of other people in our church (and quite a few weekends with my friend’s families!).
Our congregation didn’t just have an occasional potluck on Sunday either. Sunday School teachers would take children from their classes out to eat or to a movie or museum or park. Many of us had unofficial mentors. In fact, I still talk to mine regularly and see her whenever I am in the area. We had so very many people we knew without a doubt loved us and cared for us. We also knew they loved God and their expectation was that we would too. We felt a level of accountability (notice I didn’t say guilt) to be the godly men and women these people had shown us how to be.
The excuses I hear for not spending time outside of church with other Christians is interesting. Usually distance and lack of time are the two main reasons for not being involved in the lives of the people in their congregation. Many of these same people will drive two, three or even more hours every weekend during football season to see their favorite team play. They will spend untold hours every week shuttling their kids from ball field to ball field. Yet, if they are ever invited to another member’s house, the invitation is often declined due to the inconvenience of the distance or the amount of time a visit would take.
The lack of hospitality also has a nice long list of great reasons to not entertain people. Everything from the size of the house to the inability to cook to the lack of time to clean is cited as a valid excuse.
I always thought an easy substitute would be taking people to a restaurant to eat with your family. Evidently, this is also too stressful for all but the bravest. Choosing a restaurant and then deciding who pays just seems to make the whole thing too awkward.
So what is the answer? Clearly, our children will benefit from spending a lot of quality time with Christians of various ages. Here are some of the things we have done to help our child build strong relationships with other Christians outside of official Church functions and services (although those are important too.).
1. Babysitters. All of our daughter’s babysitters were teenaged girls who were also very strong Christians. As they played with our daughter, they would often share stories of their lives with her. She learned how important God was to them and all of the various ways they were serving Him. The people she looked up to, were people she could look up to! Make sure you double check with someone who knows the teens in your congregation very well before booking a teen as a babysitter. Some teens are excellent on knowing how to look at Church and living a very scary ungodly life outside of those walls.
2. “Aunties and Uncles”. Our daughter has quite a few “aunties” who are also some of my closest Church friends. She knows if she is ever in trouble and we aren’t available, her aunties will always help her in any way they can. They are very close to my daughter and have spent lots of time with her over the years. She feels close to them and I am confident they would always give her godly advice.
3. Mentors. A former youth minister at our congregation paired all of the teens with an older adult the teen helped choose. My daughter has had many lunches with her mentor and the mentor makes sure she attends a lot of our daughters events. She checks on her regularly and keeps up with what is going on in our daughter’s life. The relationship gives our daughter another godly resource should she need it.
4. Friends. We have done as much as we possibly can to help our daughter become close to other girls her age at church. We have taken many of them all sorts of places and had them over to our house more than once. I joke that many of her friends have become additional children in our family and I love keeping up with them and their activities too.
5. Other church members. We try to at least invite various members to eat out with our family after Church on Sunday or before class on Wednesday. We have had all sorts of conventional and slightly unconventional gatherings at our house including costume birthday parties for my parents and my parents’ friends from our Church. (You haven’t lived until you have seen “mature” adults of a certain age at an Elvis party!) Get creative. Gatherings don’t have to be fancy or formal. We have even asked people to go with us to our town’s Fourth of July parade. Any event works as long as your children have quality time to interact with your “company”. Resist the urge to ban the kids to a basement or play room. Kids can still have fun while listening to adult conversation. (Remember all of those great family stories your older family members would tell?)
Your charge this month? Pull out your church directory and make some plans. Book a teen babysitter from your congregation. Promote some of your best Church friends to “Auntie” status. Help your teen find a mentor. Have some of the children from your child’s Sunday school class over for the afternoon. Invite a new member to lunch. See how much quality time you can arrange for your children to spend with Christians this month. (And don’t forget to keep reading your Bibles and praying, too!)
Have you found other creative ways to involve Christians in your child’s life? Do you feel like you have helped your child develop enough strong relationships with older Christians? If your child had a problem, would he or she automatically turn to a Christian or a non-Christian for advice? Who is your child’s support network outside of your family? Will that support network help move her closer to God or encourage her to step away from His path? Feel free to share your ideas, concerns or comments below.