I am certain there will be comments about this and that some of them will insinuate I am not a very good mother. Or a very good Christian. But a conversation I had this summer has convinced me that I have truly moved into a new place when it comes to the spiritual lives of my children.
I met a wonderful couple who had read my chapter in The Emergent Manifesto of Hope and wanted to talk to me about spiritual formation. They had both been raised in Christian traditions that emphasize a moment of conversion as the mark of true faith. Their child was only 15 months old, but they were already facing pressure from their parents to start talking to their baby about Jesus. They knew that if they didn’t have a “she-prayed-the-prayer” story to tell grandmas and grandpas soon, they were going to have some ‘splainin’ to do.
They are now invested in the emergent conversation. They are part of a small house church that they love. They feel like they’ve found an expression of faith that is meaningful and sustainable for them. And, like so many new parents, they are trying to figure out how to pass their faith on to their child.
The evangelical model of conversion makes that process easy for parents. You take your child to Sunday school, you read a decent Children’s Bible, you select a devotional or a book or a DVD from the vast collection of resources meant to help parents explain Jesus to their children and wait for that moment when your preschooler says a little prayer and asks Jesus into her heart. But for an increasing number of Christian parents, this model doesn’t fit the kind of faith they are seeking to live. It doesn’t fit with the faith they want for their children. For many, it reflects the very issues that have left them unable to continue participation in the evangelical churches of their youth.
There is a growing need for the emergent conversation to expand to include thoughts about the spiritual formation of children. There are some great models out there that move away from the education framework of spiritual formation and harken instead to experiential learning. But I think many faith communities have a hard time getting parents on board with anything that feels even remotely experimental.
Many emerging churches see families leave when their kids hit preschool age. It’s as though we are perfectly willing to mess around with our own spiritual lives and try out the candles and couches thing. But when we have kids, we don’t want the uncertainty. We don’t want the doubt and the questions and the maybes. We want them to learn the verses and sing the songs and say the prayer. They can rebel later.
I used to think this was just fear talking–and for some parents it might be–but I also think that for couples like the one I met with, the issue is that this conversation simply hasn’t moved far enough yet. They don’t want the old methods, they want new ideas for raising children who love God and desire to follow in the way of Jesus.
We need to talk about what replaces the idea of a one-time conversion in our children. We need to talk about ways to tell the story of our faith without the baggage so many of us have spent years trying to overcome. And we need to start providing families with resources that don’t rely on the educational model to help them create faith-filled homes.
So let’s talk. What are you doing as families, as churches, as communities, that you and your children find meaningful and formative?