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Teach your children the language of faith

Like many parents, I was hopelessly optimistic when we were anticipating the birth of our child. I told myself, among other things, that I would teach our child to learn to speak a foreign language while he or she was a preschooler.

As an avid traveler, I had learned that most of the people in the world speak more than one language. I also knew that learning that second language as a child made language learning effortless.

However, I never did anything about teaching my daughter German (a language I read and speak reasonably well). Looking back on our daughter’s earliest years, I really wasted an opportunity to give her the gift of speaking another language. Teaching her a second language just was not the priority I hoped it would be.

I stopped to think back on this failure to follow through on a promise to myself as I was thinking this week about how children learn faith. At its best, children are not taught religious beliefs through conscious education. We best teach our children about religious beliefs through example. We teach a child about faith when they see and hear us praying with them before meals and at bedtime.

We teach a child our religious beliefs as they go with us to church and watch as we worship. Christian education matters and I value Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and the rest, but it is the example we parents set which is the best teacher.

To push the example of language learning further, let us compare learning a language to learning faith. Some parents take the approach that their own faith matters to them, while asserting that faith is a personal choice. This approach suggests that you would not want to push your children to be Christian just because Christianity works for you.

Compare this example to language learning. It would be like saying, “English is the language I prefer, but I don’t want to push it on my kids. I’ll raise them without a language and then let them decide for themselves later which language is right for them.

Of, course, I hope they will grow up to speak English, but it’s really not my place to push my language on them.”

Of course, that example is absurd. How could you even raise your child without teaching them a language? Language is just part of who they are. You have to speak a language. Well, if faith is an important part of your life, ask yourself how you can raise your children without faith.

Shouldn’t teaching a child about your own faith be as important as teaching them to read, write, eat properly, brush their teeth, and clean their room?

The best way to teach faith is the same as the best way to learn a language—immersion. Children do learn vocabulary and grammar in school, but mostly they learn to speak a language because it surrounds them everyday.

In the same way, immersing your child in faith at home and in your community of faith, the church, is the best way to teach religious values. There are many fine churches in our community and you are sure to find one that will be the right fit for your family.

Going to church now not only helps teach faith, but it also sets an important pattern for the future. No, going to church as a family now will not assure that your children will stay in the church when they are grown, but there is a direct correlation. A recent report by the Barna Research Group says that adults are three times more likely to attend church regularly if they attended as a child.

Following through on a commitment to teach your children faith is not easy. Teaching your children to be Christian will mean that you will go to church regularly, pray regularly, and read the Bible regularly. Teaching faith will mean pushing them to go to church when they do not feel like it, which is no different from pushing them to go to school when they do not feel like it.

I’m not suggesting that church attendance alone will teach your children to be a Christian. Nevertheless, going to church (and bringing your kids with you) when you are tired, stressed out, or just too busy is when you can best teach how much you value your own relationship with God.

What would you like your children to be like as an adult? What values do you want them to hold? Isn’t your own faith an important part of the picture? Letting your children opt out of a relationship with their loving creator should be no more an option for us than letting them opt out of language learning. Immerse your children in the language of your faith.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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