Family faith formation practices, part 1

7 March 2023

We’re in Lent, the season in the Christian calendar that leads to Easter. It’s often a time when Christians will either fast from something or add a spiritual discipline to their days, with the intent of orienting their minds and hearts more toward Jesus. Lent seems as good a time as any to debut this series, though I anticipate it will stretch for years into the future, as our kids grow and the way we seek to form our family and its faith grows alongside them.

An admission up front: there will likely be no groundbreaking ideas here. You might find these posts almost at the level of duh simplicity. But if you’re anything like me, you need the regular and very simple reminder that family discipleship does not always have to be complicated. More than perhaps any other area of my life, I have the instinct here to build the big machine, to devise the elaborate practice – and still, more often than not, to worry that I’m not doing enough.

This is not all bad: I believe there is a direct relationship between how much creating a fertile environment for our children to know and trust Jesus matters to me (and John) and how much thought we put into how we are doing that. But I hope through this occasional series I can encourage you (if it’s something that matters to you) AND MYSELF that little by little adds up.

So without further ado, here are the first three (very simple) family faith formation practices that we’ve been practicing with our 7-year-old, 4-year-old, and 1-year-old.

We go to church.

Aside from a too-long hiatus during the pandemic, going to church every Sunday has been a priority for our family. This essay does a much better job than I could at outlining the power of this simple habit, but as a parent, I especially appreciated how he shared that his family’s commitment to attending church every Sunday growing up communicated major truths to him that embedded deeply: God is the center of life. God is worthy of praise and worship. The Christian life requires sacrifice and discipline. As in so many areas of life, actions (especially consistent actions) speak louder than words.

“If you feel inadequate to lead your kids spiritually,” he writes, “just go to church. If strategizing about your Christian parenting feels overly complicated, just go to church.” When I tell you I feel seen…

Of course, it’s not quite this simple. Faithfully going to church, week after week, means opening yourself to the influence of others. It specifically means releasing your children into spaces where they’ll be taught by others in a situation beyond your control. (And man, as parents we like control, don’t we?) It means entering into community and being known. It requires trust. I know this can feel scary, and it is certainly worth your time to search for and vet a potential church home. But I also personally feel convicted that for us, we could not let fear or apathy keep us from one of the most central parts of the Christian faith – gathering and worshiping regularly with other believers. And, speaking from the other side of having found a church home that fits and is trustworthy, it is more than worth the effort of the search and moving past the fear.

We listen to our kids’ worship playlist.

Credit for this one goes to Nancy! I started our playlist by cribbing songs from hers, but have slowly made it our own over the last few years. It includes worship songs meant for both kids and grown-ups. And while I choose the songs with my kids in mind, the rule is that every song must be one the grown-ups also enjoy listening to – no annoying songs here :) It includes mostly-upbeat and sing-along-able favorites from Ellie Holcomb, Slugs and Bugs, Rend Collective, Lifetree Kids, Mission House, Lauren Daigle, Maverick City, We the Kingdom, and more.

This is our default playlist in the car, but I particularly like to play it on our way to and from school – I think it’s a beautiful way to fill their hearts before they head to the classroom, as well as welcome them back home into our family in the afternoon. I knew my plan was succeeding when June climbed in the car after school one day early on and said, “Mama, I had Leaning on the Everlasting Arms stuck in my head all day!” Ha! I also see these songs as building a vocabulary that helps them speak about their faith. (Many of the lyrics are actually scripture verses.)

One fun tip your kids might enjoy like ours did: when you make the playlist, name it after your family – ours is called Thomas Kids Worship.

We encourage ourselves.

John and I both take our jobs of shaping our kids hearts seriously, and so we’re serious about learning ways to do that better and seeking out resources that will encourage and equip us as we do. This looks different for each of us. I like to listen to podcasts like Risen Motherhood, the Family Discipleship Podcast, and Raising Boys and Girls. I also like to read – both books that are explicitly about shepherding kids, or simply ones that encourage and equip me in my own faith (which of course overflows to my kids).

Sometimes I’ll learn something tactical to apply, other times I take away a more philosophical idea that makes me think, and sometimes I’m simply receiving plain old encouragement to stick with it for the long haul. As an example, a very simple encouragement that has stuck with me from the Family Discipleship Podcast is this: when it comes to faith, our kids don’t have to understand everything all at once. In fact, much of the early work of faith formation is simply giving them a vocabulary to speak about and ask questions about faith. I knew that, of course (duh!), but when the hosts shared it, it was like a bucket of relief was poured over my head.

So there you have it! Three (relatively) simple faith formation practices our family has found helpful. I hope there’s something you can take away, whether fostering your kids’ faith also matters to you or if there’s something else you hope to grow in your kids (or the kids you love). If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear a practice that has been helpful in your family, or something that has stuck with you from your own upbringing!

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March 7, 2023 6:40 am

Love this series!! This is something I think about alot…one thing we do is pray in the car on the way to school. Outloud. Everyone takes turns thanking God for things (it’s such a treat to hear what they come up with and asking God for help. We also have a growing collection of good books in faith (I have returned many duds).

Caitlin Burch
March 7, 2023 7:03 am

As Catholics, we go to church every single Sunday, even on vacation. (Saturday night vigil Masses count too.) We only miss when we’re sick. Our Protestant relatives don’t do this when we’re traveling with them. They only want to go to their church at home. But I think this makes a big impression on kids (that Sunday is Sunday even at the beach or at Disney World) and it’s really fun to visit different churches across the country and world.

March 7, 2023 9:03 am

I love this! You are absolutely right – it doesn’t have to be complicated, but we too often forget that. We went to church infrequently (sadly) as a newlywed couple, but since having Caroline, we have dedicated ourselves to going to church every Sunday that we’re home. Sometimes we’re rolling in on two wheels and Harrison has on dirty clothes from an unforeseen farm issue beforehand, but we’re there. Raising her with that depth of community is so beautiful! And I will certainly be stealing some songs from your playlist to add to ours (:

March 7, 2023 10:24 am

Love this, Emily. I don’t have children of my own, but this post challenged me to think about the faith formation practices of my own childhood. I liked the subsection from the TGC article titled, “It’s Hard to Get to Church. That’s the Point.” We went to church every single week as a family, and in a family that didn’t talk very explicitly about faith (or difficult topics in general), this commitment to weekly church attendance did make an impression on me.

March 7, 2023 11:12 am

Thank you for the reminder that simple and consistent can still be very impactful. It can be overwhelming when looking at all the ways to incorporate faith instruction and formation with our kids. I love the worship playlist idea. I hope we can move away from the constant Disney Princess playlist into something like this (at least a little more balance would help)!
Something we do that is also pretty simple is praying before meals and at bedtime. Also, when we hear ambulance sirens we pray for the people that our hurt. Sometimes, we also pray for God to help us have a happy heart when struggling with obeying :).

March 7, 2023 12:39 pm
Reply to  Julie

We also pray any time we hear sirens..for the people hurting and the people helping!

March 7, 2023 6:43 pm

Really excited for this series! Two small things from my childhood that have stuck with me: My dad would often tape notes to our bathroom mirror for us to find in the morning. They were probably 25% jokes, 25% fun facts, and 50% faith-based — verses he’d read or things he would pray for us that day. My mom also used to ask me exactly what time I’d be taking a test or doing something difficult in school so she could pray for me right at that time. My parents modeled a kind of steady, giving-based but not loud or flashy faith that I pray we can emulate for Foster.

March 10, 2023 12:52 pm
Reply to  Pressley

I love this! The bathroom mirror notes!! I might have to start doing this :) We do pray for tests or difficult situations at school, but asking for the specific time is genius! I bet just knowing mom/dad are praying for them as they go through it calms the nerves!

March 10, 2023 2:55 pm

Beautiful! Such evidence of God’s faithfulness in and through your family. He is GOOD!

April 7, 2023 3:35 pm

Three simple and amazing tips – seem so easy but not always. Thank you for sharing, Em x