“Mom, I’m STARVING!”
The battle cry of every tween and teen as they declare war on our cabinets can render our grocery budget decimated in a matter of seconds. And to an extent, we’re okay with that because, we get it – they are growing and they are hungry. As a parent/caregiver we make sure that they have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to call home. It’s what we do.
We also drive them to ball practices, get them up for school, help them with homework, watch their recitals, host their sleepovers and kiss their boo-boos. We hug them when they are sad and hug them when they are happy. We take care of all their needs because…it’s what we do.
We take care of their body. We nurture their mind. But…there’s one more important part we sometimes neglect. Their spirit.
I once heard a youth pastor share this thought-provoking concept, “Kids are made up of three things; mind, body, spirit. Equal parts of each form who they are. But parents tend to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure their body is cared for with food, shelter, clothing and exercise and their mind is engaged with good schools, good curriculum and good grades but very little time researching and engaging with their spiritual side.”
Would one meal a week be enough to sustain your body? Would one hour of sleep or one hour of exercise be enough to keep it healthy? Would one hour of schooling give you the knowledge you need to survive and navigate this world? One book read? One lesson learned?
And yet, statistics show that on average children who attend church regularly only attend 1 or 2 times a month for a grand total of about 40 hours in a year. Contrast that to 1,080 in school, 2,920 hours of sleep, 1,095 meals consumed, and 2,786 hours spent engaged with some sort of media (8-18 year olds).
Clearly, if we are going to nurture the whole person of our children, we CANNOT rely on the church alone to be the sole means by which they connect with God. It cannot be the only place that the Bible gets talked about if we believe that the Bible nurtures their spirit or as David says, “Your word is the source of my life” (Psalm 119:114). It cannot be the only time that faith formation happens, that discipling takes place, that mentoring relationships are developed and that worship takes place.
If it is, then our kids are starving…spiritually anemic.
Parents will go to great lengths to develop a skill or ability in a child. Travel ball is a tremendous commit of time and financial resources for any family, but sacrifice is made if a child is deemed talented enough. Scholastic achievement is hard work and takes time and intentionality but often the space, time, and encouragement is given to bring about that success. Hobbies are nurtured. Gifts are called out. Time is given.
And I’m not hear to condemn or to condone. I’m simply asking this: In the midst of all of our care of the mind and the body, have we neglected the spirit? Have we assumed that mere exposure at church a few times a month is enough to develop the spirit and sustain the life of Christ in a child’s heart as they grow into adulthood?
There are many reasons out there about why young adults are walking away from the church as they grow older. I think this is one of them. Their spirits were starving. They found sustenance elsewhere. As church attendance declines, social entrepreneurship has exploded – the spirit is being filled through the act of serving others. The same young people who are leaving church are creating business that are “driven to produce measurable impact by opening up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged.”
That’s what the church is supposed to be doing.
Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
9 Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
and to defend the needy and the poor. (Pr. 31:8,9)
We are made in the image of God. Our spirit was breathed into us by God himself. It does not surprise me then that if our spirit is starving it will seek out something that looks like God to fill it. Social entrepreneurship provides a platform for spiritual needs to be satiated through the acts of Love that are in us because we are made by and for Love. But social entrepreneurship cannot fulfill the deep spiritual needs. It can only go so far.
But for many, it is enough to satiate a starving soul.
It’s enough for me as a parent to give pause. Am I expecting too much of those moments in church? Do I expect that my kids time in worship and with their small group to be enough to satisfy their soul? Or am I creating an atmosphere of intentional faith formation and Christian service in my home so that those remaining 1,934 hours can be hours where their spirit is being fed and filled.
There’s no silver bullet to ensure your child’s faith is engaged. As a mom myself, I so wish that there was. But there are a few things recommended by Fuller Youth Institute specifically feed their spirit. Things that will take time and intentionality and in some cases mean we need to sacrifice our money and our schedule to ensure they happen but things that will ensure your child is well-fed, body, mind, AND spirit!
1. Find ways for your kids to serve – There’s a reason why we are seeing the trends we are; service connects our spirit to our faith. Look for ways to get your kids being the church not just going to church.
2. Let them ask questions – Look, everyone has questions and doubts and fears. Deflecting doesn’t help them at all. Engaging can lead them to Christ. If help is needed, that’s what your ministers are for – use them.
3. Don’t neglect the gospel – Ultimately, our spirit is only filled with we are in communion with Jesus. As Johnny Johnson of Fuller Youth Institute shares, “Children are concrete thinkers and teaching the do’s and don’ts is easier than trying to teach something as abstract as grace. When we do teach the moral side of Christianity, we have to be careful to explain why we live that way: Because of Jesus. And out of gratitude for God’s grace. More importantly, our children need to see the gospel lived out in our lives.” Model discipleship and growing faith in your own life. Dr. Christian Smith of Notre Dame has studied teens and religion and concludes that “the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parent.”
We love our kids. That’s why we do all those things we do. In our heart to see them succeed and grow up healthy and happy, let’s make sure that we don’t neglect the eternal part – feed their souls, give them Jesus, every single day.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.