My Friend the Muslim

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This article first appeared in the print version of the March 2017 edition of “Premier Magazine” and also on their online database: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/Becoming-best-friends-with-a-Muslim-demolished-my-prejudices-about-Islam 

I recently had the incredible privilege of being commissioned to write an article for the Premier Magazine out of the London, UK on Muslim-Christian relations.  This is a powerfully meaningful experience for me not only because I have personal ties with the UK (having lived in a year in Scotland and thus acquiring many good friends), but also because I was specifically asked to write about my friendship with an amazing young woman named, Karima.  Karima is the type of person that everyone would love to be friends with.  She is bubbly, funny, and out-going, always ready for an adventure.  But she is also deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking.  She gives all that she has to better this world for so many people and has taught me that doing small things with great love doesn’t just stem from our religious upbringing, but from the very fact that we are human.  There is so much I could say about Karima who was willing enough that I write this article about her, but why not just read the article itself to get a better picture of this fantastic woman who has taught me not only what being a Muslim is like, but how deep an inter-religious friendship can truly go if only we open our hearts and minds long enough to the possibility. 

Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America.  Given that the US is one of the major superpowers of the Western World, this means that his decisions and actions greatly affect many of us on a global scale.  One example of this would be Trump’s recent ban of Muslim immigrants.  His attitude is symbolic of many in North America who have a skewed worldview of all that Islam entails because of extremist groups like ISIS.  Many individuals around the globe have engaged in so-called anti-terrorist measures which look strangely like Islamaphobia under the guise of ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens of their country.  In a way, I can completely understand this.  It is difficult to form a personal connection with this sometimes “strange” religion when you don’t know anyone from this particular group.  It is easy to give into media pressure and stereotypes when you don’t have a face to connect with a name.  However, I once made a Muslim friend and she has turned any fear or suspicion I currently had into a beautiful life-giving friendship.  The account below retells this very story:

The clock struck midnight at the group home where I was a live-in caregiver, and believe it or not, I was down in the basement doing my nightly prayers.  Of all the things I could be asking the Almighty for, I was praying for a friend and I had a very specific idea in my mind of what that friend would be like.  I wanted someone I could talk to about deep matters and things that really made a difference.  Casual coffee buddies are great, but I was hoping for some profound intellectual discussion.  Meanwhile, upstairs I heard some rattling around.  There was a relief support worker filling in because one of our clients was not feeling well.  I was curious, “who was this person and what was she all about?”  I quickly said “Amen” and ran up the stairs to greet her.  Standing right in front of me was this tan-skinned Indian woman with a bright smile.  Instantly I recognized her from a few months back when we had been paired up at a staff retreat.  We had gotten along well right from the start, but then never seen each other again.  Suddenly, this same woman was in my kitchen making herself a sandwich.

“Oh hey, Deborah!” Karima enthusiastically greeted me.  We made our obligatory small talk, before Karima jumped right in with a few specific questions about my religious affiliation.  I unashamedly told her I was a Christian and studying to be a religious minister.  At this Karima’s eyes lit right up.  “Oh, wow!  So cool!  I would totally come to your church and hear a sermon if you were ever preaching one!”  I felt honoured, but realized, I also hardly knew anything about this young woman who was paying me such high compliments.

“And what about you?” I asked.  “Do you attend a worship service anywhere?”

“Actually, I’m a Muslim.”  She cheerfully responded back.  “And yes, I go to the Mosque and participate in a Muslim youth choir.”

I quickly glanced at her, trying to mask my curiosity.  After all, didn’t all Muslim women wear the hijab?

“Oh wow.  I’ve never actually had much of a discussion with a Muslim before.”  I finally responded, at a loss of what else to say.

“Don’t worry” she replied.  “I also don’t know many people studying to be pastors.”

That was the end of our brief conversation.  We sat ourselves down in front of a large bowl of ice cream (which we later discovered was our shared guilty pleasure) and indulged while talking about the weather, politics, and our favourite sports teams.

A few days later, Karima was back at our house again.  This time armed with even more questions.  As the days went on, we began to open up and talk about everything, but there was a topic that kept resurfacing – religion.  Although this is such a difficult topic for many, it was one we were never afraid to touch or dissect.

Eventually, some of the other staff members and I decided to form a Bible Study group.  Karima surprised us all when she poignantly asked “may I join?”  I was shocked.  I thought only Christians joined groups like that, but Karima taught me that isn’t necessarily the case.  She came regularly, engaged in the Scriptures, asked questions, and wrestled with the texts alongside the rest of us.  Finally, she boldly announced, “you know, this group is great, but what would make it even more exciting would be to have a Holy Book study.”  And that spawned a whole list of other questions concerning our shared characters of Adam, Moses, Noah, Jesus, and Mary and their role in both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Eventually, my co-worker and I started talking quite a bit about our involvement in our local churches.  I finally was asked to preach at one, and Karima surprised me by saying “I’m definitely coming!”  She showed up at a few young adult’s gatherings and spoke of how much she enjoyed the discussions and hearing everyone’s own interpretations and what the words were saying to them.  Then one day, I brought home a book from church on Muslim and Christian dialogue and she instantly picked it up, leafed through it, and said she would love to discuss all these points further with me.

As our friendship has grown over the years, so has our faith.  One of the biggest blessings to me is that we both went into the friendship with an unspoken agreement that we were not out to “convert” the other person.  At first, this provided some tension for many, myself included, think the Christian faith is about evangelizing and making disciples.  It’s about convincing others of their need to follow a Saviour and trying to prove that Jesus is the only One who can fit that title.  But as the weeks progressed, I began to see it as so much more.  I began to wrestle with my own questions, fears, and doubts.  I would bring them to Karima and she would bring me hers.  We’d talk about the wonderful things we love in our religion, and the things that cause division and hurt.  We’d talk about how our religion has potential to do so much good and yet how unfortunately some people take it to the extreme and it doesn’t end up portraying the real love and service that are at the heart of what we both believe.  I’ve always loved that I can be myself with Karima and that whenever we are together, we have a shared understanding that although we are so different, we can still have a firm foundation built on trust and mutual respect.

But it hasn’t always been easy.  In every religion there are “touchy” subjects and massive differences of opinion.  It can be hard to explain to someone who doesn’t share your core convictions what you believe and why.  It can be confusing to navigate a cross-cultural and cross-religious experience and I have had to learn, sometimes slowly and painfully, not to make any assumptions.  One example is when I asked Karima if she would like to attend a Christmas party with me.  “Sure, I love Christmas!”  She replied, to which, once again, I was slightly puzzled.  So, we got into my car, drove about 2 hours outside the city, and went to a Christian camp where they were having a banquet dinner.  They served ham, which in Canada is a quite popular dish.  I discretely asked my friend if there was another alternative and without any hesitation she produced a plate of chicken. So that was one problem solved.  But then, there was the message which was highly evangelical.  The whole time I was sitting on my hands thinking “oh man, what did I get myself into?”  I want Karima to feel safe and valued with me.  I was not out there to try to convert her or change her views and yet, that could easily have been interpreted as what was happening here.

Well, the service ended, we sang some songs, and then we got back into my car and drove home.  “So that was a very nice evening.”  Karima concluded before I even had the courage to open my mouth and ask her about it.  “I loved that young girl’s sharing about her faith.  That was really touching.”  I was waiting for the “BUT.”  It never came.  Instead Karima said, “You know I do have some questions.”  Here I braced myself unsure of what was coming next or even if I was prepared to answer.  She asked me some completely obscure question about the evening that I have since forgotten, but it certainly wasn’t anything about Jesus.  Thinking I was safe, she then followed it by saying, “You know, this evening has made me quite curious.  I now want to read the Qur’an and find out what exactly Muslims believe about Jesus.”  That was over two years ago.  We haven’t talked much about that Christmas party since, but we most certainly have talked about who Jesus is, what He is about, why He came to earth, and why He had to die.

Having a Muslim friend has truly taught me so much.  It’s taught me to appreciate the beauty in the vast diversity we see in Western Culture. It’s taught me not to stereotype, and it’s ultimately taught me that we have more similarities than differences.  Being with someone of a different religion in such a close-knit friendship has enabled me to see the world around me and my own faith in a fresh new way.  It’s helped me articulate more of what I believe and ultimately enabled me to be a better Christian.  When I first met Karima, I just assumed that someone of a different religion didn’t care about mine, but I’ve learned that’s not the case – sometimes our best conversations happen with those who are profoundly different than we are and yet at the centre – the exact same.

You may be wondering now, how does my evangelistic understanding fit into a cross-religious friendship?  Well, I certainly still believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and today, as a children’s pastor, I teach my kids to tell all their friends about God’s love.  Having a Muslim friend does not make me feel any differently about reaching the world for God’s glory, but it has changed my approach on how I do this.  Whereas, previously I may have engaged in the stereotypical “Southern Baptist fire-and-brimstone message” I now seek to share my passion from Scripture through my words and actions.  I want my lifestyle to reflect a Gospel of peace and love, and nowhere do I feel more energized doing this than when I am sitting on the back porch with a can of soda in hand, talking to a close Muslim friend.  Because to me, the Gospel no longer embodies a rigid, straight-cut way to live, but rather an all-encompassing ideal that accepts everyone regardless of their background.  I pray for Karima daily.  I hope that she accomplishes all that she sets out to do.  I hope that her life will also be a witness to many about the transformation inner-peace and assurance can bring to one’s soul.  I hope she never loses her curiosity or gets lost in her quest to question religion and what makes it so valuable for so many.  But I also have learned to live in this dance – this inclusive embrace where friendship is more valued than simply being right.

In 2014, I made a very close non-Christian friend.  A beautiful Muslim woman, deeply spiritual, and full of compassion for others.  We spent our days eating snacks, discussing our religions, and debating some of the intense happenings in our world.  Even though most of my other friends were Christian, there was something special and unique about this young woman.  Her vigour and passion for life, topped with her desire to love and serve others, instantly directed me to some of the deepest longings of her heart.  This woman has a name and she has a title.  Her name is Karima and I am honoured to call her my best friend.

This article was published in the March edition of Premier Magazine, London, UK.  It is an adapted and extended version of a previous blog “5 Things Having a Muslim friend taught me” which you can access here: http://www.stateofformation.org/2015/05/5-things-having-a-muslim-friend-taught-me/

 

I’m a Millennial and I Still Go To Church… Let Me Tell You Why

Millennials.jpg  This past week, I shared on Facebook a number of articles I read on why Millennials have left the church and although I am still in the church (in fact, working in a paid position at a church), I really resonated with a lot of what was shared.  Even though the articles all took a slightly different spin, at the foundation, the reasons were the same.  Young adults felt cheated out of this monstrous religious institution, they felt it was a farce and inauthentic, they desired to see the church put its hands where its mouth and money were, and they resented the fact that organized religion didn’t know how to properly handle or discuss hot-button topics.

All of these are valid points.  Whether we’re talking about a person with Down Syndrome who was never fully included in worship opportunities despite the church boasting a huge sign reading “all are welcomed”, a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock and became a social outcast even though the pastor preached every Sunday about “loving others”, or a high school graduate who never did feel part of the church, but only part of programs, it’s fair to say that the church has let a lot of people down.  The church, as an institution, has failed to properly show love and support to single young adults.  The church has failed to know how to address the inevitable questions of gender and identity that are constantly before us, and the church has neglected to see abused, battered, and assaulted people as PEOPLE rather than as statistics or “projects” that need to be worked on.  The church has not always been good at engaging with those who share opposing beliefs or worldviews, seeking harmonious relations with those who suffer from mental illness, or helping people to really wrestle with their disappointments and frustrations rather than writing them off with Christian clichés.  And for that, I apologize on behalf of the church and I am grieved that we, as Christians, have not lived up to the fullest potential of being the people Christ has called us to be.

Nevertheless, although these articles all present invaluable information which should be heavily considered, I feel it would be grossly unfair to only rely on them.  So what I would like to offer you today, is a different story.  The story of why I, a 20something Millennial remain in the church even despite its many imperfections.

#1: I remain in the church because I have had a personal encounter with Christ, not just with religion.

A common phrase you hear amongst people in my age bracket is “I love Jesus, but not the church.”  People feel like it’s possible to be “spiritual but not religious,” to enjoy ethereal moments without a hint of commitment to a certain worldview.  However, this viewpoint is not only erroneous, but it actually makes no logical sense.  The Bible describes the church as being God’s bride, she is decked out with jewels and wearing a lovely silver tiara, and yet, we feel like on her wedding day we can compare her clothing choices to rags and refuse to stand to pay her honour.  This is the equivalent of telling my brother, “Hey bro, I love you, but I hate your wife.”  (Don’t worry, I would never actually think much less say that).  I’m sure there are people out there who have this type of relationship with their siblings, but it’s definitely not ideal.  When your sibling gets married, the spouse and her family come as a packaged deal.  She may be imperfect, but because you love your brother and because your brother loves her, in turn, she is part of your family and part of your life.

I believe a large reason millenials leave the church is because they were never truly taught how to love Christ, let alone His bride.  Many people think they grew up on Jesus, when in fact, what they sadly grew up on was useless controversies, endless genealogies, legalism, and rigidity.  These same young adults never formed a personal connection with Christ.  They may have thought they did – they may have made a confession with their mouth in Sunday school or even been baptized, but in reality, what many of them had was an emotional bond with a certain teacher, a liking for a specific pastor, or the enjoyment of a certain club or activity.

There are, of course, exceptions.  There are many stories of one sibling embracing the Gospel while the other goes a different path despite the fact that both had the same upbringing.  There are sincere people who embraced the Gospel, but just like the parable of the sower fell upon hard times and had no roots.  These people truly believed they were saved (and perhaps were), but the church failed them by watering the petals rather than cultivating roots.

Sadly, this is a trend we continue to see today especially in “seeker sensitive” churches.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to market your church so that non-Christians want to attend, in fact, that’s a great evangelical opportunity and strategy; however, we must be cautious that in our desire to embrace newcomers, we don’t neglect the spiritual needs of those who are already there.  More than anything, there are two key things that people crave today: truth and relationships.  If a church can cultivate both of those rather than simply pouring endless resources into “flashy” appearances, it will go a long way.  We often think that people are drawn to the latest hype: an engaging pastor, strobe lights, acrobats, and jugglers, but while those things help (and are certainly not bad in and of themselves) anyone who has stuck around church for more than one session will tell you it all comes down to the HEART.  People crave that personal connection – knowing that someone cares and is deeply involved in their lives – not just that this is another avenue for after-dinner entertainment.

#2: I remain in the church because even though the church is imperfect, I realize that I also am imperfect and yet God can (and does) use both the organization and myself to reach out and help others.

The Millenial generation is often typified by their overwhelming sense of entitlement and consumerism.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I know that Millenials also are doing far more than many people give them credit for.  For example, we are perhaps the generation with the greatest communal investment in the environment, global affairs, and social justice endeavours.  We are a generation characterized by deep-seated passion, advocacy, and a keen sense of fairness and these are all things that we can use to our advantage to make a better world.  Nevertheless, our downfall is in thinking that because we are so involved and give so much of our time and efforts the world somehow “owes” us something and so does the church.  We think that because we are consumed by a certain cause, the church should be also, and thus, we use the church as a key place to pedal and solicit attention and funding to our “pet projects.”  And when the church fails to get on board with whatever we think is the single greatest service opportunity, we somehow feel failed and resent the church for being a bunch of hypocrites who speak about God’s love without loving others or who proclaim the need to serve when we perceive they are idly watching from the sidelines.

I would like to suggest that this is not at all the reason we attend church.   The Biblical understanding of church is a place that meets to honour and glorify God.  It’s an opportunity to give God worth and ultimately seeks to be an hour or two that takes the attention off us and places it on God.  Everything we do – whether it’s a chili cook-off, an Alpha course, or a worship sesh needs to loudly proclaim the splendor of His majesty and glory.  Yet, too often, by pushing our own political or social agendas onto worship that gets lost.

There is definitely something to be said about the value of helping others realize how important the environment is for worship.  There is a place for rallying together for women’s rights or ending poverty and a church that is truly glorifying the Father must also have a budget for outside global missions and local projects.  However, this is not the foremost responsibility of the church.  At the very crux of organized worship is simply that – worship.  And when Millenials forget that, they are quick to complain about all these little things that truly are inconsequential in the end of the day all the while mocking the elderly people who they perceive as getting defensive over things that don’t really matter.

#3: I remain in the church because I believe things won’t get better by just complaining, we have to actually get out there and make them better.

 I know, I’ve heard the old “I tried to tell them, but no one would listen” approach before.  20somethings often feel like the church is not interested in their opinion and so they don’t go.  Yet, although this may be true in some cases, I feel like it is often used as nothing more than a “cop-out.”  Why do I say that?  Because usually the people who have dropped off are those who never bothered going back to church once their parents no longer forced them, many of them have never served a term on a church council, and many of them have never actually ASKED their church if they could be involved.

Those of us who are heavily involved in church have our disappointments and frustrations for sure.  Like I said earlier, we are a generation made up of passionate minds.  We also tend to be “go-getters” if not a little hyperactive and because we grew up in a “three-minute” (which has since turned to a “thirty-second”) culture we are used to getting what we want almost immediately.  So when things take time we can easily grow bored.  Many of us haven’t learned the art of delayed gratification.  We don’t realize that church is like a pot of slow-cooked stew.  Instead, we open up the slow-cooker every other minute, letting the heat escape, and then wondering why decisions are taking even longer than we think they should.

However, the difference is, that someone who actually has served a term as a church chair usually has a much broader understanding of the inner workings of the church itself.  Don’t get me wrong, I often wish we didn’t have to go through so many hoops and red-tape.  And while I understand the increased need for caution and protection from a legal point of view, I also believe it has its downfalls because less people will volunteer when volunteering gets more and more complicated.

However, I would like to submit that the reason we attend church is not just for US.  Church is a community and community is made up of a number of imperfect people.  Everyone needs to know that their opinion is being valued and considered and this takes time.  It’s easy for us to think that people should just go with whatever we have in mind, but we really need to take the older people into consideration.  They’ve generally been around longer and know the church much better than we do (even if we grew up in that church) and there is something we can gain from their wisdom because what might seem like a frustrating NO at first, might actually turn out to save us from a heap of embarrassment by avoiding doing something that’s been tried before that didn’t work that time either.

When Millenials understand this crucial juncture it helps us all to appreciate the older generation that much more.  Instead of complaining that the church isn’t filling OUR needs, we ask how it is filling the needs of others around us.  We want the church to not only take care of 20somethings, but 60somethings, 80somethings and even 100somethings.
Conclusion: I am an imperfect person who grew up in an imperfect Christian family attending an imperfect church.  I’ve made my rounds.  I’ve attended Baptists, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Free Methodist churches.  I’ve gone to school to learn how to make the church better and tried to implement some of those ideas into my teaching, leading, and children’s ministry.  But ultimately what I’ve learned through it all is that even though the church will never be a “spittin-image” of what I’ve had in mind, that doesn’t mean God isn’t using it right now in incredible ways.  For me, success has become less about approaching the buffet table and picking and choosing whatever I want and then complaining that calamari wasn’t served and more about having a nutritious home-cooked meal.  It’s less about getting involved in the latest fads and trends and more about getting involved in truthful authentic relationships.  I’m not justifying the many ways organized church has failed our generation, but I’m also not excusing millennial scapegoats that point to nothing more than consumerism, entitlement and a materialistic mindset.  My hope is that we, as 20somethings will begin to see the vital role we play in the life of the church and thus to encourage others to also take hold of it.

 

Beyond Sunday School – Fostering Faith at Home

sunday_5908c   When I was interning at a local Pentecostal Church, we used to have little hand-outs to give to parents as their children were leaving the Sunday school class.  These hand-outs briefly identified the main themes in that week’s lesson and some ways to continue to build the conversation at home.  Yet week after week, faithful church attenders would turn us down.  They would simply say “no, thanks,” “I’m not interested” or hand us back the sheet once they read it and saw what it was about. There were likely other parents who took the forms out of courtesy, but then left them somewhere on a messy table and forgot all about them until next week.  I do not fault those parents nor do I think they lack the necessary skills to encourage their kids in their faith (who knows, maybe they are engaging with them in other ways), yet since then, it has made me curious about why more parents don’t think instilling Christian values is important in a child’s daily regime.

Nurturing and building Christian foundations is paramount for being able to create a long-lasting successful spiritual walk once the child hits adulthood.  Yet too many parents fail to see the importance of fostering these building blocks at home and instead relegate them to an hour on a Sunday morning making Christian education the sole responsibility of a dedicated Sunday school teacher or a trained children’s pastor.  And while I do value my role in children’s ministry and believe it is of utmost importance, I want to let you all in on a little secret – I can’t do it with my team alone.  And I definitely can’t do it just as one person even if I do have two theological degrees with a third on the way.

Here’s why: let me explain an average children’s event for you.  On a Tuesday evening approximately 30 kids, wild, excited, and full of energy walk into the basement of our church.  They are a lively bunch, inquisitive, and eager to learn – yet they are still kids.  And because they are kids, it takes them a minute or two or sometimes ten to be able to calm down.  And once they do calm down, their attention span lasts approximately 15 minutes and then we have to move on to the next thing.  In this group of kids, we have a mixed bag.  Some kids are being properly nourished at home (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) and others are in the midst of a painful home life.  Some of the kids grew up in church and others are just hearing about Jonah and the Whale or Noah’s Ark for the first time.  Some kids have already committed their lives to Jesus and others aren’t even really sure who Jesus is.  And then there’s the age range, the different learning styles, preferences, and personalities each person brings to the group, and the different attitudes parents have as their drop their children off.  And my goal (along with my wonderful team) is to find a way to reach each one of them.  To find a way to challenge the church kids and encourage the un-churched kids.  To find a level playing ground and a story that can relate to 5 year olds and 10 years old without the little ones being lost and the older ones feeling like they are being talked down to or ignored.  We run through the evening.  We start with a catchy song or two, move on to a craft, do a game, and tell a Bible story.  But when you factor in the movement time, getting kids quiet enough to listen, troubleshooting what to do about the fact that half the glue sticks you just bought yesterday no longer work, and wiping up juice spills, I’d say that in an hour long program I really only have 10 minutes maximum to instill any Godly wisdom into your kid.  And while there definitely is something to be said about the ministry of presence and reaching out to kids through fun, the fact is that 10 minutes really is not all that long if that’s the only spiritual instruction they will be getting all week.

But let’s say you not only drop your kid off at a midweek program, but you also have them in Sunday school while you are upstairs listening to a sermon.  That’s great, but the average Sunday school still only has about 20-30 minutes MAXIMUM of religious instruction for your kids.  Which means if the mid-week program and Sunday school are the only opportunities they have to hear the Word of God, we are still averaging less than one hour a week.  And when you think about all the other voices that are contending with the Gospel (be they advertisements, schooling, media, or friends) one hour a week is definitely not enough time to undue any negative belief structures imposed on your child’s young and impressionable mind.  This means, that the primary task of raising Godly children must belong to you – the parent, not left for a Sunday school teacher to pick up the pieces.

I’m assuming you’re a good parent.  I’m assuming you want what’s best for your child and would go to any length to ensure their health and well-being because you love them.  I’m assuming you make sure your kids have three square meals a day and that they are eating their fruits and veggies not just candy and chips.  I’m assuming you want them to play outside in order to get fresh air and exercise and I’m assuming you take an interest in who their friends are because you want them to hang out with the right crowd.  If you do all of these things to ensure your child’s physical well-being, then why should their spiritual state matter any less to you (after all, that is the only enduring and eternal thing?) You might bring your kid to a restaurant once in a while as a special treat or to celebrate a big occasion, but I’m guessing, most of the time, you nourish them with a nice home-cooked and balanced meal.  But you see, only relying on a mid-week program and Sunday school to feed your kid’s soul is the equivalent of trusting the local Montana’s or Swiss Chalet with all your child’s dietary needs.  These places are great when visited sparingly and everyone likes having someone else wash up the dishes, but going too often will make such times lose their specialness and depending upon them will likely make your kid discontent when one day you are in a rush and have to give him a peanut butter sandwich instead of chicken wings.

So, if you’re reading this and are convinced that you play a pivotal role in your child’s spiritual development, but are unsure where to being, let me give you some easy suggestions.  You see, you don’t have to be a theologian or even invest an hour a day to make a lasting spiritual impact in your kid’s life.  In fact, even if you only dedicate 15-20 minutes a day, you can help show your child what is truly important in life.

#1: The Long Ride Home

If you are like most church-goers, I’m sure there are things you don’t like about your home church.  Yet, I would encourage not to complain about them in front of your child.  Perhaps you can discuss them when the kids are asleep or when the grandparents are babysitting, but your kids look up to you and if they see you criticizing the pastor or the church, they are most often going to do likewise.  So during the ride home, ask the kids about Sunday school and what they learned or even tell them something interesting from the “grown-up” church if they ask, but refrain from critiquing the sermon or mentioning that anything was “boring” or “a waste of time.” Most kids are too young to understand complex theological concepts, so don’t get into a debate with your spouse about all the things the pastor said that might be wrong, but instead focus on what was shared that you really resonated with.

#2: Teaching Kids to Pray

Fun prayers with silly actions have their place – at a church camp, but at some point, kids also need to learn how to REALLY pray.  It is easy to give into the temptation to do a rote prayer such as “God is great and God is good, let us thank Him for our food, Amen” and there is an argument that they engage kids by their simplicity and being easy to remember, but I urge you not to let that be the sole extent of teaching your kids to talk to God.  Instead, find different ways to help your kid pray.  Don’t correct a child’s prayer (unless they are being incredibly silly) and when you pray demonstrate a prayerful and thoughtful posture because kids will pick up on genuineness.  Don’t allow silliness or jostling during prayer and don’t rush through it if the kids are getting restless.  Instead, teach the kids that praying is the most important activity of all.

TIP:
Because kids pick up on authenticity, it is important to be consistent in your prayer life.  This means that even if you go out to eat at a restaurant, you need to keep your prayer posture.  Don’t look around to see who is listening in or noticing because your kids will pick that up and make a connection that prayer is “uncool.”  Follow the same procedures regardless of where you might be.

#3: Find your child’s natural interests and run with them

Use your child’s natural talents and interests as a gateway to talk about Godly things with them.  If they are artistically inclined, what a great opportunity to discuss how God is a wonderful artists who paints sunsets and sunrises.  If they love playing with Lego, use it to illustrate how God is the Master Designer.  If they are athletic and enjoy team games talk about how God created our bodies to run and jump.  If they are naturally extroverted share how God is the expert relationship builder and formed us for community.  And if they are more introverted share about how they can begin to hear God in the silence.  There are so many ways to bring out spiritual conversations in day-to-day life and to be honest, not all of them require a Bible.

#4: Comfort Your Child Using Biblical Truths

When your kid is struggling with insecurities, and they most definitely will, instill in them that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God knows and sees them for who they are and takes pride and delight in them.  In fact, the Bible tells us that God rejoices over them with singing and jubilation.  If they come back after having lost a game or feeling like a failure, remind them that God sees our hearts and motivation and is just thankful that we tried to do the right thing and gave it our all.  And if their friends abandon them or leave them out, help them to find comfort in the fact that even Jesus’s closest friends forgot about Him when He needed them the most, but that God’s Word promises that He will never leave us or forsake us.

#5: NEVER Use Godly Activities as Punishment

 This may almost seem like a no-brainer to you, but you’d be surprised at the many times I have seen parents use the Bible or Christian activities as a means of punishment and discipline.  Two of the most common examples of this would be making your child repetitively write out a Scripture verse speaking about why what they did was wrong and revoking their opportunity to go to a club they enjoy.  It seems almost natural that when you have tried everything to get a child to stop their behaviour and they refuse, you revoke an activity they wish to be part of.  And oftentimes, because church is free and other classes might not be, church seems the logical one to get rid of.  However, I believe this may very well be the most spiritually destructive thing you can do to your kid.

Here’s why:

Church is already seen as being an “uncool” activity.  Our culture already pressures kids and teens to think that belief in God is ludicrous and childish.  Kids are already at a great risk of eventually losing their faith and statistically we have seen more and more kids drop out of church once they reach university age (if not before).  Therefore, we must do everything in our power to encourage church attendance and help our kids view it as a positive choice rather than as a negative one.  If you want to make a point and take away a privilege, take away the TV, the internet, their IPhone, or their time with friends…ANYTHING, except your mid-week Bible club.  And if you want your kids to write lines, than do the stereotypical “I will not tell lies” and resist taking Bible verses out of context.  This will help your kids know that you are serious but also help them realize that skipping church is not an option in your books.

CONCLUSION: Raising your children to be spiritual leaders is not an easy tasks and some days you might be tempted to compromise because you feel tired and worn-out, but I urge you not to.  It is during those very times when you want to quit, that you may actually be having the greatest spiritual impact in your child’s life.  Your kids look up to you.  They need to see how much of a priority the Gospel is to you in order for them to begin to apply it to their lives.  You wouldn’t skip feeding your kids dinner just because you were overwhelmed, so don’t skip out sharing Biblical truths with them either.

When I was a child I did not have regular “devotional” times with my family.  Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but we were not huddled around a Bible reading the book of John and deconstructing it.   But today I still have a strong faith and belief in God, attend church every Sunday and am even a pastor.  Why?  Because even though we didn’t have these formal times, my parents were instilling Biblical truths into me informally at every opportunity they could.  That’s why as an adult, I can still have meaningful and deep spiritual conversations with them and refer to them as my “favourite lay theologians.”

Almost every child sees their parents as their greatest heroes.  So use that opportunity rather than taking advantage of it.  At every juncture, find a way to share your faith with your child even if it’s as simple as going for a walk in the park, watching a sunset together, or packing an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.  The more opportunities you have to develop faith at home, the more well-rounded your child’s understanding of God will be and the more likelihood that they will develop into a strong Christian leader of their own home one day.  May God bless you on your journey of fostering and creating these deep spiritual links with the very people you love the most – your own kids and your own family.