Raising small children is indeed a sticky endeavor. In this case, sticky refers to memorable experiences that “stick” with your child throughout life. What I want to talk about specifically is making God, worship, Church, service and faith sharing a part of the precious memories of your children’s childhood. What can you do to make those memories special, fond ones? How can you help imprint those memories so that if your children are ever tempted to leave God and the Church, those memories call them back?
Here’s where I think a lot of people make a huge mistake. I don’t think it is about showmanship and entertainment. Parents with grown children can tell you the amount of money and “flash” doesn’t necessarily make for the clearest memories. We recently asked our daughter about some early trips we had taken when she was very young. We knew at the time her memories would be sparse, but consoled ourselves with the knowledge it was “creating wrinkles in her brain” (code at the time for increasing a child’s ability to learn later by exposing them to enriching things at a young age).
What our daughter remembers is often the simple things. She remembers the things that had great meaning attached to them, even if she doesn’t remember all of the details. She remembers the relationships and the feelings they gave her. So this is what I have learned you and your church can do to make God sticky memories for your children:
- Lessons should be memorable in a meaningful way. Paper and pencil, fill-in-the-blanks should be banned as far as I am concerned. So should activities that are entertaining, but have little meaningful connection to God, scripture or godly principles. Don’t let my child run around like crazy popping balloons for twenty minutes and then say “That’s how God pops our sins”. Helping my child study about God caring for the Israelites in the wilderness and then letting her eat real quail and fake (but hopefully similar in taste!) manna are the types of activities I am looking for at home and in my child’s Sunday school class.
- Lessons should be daily and repetitive, yet still covering the entire Bible over the time my child lives at home. A casual look at the literature used by family devotionals and Sunday School curriculum will teach your children about twenty to forty of the more than 150 stories in the Bible. That also doesn’t include things like Proverbs and Psalms that are not technically stories. Your child needs to hear from you (and church) as much Bible as you can possibly teach them in the years you have your child at home. Even the best Christian school or Church cannot cover as much as you can at home. Your children also need to hear basic godly principles over and over and over. Let them do a little eye rolling – you know the “tape” is still being created in their brain. You want them to hear those godly “tapes” every time they are faced with a decision.
- Your children need to be surrounded by Christians who show real love, interest, concern and support for them. They need to have church leaders – preachers, elders and deacons – who not only know their names, but greet them every week, remember what is important in your child’s life and show genuine concern and interest. Various members of your church should do the same. I know leaders are busy – I grew up in a home where relatives were in every possible leadership position in a church. There are NO EXCUSES for the leaders to not show the children and teens acceptance, genuine love and concern. Don’t tell me your church loves kids and teens and then have leaders who not only don’t know the names of said kids and teens, but they couldn’t pick them out of a line up nor do they know anything meaningful about the kids – including where they are spiritually. This is not just the job of children and youth minsters – it is the job of everyone. Your children need to feel loved AND accountable every time they walk into their church home.
- Your children need to have plenty of “God memories” outside of the church building. Whether you entertain Christians in your home, go on mission trips or regularly serve others while sharing your faith, your children need to see Christianity is a lifestyle – lived every day – in everything they do. Your children should never feel or believe Christianity is only an extra-curricular activity that happens on Sunday in a church building.
Not a bad list, as my lists tend to be! Focus on these four areas every week and your child should have some sticky memories of God in their childhood. If your Church is not providing those opportunities to help you in your efforts, speak up to someone in leadership. This is an area where we can and should demand quality, thoughtful planning and leadership that smells like sheep (thanks Lynn Anderson for that life changing book you wrote years ago). Moving from place to place only allows the other children where you currently attend to suffer. If your efforts continually meet with resistance, you may eventually have to change, but for your children and the others, do what you can to change things first – it may be that is your “special mission” from God for the moment.