Spiritual Disciplines for Kids: Why?
This week at Transformation City Church we have issued a church-wide emphasis on prayer and fasting. We’re focusing on surrender, of our church, of ourselves, our agendas, our goals, our dreams, our ministries…
One family in the church approached me after service yesterday and asked for suggestions on ways to talk to their child about fasting and ways to include them in our corporate fast on Wednesday of this week. I didn’t have an immediate answer, and upon doing some research there really isn’t much out there to teach kids about the spiritual disciplines – especially when you get away from the “normal” ones like reading your Bible and praying, and into things like fasting, giving, silence and solitude.
I started writing this post to discuss how to talk to your child (or children you work with) about fasting, but as I researched and started to write, I kept getting drawn to the deeper point: we’re giving our kids a shallow faith by neglecting key aspects of Christian life, such as the spiritual disciplines.
I think it’s important we discuss and practice these disciplines with our children, and later this week I’m going to dive into that a little further (beginning with fasting.)
But for today, as we embark on this journey, here are a few reasons why we’re going to talk about this:
1) If your child is a believer, the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in their life. Honor that.
This should be a no brainer, but generally speaking most children’s ministry and devotional materials exhibit a very moralist approach to Scripture – something Ivy Beckwith has labeled “the Aesop-fablization of Scripture.”
Rather than inviting our children to explore Scripture, tradition, ritual and the disciplines, we have Cliff noted, cartooned and fablized the mystery and wonder right out of our great God, slapping the Holy Spirit in the face in the process.
Teaching our children Scripture (not The Beginners Bible), Church history, and spiritual disciplines invites them to embark on their walk with God themselves and take part in our centuries old tradition and the community of saints whom we journey with. This also acknowledges and honors the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, which is pretty high on my list of “important things to wake up to.”
2) Our children are leaving their faith on our doorsteps.
The numbers vary depending on the study, but somewhere between 60-88% of kids raised in Church in America leave when they graduate high school. There are all kinds of factors that researchers, parents and pastors speculate on, but my take is this: many of our churches are not teaching our kids Jesus Christ crucified. They’re teaching morals. They’re teaching “how to make friends and be a successful person.” They’re teaching our children to build boxes to contain just enough God to help them be healthy, wealthy and wise.
As stated above, we dishonor our children’s relationship with God and the work of the Spirit in their lives by minimizing it. We break God down into small, understandable, palatable pieces for our children and we paint the picture of a God so small that there really isn’t even much to walk away from.
We are failing to give our children roots in their faith. Do they know what happened in the Church – they’re spiritual family – between Acts 2 and their Sunday morning graham crackers? Do they know about St. Francis? Teresa of Avila? Is St. Patrick a leprechaun charmer or an Irish missionary? Is reading your Bible and praying more than just a secret code to how to convince God to give you what you want?
I think our children leave because there is little keeping them there to begin with.
3) Jesus commanded it.
“Go and make disciples of all nations.” If you’re a parent, that includes the minis you share your home with. Your child is a disciple, and a discipler. You sharpen each other. My daughter is 18 months old, and already she’s taught me more about what it means to love, show grace, and have patience than almost anyone else in my life. Kids I work with in Sunday School or at camp or in whatever program have asked me questions that would make all the great theologians roll over in their graves. They make me dig deeper. They remind me that God is a God of wonder. They remind me that it’s okay not to understand sometimes, but to never stop asking why. Our children disciple us, and it is our job to return the favor.
Parents, teachers, friends, whoever. You follow Jesus? Go make disciples. Kids included.
I would invite you to join me later this week as I dive into the discipline of fasting and how to teach it to our children. I welcome your thoughts and experiences in the comment section. I am honored to be on this journey alongside you.
Grace and peace,