Our story of becoming church members is a familiar one. Our consciences were prompted to officially become church members when we had a child. We are compelled to do what we can to set Scout up for spiritual success and so we’ve begun to check off the list: Join a church-check. Get her baptized-check. Bring her to church-check. Say prayers at home-check. Teach her “Jesus Loves Me” & “Jesus Loves the Little Children” –check.
Now we aim to keep her on track for Sunday school, confirmation, Christian summer camp, retreats, mission trips, exposure to God’s creation through much time in nature and hope that she will feel connected with God in such a way that her faith will be strong throughout her life. We hope she will “put on the full armor of God” when faced with unhealthy temptations, cruel people, and random catastrophes. We pray she may be filled with gratitude rather than entitlement when success comes her way. In short, as parents we are trying to nurture the faith of a two-year old in such a way that it will sustain her throughout eternity.
If you’ve experienced, or heard the stories of parents going to great lengths trying to prepare children for going to a good college, you can consider that preparing your child for eternal salvation is even more daunting. This is a daunting task because of the eternal impact, and because we have no idea who Scout will become, if her life choices will align with the mainstream or alternative. Yet, we know that at WRPC no matter who she becomes, she will be welcomed.
One reason we chose you as our church family is because you've created an environment where people are welcomed regardless of their differences. I'm encouraged when I look at a congregation and see individuals with different abilities & lifestyles. I'm excited when my church family has a pastoral team that solicits tough questions about faith & takes time to address each complex spiritual topic. I am inspired by the willingness of faithful people to teach and mentor others as part of the WRPC Christian education program. When I went to the Christmas program and kids with differing abilities and gifts were participating & there was an octopus in the nativity, I knew there would a place in this God-loving community for my child no matter who she becomes. I’m encouraged when I hear stories of youth expressing excitement about spending time at church, proclaiming "Because everyone there loves me." This is the open & loving environment I chose for nurturing my child amidst all the predictable challenges and all of the unknown.
I'm grateful Chad & I don't have to cultivate her faith alone! I know I am an imperfect teacher and I want the gaps I leave to be filled in by God-loving people. Her caregivers in the nursery already provide a peaceful place for her to play, hold her if she is sad, and play with her when she is ready to explore. I peek through the window and catch glimpses of full grown adults crawling on the floor to retrieve blocks & sitting in miniature chairs to share snacks with our littlest members.
WRPC has already done much to foster spiritual growth across generations and the Christian education kick off service was a testament to that. In fact, you may be amazed by the fruits of your labor from years past. Another reason I was confident about choosing WRPC to be the spiritual family for my child is because you welcomed me here when I was just 21 years old. Some of you laid hands on me & prayed for my mission trip to Haiti while others filled pews with support. I don't know who you are, but God worked through you as you prayed for me and you helped cement my faith in the Lord and shaped the trajectory for me, a stranger, to call WRPC home 16 years later.
But my story is in the minority when we look at the faith journeys of youth today. Nearly half of them stick with their faith in college. Those are the half that have communities that fostered sticky faith. As part of my assignment of being on the Youth Design Team, I've been exposed to the research that lets us know keys to developing "sticky" faith in youth.
- Research shows that if we can provide each young person with 5 supportive adults who are willing to invest in their lives in both little & big ways, their foundation of faith is strengthened so they are less likely to leave the church.
- Sharing the grace-based gospel that God’s love abounds even when ours is flawed.
- Equipping parents to be the primary spiritual influence in their children’s lives by giving them resources and a community of support
Imagine what you can do when you focus your intentions on forging relationships with our youth and walking with them toward eternal life with God. I’m asking for your help with a toddler and for her toddler companions in the nursery as well as the college students (you can adopt one today!) and for all of the youth in grades between. Those that maintain a connection with church can be nurtured through the life transitions that take place in their late teens and second decade. We all need a community of faith in which to immerse ourselves when it is challenging to maintain our own. I know we can do this together if we are intentional about our actions.