A few years ago, I had a deck built in my backyard. We met with a contractor to discuss the size, shape, color, and finish details of the deck. I wanted to make sure that the deck they built was the deck I had imagined in my head.
A few days later, the crew arrived and started to work. Instead of building my dream deck, they just started digging holes all over the yard. These holes were huge—2 feet wide and about 3 feet deep—and there were a lot of them! Nineteen to be exact. They set a few extra support posts just in case I ever wanted to install a hot tub. Because what dream deck is complete without one!
The Importance of a Solid Foundation
The crew worked 3 complete days just digging holes and cementing the support posts into the holes. They spent another day and a half framing up the support joists. Then, in the last few hours of the fifth day, they quickly placed the deck boards, stairs, and finishing touches on our dream deck.
It was amazing to watch the building process. The majority of time was spent preparing and placing the foundation for the deck. I knew what I wanted the finished deck to look like. But I had no idea how important those posts and joists were for building a deck that would last.
The deck-building process reminds me of spiritual formation in kids. As children’s ministry leaders, we all want to see the next generation grow to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ who radically change the world for His glory. That’s the finished product, but the majority of our time and work is spent laying the foundations of faith.
We are setting the posts upon which a life-long faith in Jesus can be built.
What Is Spiritual Formation?
Spiritual formation is the process through which the truth we believe changes the way we behave. This may be an oversimplified definition. But it describes how our belief and trust in Jesus shape the way we see ourselves and how we interact with the world around us.
Paul described spiritual formation to the Christians in Ephesus like this:
“… put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”Ephesians 4:22-24
Just as the Bible says, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. They are called to live differently because of the love they have experienced through Christ. Spiritual formation is growing to understand that God’s love for us prompts us to love others. His forgiveness prompts us to forgive others. His provision for us equips us to provide for others, and so on and so on.
The power of the Gospel is not just to save a person. But, also, to transform their words, thoughts, and actions to be more like Christ.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
The Bible makes it very clear that spiritual formation does not occur without the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who works to remind us of everything Jesus taught (John 14:26) and produces fruit in our lives to help us grow in Christlikeness (Galatians 5:22-23).
Transformation is the work of the Spirit. While it is true that the Spirit is required to truly bring about transformation, it is also true that God has allowed parents and churches the opportunity to nurture the spiritual growth of kids. Our communities—the home and the church—can partner together. We can help kids know who God is and what He has done for them through Jesus.
Here are 5 guiding principles for helping kids build a faith that lasts.
1. Don’t Hold Back the Truth They Need to Hear
When the disciples tried to stop the children from approaching Jesus, He told them “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” He did not want to deny the children any opportunity to grow in their faith. This meant they had access to the things Jesus was doing and the truths He was teaching.
There is a tendency to hold back truths from the Bible when we feel kids might not fully understand. We believe we’re doing kids a service by waiting to teach these truths until they’re fully capable of understanding. But we’re holding back truths that they need to hear.
Children learn through progressive understanding. This simply means that they learn concepts and truths much like Legos being built together—brick by brick.
While a preschooler may not be able to understand exactly how Jesus’ death was the payment for our sins, we still need to introduce them to this truth as early and often as possible. This is laying a foundation for future teachings and future conversations about Jesus.
Give kids the truth they need to hear. Don’t underestimate their ability to understand and trust the power of the Spirit to help them understand. They can learn hard things.
- Are we introducing kids—even at the youngest age—to the truth of God’s Word?
- Do our lessons give kids a full picture of who God is and how He interacts with His people?
2. Keep Jesus at the Center of Everything
If the goal of spiritual formation is to be more like Christ, then we need to be sure we give kids a clear and consistent picture of who He is and what He has done for us. This means evaluating our curriculum, our teaching, and our classroom management. It’s important to make sure everything is consistent with the message of the gospel.
In our curriculum and teaching, we need to provide kids with a balance of Old Testament and New Testament lessons. With each lesson, we need to show how every page of Scripture points to our need for rescue and God’s plan to send Jesus as the Rescuer.
In our classroom management, we need to lead with truth and grace. Like God giving the Law to Moses, we need to provide clear expectations for kids in our classrooms. We set rules to show them the Christ-like behavior we hope to see. More importantly, when kids fail to meet those expectations—because we all fail sometimes—we show them grace by pointing them back to Jesus as the perfect Savior who forgives us and helps us to be more like Him.
Charles Spurgeon said, “The best education is education in the best things.” When it comes to teaching kids, the best thing is always Jesus. For kids to grow in Christlikeness, our ministries must keep Jesus at the center of everything.
- Does every lesson point kids to Jesus as the Hero of God’s story?
- Does the way you interact with kids give them a clearer picture of God’s grace?
3. Create Environments Where Kids Can Connect with God and Others
Spiritual formation happens best in community. Have you ever thought of your ministry as a community?
Kids need to have safe environments where they can connect with God in a group of their peers and trusted adults. This is the community where they can be encouraged to grow in their faith while also seeing faith lived out in others.
- How often do leaders get to share personal stories of how they’re growing in their faith?
- How often do kids get the opportunity to share with the group about how God is working in their lives?
4. Provide Opportunities to Practice Spiritual Disciplines
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”1 Timothy 4:7-8
Like an athlete training to compete, spiritual disciplines are tools that better prepare us for living in Christlikeness. We need to provide kids the opportunity to practice spiritual disciplines in our ministry with the hope that they will be more fit for living out their faith in God.
- How can you incorporate the practice of spiritual disciplines into your ministry?
- What methods can you use to train kids to practice spiritual disciplines at home?
5. Equip Parents for Their Role in the Process
Nothing will ever have a greater influence on a child’s spiritual growth than a parent who is growing in their own relationship with Jesus. Every parent knows and believes this, but most don’t feel equipped for the task God has given them.
Our goal as children’s ministry leaders should be to help parents see how simply living out a vibrant faith can help their kids grow spiritually. We want them to see how the ordinary moments of every day—the ride to school, the dinner table, and the moments before bedtime—are all opportunities to pass faith on to their children.
You do so much to lead kids and prepare for ministry events, so it can be daunting to think about adding parent discipleship to your plate. However, the time and energy are worth it! You might begin by gathering a few resources that will help parents grow in their relationship with Jesus.
If you have the time, or if you have a passionate volunteer, you could lead a short-term Bible study for parents to help them gain confidence in teaching the Bible to their kids. As you help parents grow in their faith, it will overflow into the spiritual formation of their children.
It is also important that your volunteers are growing their faith as well.
- What are some resources your church can give to parents to help them grow in their faith?
- How can you encourage parents to live out faith in front of their children through service, worship, or other spiritual disciplines?
Setting the Foundation
I type these last words while enjoying the springtime afternoon on my dream deck. The finished product is everything I hoped it would be, but I know the real work went into the foundation underneath. As you continue to minister to kids and families, realize that you are laying the foundations of faith.
Your interactions with kids can show them that God loves them and wants to be actively involved in their lives. Your time of talking and teaching them is a way of introducing the faith language that will continue to grow them into followers of Jesus.
And the way you show up and serve with a glad heart exemplifies what it truly means to love and follow Jesus. Keep fighting toward the goal of spiritual formation, which is to see kids become passionate followers of Jesus Christ who radically change the world for His glory!