for release Friday August 27, 2004
by Melodie Davis
What Do Children Learn In Church?
If the idea of crawling out of bed, getting yourself and two or three kids dressed and fed, packing diaper bags, bottles and toys to head off to church—all by 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. or so—if that all makes you think, who needs it, don’t flip the page yet.
Many young couples become motivated to go to services when they have their first child. There is an inner urge to want to raise their children in their faith. It was that way for us. As young adults, both my husband and I had slipped into irregular church attendance; after we were married several years and expecting our first child, we finally decided to join the same congregation and put our roots down there.
But, going to religious services with children can be intimidating especially if you’ve gotten out of the habit. And it is best practiced as a habit. If it is part of your weekly routine, you don’t think, “I don’t have the time for it.” It is just something you do on the weekend, and automatically plan for in your schedule. When attendance at church or synagogue is on a “Shall we go or not go this week?” basis, then it is much harder to find the time.
Let’s look at all the things that get in the way of a family’s involvement in church and Sunday school or religious education classes today. Not only are parents busy, they are busy with activities with their kids, even on Sunday morning. More and more traveling sports teams compete on Sunday mornings, year round. Sleepovers are more frequent and common today—including nights before services. Kids burn out on the weekend from numerous birthday parties and they need “down” time on Sunday morning. Perhaps parents had poor or bad experiences in church or Sunday school themselves, so there is little motivation. We are in a period of relative economic well being, when people traditionally feel less need for religious education. The advent of bedroom electronics, with kids having their own equipment in their own rooms, often means they watch or listen late into the night and then are drug out the next day. (Ideas adapted from Neil MacQueen, Presbyterian Christian educator and president of Sunday Software, Inc.)
Smart church educators find a way of building on our media culture to make faith connections. Children and teens do this naturally, subconsciously. This last Easter Sunday, I was talking with my class about the resurrection of Jesus. To help them grasp the shock and surprise of the resurrection, I asked them to think about what would happen if someone in our town came back to life. What would they think?
Their response was—“It would be like Zombies!”, which they’ve seen in horror movies. So they got their meaning about the resurrection from horror films. Our response may be “Horrors!” but that’s our media culture.
Kids need challenges in their religious education that will push and intrigue their brains as much as their other activities absorb them. Parents may want to consider computer or video games that teach Bible stories. A good source for software with the stories of Joseph, Abraham, Prodigal Son, Ten Commandments, Paul and many more is www.SundaySoftware.com . At a younger level, find a good children’s Bible storybook that the kids look forward to reading with you. Some parents find that rhyming stories especially appeal to their kids; many children remember rhyming things better. "The Rhyme Bible (Golden Honey Books) is the name of one."
One of the most helpful things for children to learn through their involvement in religious life is the inclination to give of themselves and their money, and to serve and help others. This of course is reinforced—or perhaps initiated by the environment in the home—and the kind of attitudes that parents teach by their words and actions. One third grader at our church has such a giving heart that during her town’s “yard sale” day, Erin not only sold lemonade and some of her belongs to give to her local S.P.C.A. (animal shelter), but talked her friends into doing the same thing for their own favorite charities. She also suggested they give her a percentage off their proceeds towards her project. Children as young as seven or eight can volunteer alongside their parents in various helping ministries.
At a church retreat, some children were explaining the pictures they had made during their activity time. One of the nursery school students held up his drawing of a smiley face. Ben said, “This is my smiley face. I made it because … [pause to find words] God is nice.”
I thought, this is what faith is about for a three-year-old. We may expect more complexity out of someone older, but for a three year old, this is what he had learned at church (and home). The church and the parents were doing their job with these young people, building a foundation for a faith that would be expressed throughout life in loving words and deeds. Is that enough motivation to do the right thing, crawl out of bed, and take yourself and your family to actively participate in a faith community?
For a free booklet, “Talking With Your Kids About God and Faith,” write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 884 words; end material = 105 words
We would appreciate it if you would include the "Globe Syndicate" bug at the end of the column.
©2004 by Globe Syndicate, all rights reserved.
Return to Another Way