In their retirement, my parents had a very set evening routine. It didn’t include Antiques Roadshow, but it did include Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune! They’d have a cup of tea about 4 pm; Mom would start fixing dinner; they’d eat about 5:30; clean up; and then they’d watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. But then the remarkable thing happened. They turned off the television and got out the Bible.
Actually, the evening Bible reading started before their retirement because I can remember it from my teenage years. Mom would get out her red cloth-covered Bible. It was always beside her chair, with the Forward Day- by-Day inside the cover. She’d also stuck lots of other things in it – a card someone had sent her, newspaper clippings, a church bulletin, a tissue. I still have that Bible.
She’d hand the Forward Day-by-Day to Pop and he’d tell her what Bible passage to read. She would read the passage, and then he’d read the commentary in Forward Day-by-Day. Then they would talk about it for a few minutes. I was usually sitting on the couch, trying to be a cool dis-interested teenager. I wasn’t. I listened carefully. I cannot now remember anything they said about the passages or commentary, but that wasn’t what was formative for me. It was their act of reading, studying and talking about the Bible in my presence.
They were the chief role models in my life, as is true for most children and teenagers today. Earlier posts here have given us wonderful information and food for thought on the spiritual lives of children and teenagers, and how to design and offer programs that fit their developmental needs.
While I agree with the need for quality programming and faithful teachers and mentors in the church, I do not believe that the spiritual formation of our children should be left wholly to the church. I think our culture is too quick to delegate the teaching role to others, and we overlook, to our detriment, the power, and responsibility, of parents to mold and influence. My participation in my parent’s evening Bible study was passive, but the lasting influence has been powerful.
People often ask me how to get more children and teenagers into church and church activities. I tell them to first put all their eggs in the basket of adult formation. If the parents model the importance of faith in their own lives, the children will see and hear. If the parents bring Bible study into the home, the children will notice. If the Bible sits on the table by the couch, and is used, the children notice. If the parents struggle with the intersection of faith and life in their own lives, the children will notice.
Will our children have faith? John Westerhoff asked years ago in his book by that title. They will, he said, if the parents do.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.