You have probably taught your kids how to take care of their health in various ways. Maybe you have taught them how to brush their teeth, eat nutritious foods or get plenty of exercise. How much have you taught them about how to be spiritually healthy? More importantly, have you taught them how to take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and health in age appropriate ways?
If you haven’t, you are teaching your kids to be merely receptacles…waiting for some Christian to decide to teach them something God wants them to know or help them grow spiritually in some way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always provide as much help as your kids need or the type of help they may need at the moment. Recently, we encouraged Christian volunteers working with kids and teens to teach them how to self advocate for their own spiritual health and growth. The principles we shared with them, will work at home with a few modifications.
- Discuss spiritual health and maturing with your kids regularly. Talk about what it means to advocate for your personal spiritual growth. Discuss some of the things a person trying to grow spiritually does. Don’t talk about it as something only adults can do, but how your kids at their ages can begin advocating for their personal spiritual growth.
- Encourage asking spiritual questions and expressing doubts. Your kids should feel safe and encouraged to ask their questions and even express their doubts. If they don’t feel they can express their questions and concerns, they may not get the appropriate help they need. You don’t have to have all of the answers. As you research the appropriate, biblical answer, teach them how you are doing it, so they can do it themselves when they are old enough.
- Teach them how to find answers in scripture. Note, “how” to find answers. Knowing where to find the answers they already have been taught is helpful, but to self advocate for spiritual growth, they need to know how to find the answers to their new questions in the Bible.
- Encourage practicing spiritual disciplines independently. Your kids should be encouraged to self advocate by making time to do the things that will help them grow spiritually like Bible study, prayer and reflection. Over time, they should take personal responsibility for doing these things rather than waiting for an adult to remind them.
- Teach them how to find reliable sources to help them understand scripture. There are some things in scripture that are difficult to understand. Teach your kids where to find reliable sources to answer their questions. The internet is too full of unreliable sources of information to neglect teaching your kids where to find reliable, biblical answers.
- Encourage them to find and use a variety of Christian mentors. Sure, you want them to come to you, but it might not always be practical. You want them to have multiple strong Christians in their lives whom they respect and will help guide them. One mentor may not be able to help your kids grow spiritually in every way they may need help. They may need a mentor to help them develop and use their similar gift to serve God and another one to answer their questions about a topic like science and God. Encourage Christian adults you know and respect to make themselves available as mentors and encourage young people to reach out and ask for the help they need. Teach your kids to keep trying to find an appropriate mentor if the first person they approached cannot help.
- Allow them to respectfully contribute to your family’s and hopefully congregation’s spiritual conversations. Your kids should be encouraged when they have an idea for a service project, Bible class, sermon topic or other idea that shows interest, initiative and engagement with scripture and their church family. If it isn’t possible to make it happen on a congregational level, help them find ways to use that same idea in other ways. Give them guided practice in leading in spiritual endeavors by using those ideas and teaching them how to implement them.
- Teach them how to respectfully advocate for the spiritual health of themselves and their peers when they see things that are deterring that growth. They may or may not be correct, but they need to be heard. Often we make unnecessary mistakes because we refuse to listen to the truth from young people. They can see and hear things we may miss. Without this knowledge, our decisions may make things worse rather than better. We need to teach them how to give constructive criticism and we need to become much better as parents, Christians and servant leaders at receiving and acting on important constructive criticism.
Teaching your kids to self advocate for their spiritual growth is teaching them to be active rather than passive Christians. It is encouraging them how to be intentional, productive and take personal responsibility in their attempts to grow spiritually. It is teaching them how to have a voice in things that can impact their spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others. It will take time and intentionality on your part, but it is something we simply must find time to do.