I have wrestled in different seasons of ministry with this idea of when does a child’s faith become their own. Those of us who work with kids in the church might not question the importance of our work because we are in it day in and day out, and we know personal stories of children who have been touched by God at an early age. We know kids who follow Jesus. We know kids who want to be disciples of Christ. We know kids who worship and pray and share God’s love with people around them. So what’s with the wrestling?
I regularly have the opportunity to hear adults’ faith stories. Often [especially in the church], it begins like this (sorry to generalize): “I grew up in a Christian home, going to church, BUT it wasn’t until high school [or college] that my faith became my own”. What is up with that? My first question is why?
When I tell a child about the love of Jesus, when I teach basic Bible skills- like bible memory or how to navigate book/chapter/verse, when I tell stories from the Bible that reveal God’s love for His people, I don’t do it in hopes that one day they will decide to follow Jesus as an adult. No! I want them to know Him now. I want a child to believe that they can “own their faith” as a child, they don’t have to worship God just because their parents do. But what does that mean? Is a child capable of making that distinction between individual faith or, as James Fowler might describe it, the
imitative [faith] phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.
What makes a child’s faith real? What makes a child decide to worship God because they want to not just because they are told it’s the right thing to do? Is there any way to help a child understand that even if they go through seasons of doubt, or seasons of struggling with sin and reconciliation, that the faith of their childhood is still valid? I want to believe it is possible.
- I see genuine faith in the 6 year old who sincerely wants to be baptized to share with his church family, that he loves Jesus.
- I see faith in my 5 year old as he chooses to pray with his arms open, palms up as a way to posture himself before the Lord.
- I see faith in the worship songs played by a 5th grader learning how to play the piano.
- I see faith in the art of the 4 year old, drawing herself and Jesus hanging out in a garden under a colorful rainbow.
Sticky Faith, it’s a book on my shelf, waiting to be read, and seriously calling my name late at night when I crash in my bed at the end of a long day. I love the idea of kids catching a sticky faith early on in life. How can I lead kids into a life of faith that’s sticky…a faith they don’t have to wait until college to own, a faith that they don’t have to wait until going through their “rebellious” years to turn to. A faith that calls them to serve the church at a young age, and a faith that keeps them coming back to the Word, to Christian community, and to the feet of Jesus without a long absence. A faith that sticks with them through the ups and downs of childhood, teenage years, college days and early adulthood, and chases them to the porch and rocking chair.