Faith without works is dead. But what does it look like to develop an active faith at home?
In the book Children Finding Faith, Francis Bridger suggests that faith is made up of believing, trusting, imagining and action. Each of these develops at different times and in different ways, and is obviously influenced by type of family in which we grow up. It’s very easy when thinking about faith at home to over-emphasise one element over the others, but to have a stable faith, I think that over time we need to develop all four.
I want to explore each of these areas, starting with action.
The book of James says “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17) It’s quite harsh, and maybe not something we often say to each other. In a culture where faith is often something people have felt should be private and invisible, this is not a popular verse. However, authenticity is really important to young people and children.
I have recently been very encouraged at some of the parents I’ve seen actively encouraging their children and young people to actively live their faith. For one family it was to let their son join another family in a mission trip where he got to dress up as a Narnian Prince and share about forgiveness with over 200 visitors, as well as doing activities such as prayer walks.
Other parents have shared about how they involve their children in ministry at church. There were children who were using the musical gifts in the worship at church, doing puppets, sign language and dance and serving on other teams which help run the Sunday meetings (different families, you understand, not one mega-van-trapp-clan!!). One lady shared how if people in her church who run children’s and youth activities also serve on other teams, they teach them how to do what they do. A simple but a fab idea I thought. In one church people were thinking through the implications of having a teenager on the leadership team, which sounded like a very scary but amazing direction.
In some ways, it’s the easiest part of helping our children and young people grow in their faith, as they are true believers that words and actions need to line up, as any parent will tell you. Just try cancelling a trip to the park after you’ve said it will happen. And they’re also big on action – right from tiny children, our youngsters are usually keen to experience and do, not just read and listen. One learning theory suggests that teachers include elements to appeal to visual, audio and kinaesthetic learners. And I would suggest since we are all a mix of all three, it’s always helpful to have variety and choice!
From around seven years old, children and young people are passionate advocates against injustice at any and every level, and are keen to Do Stuff to Change The World. I know of lots of families who’ve taken part in Beach Cleans, which is basically litter picking on the beach. The context makes it a much nicer experience than doing it in the park, but I think it’s the plight of our oceans which fires up the imagination and indignation of our young people such that they want to do something about it.
However, it’s easy as we read the Bible, especially with young children, to limit the scope of their response to tidying their room, being respectful to parents and kind to siblings. And if we leave it there, we are really selling them short, and should not be surprised if they decide our faith is not for them.
So what stops us from doing this?
I think fear has a lot to do with it. Allowing children and young people freedom to take God’s message of love to a broken world puts them in a position where they could get hurt, they could get it wrong, they could be misunderstood.
I think we probably feel a bit guilty, as we know we often don’t do as much as we ourselves would like to. Inaction on our part, perhaps caused by business or indifference, makes it harder for us to include them in our activities, which is a great way for children to start. Many of the parents who cited ways their children were involved at church said that they had started alongside them, and then as they got older were more independent, as you would expect.
The fab thing about being a Christian family as part of a community, our children and young people have opportunities to ‘minister’ or act our their faith in a practical way alongside other Christians, people we know and trust, and who can mentor and encourage them.
We recently had a missionary on ‘home assignment’ and we met up for lunch, and I encouraged my six year old to grill her, I mean, ask her questions about the place where she works. One question led to another, and we discussed who displaced people are and brainstormed what they might need. Then my friend showed us lots of photos of her work which really helped us understand better what she does and support her in prayer. We’re also in touch with her via social media, so my daughter could, if she chooses, contact her with more questions and exchange photos and things. She didn’t decide to become a missionary, but seeing the work of this person in such a different place helped widen her perspective on what it means to live the Christian faith.
So what should we do?
1 I think we need to pray and ask God what’s holding us back. If it’s fear, we need to take those fears honestly to Him. If it’s guilt, the same. And let’s ask God to inspire and ignite our faith in action.
2 Let children and young people led with their ideas. Ask them, ‘What do we DO because we love Jesus? In what way does our faith change our behaviour? What could we do because we love Jesus?’ When they come up with ideas, try and find ways to implement them.
3 Start small and let it grow. Pick something you care about and do something. It might start with doing something to care for the world God has made and gave us to look after, perhaps giving up something plastic (e.g. straws or bags or cling film). It might be something kind for a person who needs to know they are loved, a plate of biscuits or an invite to play or tea.
4 Get inspired by chatting about what you have done in the past and share stories of what God did through you. Some parents may have great stories of ways their faith has led them to action, perhaps on a year out in a developing country or raising money through a marathon, all of which may have happened before the children were born and therefore isn’t part of their family story. Perhaps invite a friend to share their experiences.
5 Do things which fit into your family values. What do you care about? What has God given you a passion for? What do you care about? What would you like to change? Do something together about that.