4 Ways to Start Them Young: Spiritual Formation Practices with Family

“Whenever a child begins to speak, you may be assured reason begins to work. I know no cause why a parent should not just then begin to speak of the best things, the things of God. And from that time no opportunity should be lost, of instilling all truths as they are capable of receiving.”

-John Wesley (On Family Religion III. 6. Sermon 94)

This past year our son turned 3 and our daughter turned 1, and my wife and I recently realized that you can never start them too young on spiritual formation. In fact, we feel that the weight of our responsibility in shaping their spirituality is most strong since they’re quite young. While I’m sure there are other ways in which we nurture the spiritual formation of kids, here are the four main ways in which this happens in our home.

1. Church

I am keenly aware of the potential struggles with being a pastor’s kid, so I am sensitive to the way in which I portray church in our family. I am very intentional about making a distinction between what I call “church” and what I call “work.” “Church” is what we do as a family on Sunday mornings and small groups throughout the week. “Work” is the thing that pulls me away from home for meetings, conferences, etc. This has helped keep my 3 year old from becoming resentful toward “church” for causing his dad to leave in the evening and instead “work” gets the bad rap.

The other thing we do regarding church is simply go. We go consistently and this means our kids go consistently as well. We want them to understand at an early age that church is fun, family, and frequent. We want to be sure our kids have fun at church and want to be there. We also want them to know people at church as an extension of our family so they begin to understand the meaning of being a part of Christ’s family. We go to church a lot, which means they need to be comfortable there and get used to being there often.

2. Music

We are a big music family and by this I mean we like to sing a lot around the house. I constantly have music on in the car, in my office, garage, kitchen, wherever. This has already passed to our kids who dance around the house singing random songs they pick up at church, school, PBS, and from us. Because kids connect so easily with music, it becomes a simple and meaningful way to develop them spiritually through songs they can learn and sing along to.

3. Prayer

My wife and I pray over our kids all the time. Though most of the time they aren’t even aware it’s happening, it’s important that they experience it as well. I make it a point each time I put my son to bed to say the Lord’s Prayer with him. While some of the words are too big for my 3 year old, the rhythm of the prayer is not. We’ve gotten to the point of him praying with me, repeating certain words while maintaining the rhythm and pace throughout.

Prayer at meal times becomes an easy way to model thanks and teach about God’s provision. This has been the most challenging aspect of prayer for our family because our kids, especially our 1 year old, seldom wait for the food to hit the table before shoving it in.

4. Bible

Be sure to have plenty of colorful, simple, interesting Bibles around the house. Be prepared to have them get ripped, bent, spilled on, colored, etc. Most of the time our kids hear stories from scripture, we don’t have a Bible in our hands. We tell them Bible stories while rocking them to sleep, during bath time, in the van, outside in the backyard. Whenever we’re given the chance to connect them with a Bible story, we try to take it. This means that we as parents need to be intentional about our time studying scripture so we can pass it along to our kids when the opportunities arise.

These are four main ways my wife and I use to nurture the spiritual formation of our kids. Of course there are plenty of other ways and they change as kids get older. Which practices do you use to nurture your family’s spiritual formation?

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Matt Lipan is the Lead Pastor at Gateway Community Church, a new United Methodist congregation in Indianapolis, IN. He received his M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Leadership. Matt's blog, In The Neighborhood of Holy, is like a casual walk through the neighborhood exploring the places where faith + culture intersect. Look for conversations on music, leadership, culture, Wesleyan theology, discipleship, church, and everything in-between.

9 COMMENTS

  1. bedtime: old standby is now I lay me down to sleep, i pray the lord my soul to keep,
    mealtime: the lord is good to me and so I thank the lord, (singing), is fun. God is Great, old standby

      • Kertha, you have the option of raising your children as you see fit. I respect your right to do so. Matt Lipan certainly has the same right, and his choice may not be the same as yours but certainly deserves to be respected.

      • Kertha, thanks for stopping by to read and for your question. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply.

        Like Wesley, I do believe teaching my children about the things of God as early as possible is important. At the same time, doing so in ways that are age appropriate is also important.

        “Indoctrinate” carries with it a sense of removing space for questions. I believe the Christian faith allows lots of room for questions and am finding that questions are one of the primary ways my children, especially my 3 year old, are beginning to process information and gain understanding. I think a big part of my role as their father is to teach, guide, and create space for questions. It will be in this space that they will have the choice to make this faith their own.

        Thanks again for stopping by!

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