There are so many great opportunities in life that you sometimes don’t even realise are there. As toddler group leaders you have an amazing opportunity to come alongside parents, cheering them on as they look after their little ones and offering advice when they ask. But there’s a unique gift that Christian parents have too and many don’t recognise: they are the most important influence on children developing a faith that lasts.
Bringing God into our homes and the everyday routine of life, especially in the early years, can have a great impact on our children. This excerpt from Raising Faith: Helping our children find a faith that lasts gives a little insight into how simple things can make a big difference. Could you help the Christian parents in your toddler group to start thinking about raising faith in their children?
I remember the first time we hosted my daughter’s class for a birthday party. Thirty three- and four-year-olds excitedly poured into the church hall dressed up in their party gear. The noise was deafening, and I had committed to entertain all these children for 90 minutes. I felt completely overwhelmed and uncertain about how to get this off the ground.
The thought of nurturing your children’s faith may leave you feeling rather overwhelmed. You might be unsure where to begin – the task is just too daunting. But if you want to start the journey of passing on faith in the home for the first time, one thing that will really help is to be intentional. We need to be both purposeful and deliberate about what we’re doing.
When I first began to get involved with the Kitchen Table Project (www.kitchentable.org.uk), I had this light-bulb moment as to my role in nurturing faith in my kids. I’d done lots of youth work with older children, but I think I’d minimised how much impact could be made in children’s early years. What’s interesting – and encouraging – is that as I got involved in this project, I realised that I was already doing lots of things naturally. For example, I was showing something of God’s character just by being a loving parent, and I was already saying prayers with my kids when I put them to bed. The challenge for me was intentionally looking for more opportunities to nurture their faith every day.
A good way to start is by thinking through the rhythm of your day and week and then to look for the opportunities that are present. For example, if you take your toddler to nursery each morning, could you talk about God the Creator as you walk past and marvel at the trees? Or if you have a family meal together once or twice a week, could you say grace creatively, perhaps praying for the countries where your food originates or taking it in turns to say a phrase each?
If you want to start being more intentional about passing on your faith, don’t try to change everything at once; look instead for the little wins that you can make. Start small. It might even be that you begin with just one commitment, like praying before mealtimes. From that starting point, you’ll see where things develop.
If our children are already six, seven, or older, it’s natural that it might feel a bit awkward to start something new like praying at bedtime or saying grace – perhaps we might feel that we’ve missed the boat! But we can be encouraged because the fact is that children are used to changes: routines alter, they go to new schools and activities, they may start staying up later at night as they get older, they start to get pocket money. If we explain to them that ‘This is something we want to start doing as a family now’ they will probably accept it more readily than you expect!
Keeping on track
An important thing I’ve discovered is the power of accountability. I’ve been sharing with my wider family and other parents what I am doing to try to help my kids deepen their faith. And I have gone further than that: I have asked them to question me about how it’s going from time to time to keep me being intentional about this.
To keep me on track, I have a fridge magnet with the verse from Deuteronomy 6 written on it. It reminds me about writing God’s commandments on our hearts, getting them inside us, and then getting them inside our children: “Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9, The Message). For me, talking about this priority with other Christian parents has meant that it hasn’t fallen by the wayside.