This morning I thought we would get into something that we probably won’t stumble across too often if we are doing exegetical series and sticking to specific texts. We have the freedom to explore a bit more and face more directly into some of the questions and challenges of our day today. So this morning, I want us to explore something that we may have never even thought about before and I want us to play around with the question:
Why Do We Raise Our Kids As Christians?
At first glance this seems like a really stupid question, but it’s actually quite complex and plays itself out deeper than you would think. If we haven’t belaboured this point enough, the answer to this question is not because we don’t want our kids to go to hell. So if we get that out of the way and a dualistic understanding of heaven and hell and our only purpose here on earth is to go to heaven when we die then we are left with some serious questions not just about our parenting style but about the core of our faith.
Some see raising your kids with a specific religion as a horribly indoctrinating move that limits their freedom and refuses to allow them to make their own decisions and choose their own direction in life. Some raise their kids as Christians because they are Christians and they know no other way. The reasons are endless to either do it or not do it. For me though, I want to know why I’m doing something and I want to make a conscious decision to do it. So as I venture into a place in my life where I’ll be a parent (one day) I want to know why I should raise my kid as a Christian and with Christian values.
At another glance you might also be thinking that I’m asking why to raise our kids as Christians as opposed to Islam or Judaism or Buddhist or Sikh. But I’m not really asking that question either. You see Christianity is not just another religion that you can follow on the side as if there is options and Christianity’s competitors (if we have to call them that) aren’t just religions. One of the main things I am asking is why we should raise our kids Christian when we have jobs, technology, video games, cars, planes, politics, schools and a million other things that can raise them. Why should their identity be “Christian” rather than “Canadian” or “Plant Worker” or “business man.” Reading through the scriptures, it wasn’t just other religions that people were up against, it was pretty much anything at all that took the place of God. Any idol at all was seen as a front on their belief and way of life.
To begin we need to ask ourselves what normally raises our children? We like to think that we as parents would do all the raising and that our kids turn out exactly how we intended them to. But if we look deeper and start to understand childhood development we start to recognize that there is a lot going on that makes up our kids, our kids are products of their environments and their families and their experiences and their friends and their habits.
Q: What influences our children and how they are raised?
The reality is, that if we don’t raise our kids, they will be raised anyway. If we don’t set a direction for them, a direction will be set by someone else. The world that we live in now, especially the media saturated West, corporations and the powerful are dying for an opportunity to raise your kids and they will take it at any chance they get.
Marketers plant the seeds of brand recognition in very young children, in the hopes that the seeds will grow into lifetime relationships. According to the Center for a New American Dream, babies as young as six months of age can form mental images of corporate logos and mascots. Brand loyalties can be established as early as age two, and by the time children head off to school most can recognize hundreds of brand logos.
But it goes beyond intentional branding and influence that corporations do. There is also an entirely different set of forming principles that our kids are being influenced by within their schools, by their friends and the onslaught of information and tools at their fingertips. So now more than ever, we need to be intentionally raising kids with specific formation in mind and not just allow whoever is the loudest and around the most to choose the direction. Understanding why we raise our kids Christian means that we understand that we our kids are being raised whether we choose a direction or not and that we would rather have a part in raising them to grow up a certain way rather than just see what happens. Raising our kids Christian means that we are intentionally raising them in a way that we think is best. And for us, in this situation, as arrogant as it may seem, we think raising Christians is best! Also, I think it is the best because I’m not convinced that there is another way to raise kids that will form them into loving, graceful, peaceful, smart, forgiving people that have a grasp on the reality of the world around them, other humans and creation. This is in no way saying that raising your kids as not Christians that these characteristics won’t be present. Of course they can be. But I think by raising our kids Christian that we are making a conscious decision that we want our kids to look like Christians should look. If I refuse to raise my kid as a Christian then I have to answer the question what am I refusing but more importantly I have to ask myself then how will I raise them? What worldview will they have? What will they value? What will they care about? What will their habits be?
There are basic ideas of human development that are important to understand before we answer this question. The first thing that we should realize that raising our kids Christian does not mean that we raise our kids to believe what we believe. Now this must also be a shock because most of our basic understanding of the Christian belief is that it is a way that we think about Jesus. If you believe then you are saved! What cognitive science can teach us is that the way that we think doesn’t necessarily change the way that we act. In fact, in most cases, the way that we think about things has very little to do with the way that we live.
We need to appreciate that our actions as citizens are based, not primarily on cognitive deliberation or even on our “perspectives,” but for the most part on acquired habits, unconscious desires, and pre-intellectual dispositions. And so our education has to be attuned to how those desires and dispositions are formed. We might have a highly developed, articulate worldview and yet act in ways that are remarkably inconsistent with such a perspective.
– James KA Smith
This is why when we talk about raising our kids Christian we are not talking about them believing that Jesus died and rose again and that God is in fact real and that they should do what he says. We are talking about raising them into a story. This is a story that passes on an identity of who they are in the world and what their purpose is. It helps form their values and their desires and their actions. The goal isn’t to raise kids so they believe the right things. The goal is to raise them so they live the right way. We can just say out loud over and over again that they need to be good people, but that isn’t what raises kids. What raises kids is participating into a way of life that lives and breathes who we are and acts in a way that’s appropriate to how the world is.
We know this is true because we are the same way. We have strong beliefs about the world right? We would never have slaves. Yet for some reason we have no problem buying computers, ipods or clothing that is made from them. We think we should eat healthy, yet we still find ourselves buying processed food or in the drive through at McDonalds. We think we should support local businesses but we still go to Wal Mart. We think should exercise but we have a hard time doing it. We point to this a little a bit in our exhibit on Friday called A Bake Sale To Solve World Hunger. We have stared at these images of starving and poor kids our entire lives and yet it doesn’t actually make us live differently. The answer to helping people live better IS NOT to help them know more and think more about the world and make more people aware. We can’t just make people think more about what they are doing. That approach doesn’t work and it is leaves us lacking. It’s not a matter of changing someone’s mind rather it’s a matter of helping people acquire new habits.
Raising our kids Christian doesn’t mean that we are raising our kids just to believe Christian things, it means that we are helping them acquire Christian habits. We raise our kids with all sorts of habits that will help them one day. Such as brushing their teeth. But they are also raised with other kinds of habits that are a bit more meaningful. We can raise our kids with the habits of sharing, or serving, or being grateful, or being respectful. It’s all part of the habits that they form from an early on age. But when we get into talking about Christian habits we are making an even deeper claim. We are saying we want to raise our kids with the habits of confession, repentance, forgiveness, grace, joy, love and peace. We are saying we want the Christian story to be our children’s story. These are not something that you learn through agreeing with the concept of them. They are things that you learn within a community of practice, which is what we are trying to be. On top of that we want them to understand they are loved, that they have meaning and that they have purpose. We want them to know what it is to love and to be loved.
This is why we raise our kids as Christians. The Christian story has these kinds of values and characteristics built into it from the very beginning. It’s a story that shapes people that are good, built for good works, and longs for the world to be set right. Right from Genesis 1 is a picture of God making things good and making humans in his image. What a scene to behold! So we enter into this story and we pass this story along. We are good, and even though things went wrong, we were still created to be good and it is still within us to be good. So we long for when things will be made good again. Then for the rest of this story we have humanity’s struggle to live into that goodness and bring it wherever it goes and the constant failure to do so.
The church is called to live into this story and make it their own. What other story has that kind of invitation? We as the church then live in and by this story so that we may learn and grow into habits that will make this story more true in our own lives. Remember when we did the sermon on why we go to church? It’s all tied into each other. We come over and over again to form habits to remind us of who we are and what we are called to be. Remember when we did the sermon on why we practice disciplines? It’s because discipline gives us the actual ability to be who we are called to be rather than it just be a nice thought in our head. Remember when we did the sermon on how what we do hear on Sundays makes us into a certain kind of people? It’s the same kind of thing that turns our kids into certain kinds of kids. We raise our kids Christian because we want our kids to have Christian habits because we believe that Christian habits are a good way to live.
This is why I will raise my kid as a Christian. I want my children to be raised with the knowledge that they are created in God’s image and that they are called to be an image bearer wherever they go. And beyond knowledge I want them to naturally be these kind of image bearers, that they don’t have to think about the right answer but they subconsciously live this kind of life because it has been built into them since the beginning.
The Christian story is a story of redemption that gives a foundation to humans unlike the rest of the stories that the world offers them. The world tells them that they can get what they want if they trample over those that are weak. The world tells them that they can eat whatever they want and not care about where it comes from. The world tells them that they can live however they want and not worry about who else it is affecting. The world tells them that power, wealth and money are the keys to happiness and success.
I want to raise my kid a Christian, because if I don’t, then the world will raise my kid however it sees fit. I don’t want my kids natural inclination to be selfish, or to think they are better than someone else, or to be unforgiving, or to grow up thinking violence is normal and peace is weird. I want to live into a story that has a God that loves his creation so much that he would be willing to kill himself to get it back on track to his purposes. I want my kids to know that they are loved and it is going to take a lot more than me just telling them that over and over again.
Q: Why do you think raising your kids as Christians will be more beneficial than not raising them that way? What does it mean for you to raise your kids as Christians?
This is a big deal to me because I think we all too often think that raising our children as Christians means make sure they are at church on Sundays and believe Jesus is God. While at least this is something, it is much better than simply identifying ourselves as Christians but not actually having any action or belief that would agree with that.
So we end with this. Your kids are going to be raised by you whether it’s as a Christian or as a shopper or as a selfish whiner or as a hoarder or as a Republican or as a workaholic. So the better question is, are you living the way that you want your kids to live? Are you living yourself into God’s story of redemption and goodness? Are you practicing habits that you want to pass on to your kids? Are you constantly repenting and confessing where you have messed up and seeking to be closer to God?
So with that, let’s pray.
Dear God, may we know your story
So we can be good storytellers to our children and the rest of the world
May we live your story every day through our words and lives
Teach us kingdom values of
Repentance, Forgiveness, Peace, Joy, Grace and Faith
May our children grow into their identity as Christians
Not so much as having all the right beliefs
But living the right way
May we be transparent constantly in repentance
May we teach our children to look to you, especially when we fail them
May we raise our children knowing that they are loved by you
May we submit ourselves to your will and your love