Back to Basics: A Master Plan for Faith Growth

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Younger children often have trouble grasping some of our adult
thelogical concepts, but they usually have little trouble accepting
a God who can do anything. How can we help fertilize the soil for
deeper growth?

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Second Peter 1:5-8 is to faith growth as The Old
Farmer’s Almanac is to gardening. If we want a bountiful “faith
crop” in our ministries, we do well to dig deeper into this
passage. Peter’s outline for faith growth is as follows: “To faith
we add goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control,
to self-control patience, to patience service for God, to service
for God kindness for brothers and sisters in Christ, and to
kindness add love.”

Pull on your overalls and grab your hoe. Because we’re going to
explore this passage to discover how to plant deeply and help kids
grow in faith.

FAITH

What it looks like — Younger children can’t grasp some of our
adult theological concepts, but they usually have little trouble
accepting a God who can do anything. Developing a trust in adults
who model Christlikeness fertilizes the soil for a deeper faith in
God. As these children develop faith, their words and actions
reflect the growth. You may find kids’ faith reflected in
conversations, in unprompted sharing, in prayers, and in
drawings.

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Older children may wrestle with their understanding of justice.
For example, they may question God’s justice after a drunk driver
kills a child. This natural questioning actually indicates a
growing faith. Older children are also more aware of God’s ability
to guide them in decisions.

What to do — For younger children, create opportunities for
kids to express their faith. Have children bring items that reflect
evidence of God’s provision, such as food, interesting things from
God’s world, or pictures of family members. Introduce Bible stories
that tell of creation and the wonders of God’s world. Speak often
of ways you’ve trusted God. Watch for and affirm children’s faith
in God’s ability to do anything.

Encourage older children’s questioning faith growth by helping
them recognize that God made us to be people, not puppets. Created
in God’s image, we make our own choices. Sometimes we make wrong
choices, but God doesn’t take the choice away. God may love with a
sad heart when we make wrong decisions.

Use stories of Bible characters who had tough choices. Some made
good choices and others made bad ones. Use role-plays and
conversations. Pray with children for God’s guidance as they’re
facing decisions. Watch for and affirm kids’ trust in God for
guidance in decisions.

Reinforce your efforts by training parents to nurture kids’
faith growth. Lead a parents study on faith development.

GOODNESS

What it looks like — In this kind of goodness, we open
ourselves for God to work through us, admitting that we are God’s
as we follow Jesus. Goodness is displayed as children show concern
for others as Jesus did.

Kids’ goodness is often tested by peer pressure. Therefore, they
need and appreciate heroes and stories of those in the early church
who stood up for Christ even when it meant their death.

What to do — Teach young children stories of Jesus’ concern for
others. Watch for goodness in children and affirm it by saying,
“What you did was like Jesus. You and Jesus care for others.” Young
children can retell simple stories and make them their own. Use
creative storytelling, pictures, drama, and songs to make stories
come alive.

Use adventure stories, role-plays, or “What would you do?”
situations to help older kids experience the pride Bible heroes
felt as they stood their ground. Watch for occasions when children
decide to act as Jesus would instead of following the crowd.

Set up a mission-project clearinghouse where children apply to
work on small projects, such as helping in the nursery, weeding
someone’s garden, assisting an older person with grocery shopping,
or reading to shut-ins. This helps your children develop a peer
group that gives them peer approval for positive actions.

KNOWLEDGE

What it looks like — Knowledge about God comes through the
Scriptures and observations of God’s work in the world. Young
children continually explore the world around them. And older
children try to make sense of their world. Many are confronted with
scientific theories that contradict the Bible.

What to do — Watch for opportunities to experience God’s world
with children. During young children’s water play, stress that
water is a gift from God. Take advantage of opportunities to remind
kids of God’s hand in creation, such as thanking God for a
beautiful sunset or for creating mountains. Use Bible stories to
tell about God’s positive actions and love for people. Help
children recognize Jesus as their friend.

SELF-CONTROL

What it looks like — Throughout the Old Testament, people acted
out of passion or anger instead of self-control. While feelings are
neither good nor bad, what we do about our feelings makes the
difference.

Young children need guidance in recognizing times they’re on the
brink of losing control. They need tools to maintain self-control,
such as stopping to ask God for control.

Older children can understand that although the Bible tells of
people who didn’t express their feelings properly, God didn’t
approve of those actions. They can understand the consequences that
result from actions.

What to do — Watch for situations when children use emotions
such as anger or fear in a positive way to bring about change.
Create constructive action from anger through projects, such as
serving in a soup kitchen to combat hunger.

PATIENCE

What it looks like — There is an element of courage in this
kind of patience. It doesn’t simply mean enduring circumstances,
but accepting circumstances because they point toward something
better. Patience helps us follow God daily.

Young children have difficulty seeing beyond the present. They
only understand their present circumstances. They may whine when
asked to wait.

Older children can better appreciate and anticipate the results
of patience. They may still have difficulty when there’s no
apparent reward for their suffering.

What to do — Watch for times a child comes through
inconveniences with a smile. Praise and encourage the child. Tell
the child that he or she is growing in the way God wants him or her
to grow. Share some of your frustrations over everyday
difficulties. Watch for conversations about frustrations kids have
overcome. Capitalize on times when circumstances seem hopeless, and
give thanks for the assurance of God’s presence even when we don’t
know the outcome. Develop support groups for families going through
difficulties, such as a parent’s job loss, a family member’s death,
or a divorce.

SERVICE FOR GOD

What it looks like — Young children can and do worship God even
before they can verbalize worship. They marvel at works in nature,
lovely music, or even silence. Children serve God in worship before
their words declare it. Older children serve out of their love and
worship of God.

What to do — Watch for evidence that kids aren’t just hearers
of the Word, but also doers. Work with the children to discover new
avenues of expressing their love for God by service to others.

Develop children’s choirs or acolyte programs that allow
children of all ages to serve in worship services. Give children
opportunities to read the Scripture during services.

KINDNESS

What it looks like — We do not practice our faith in isolation.
God set us to live among other people and to love them. Only
through that sincere love do we fulfill our faith. Children will
glow with pride after helping someone else.

Older children place importance in peers. They’ll be proud of
being Christians when their friends are also Christians. They can,
however, be very cruel to “outsiders.”

What to do — Affirm acts of kindness by saying, “When you
helped that person you made God happy too.” Children will relate
God’s happiness to their happiness.

Watch for times when kids include new children in their circle,
and commend them. Accentuate our alikeness, and speak of
differences as a plus in friendship instead of a minus. Recall
Jesus’ attitude toward people of a different race or
nationality.

Create opportunities for all of the church family to be
together. Develop a community of believers by helping children meet
Christians of all ages.

LOVE

What it looks like — Christian love loves as God loves. It
treats all people as equal and loves beyond limits. Love is the
highest calling we have as Christians — love for God and for
others.

What to do — Very simply, if you do all the things in the
previous categories, your kids will learn to love. As they see
God’s love through Scripture and in the world. As they serve others
through projects. As they participate in worship. As they are
affirmed for acts of kindness. Kids will grow in faith, and the
ultimate expression of that faith will be how they treat
others.

Delia Halverson is the author of How Do Our Children Grow?
from Abingdon Press.


TEACHER TRAINING MEETING

Use this article to train your teachers.

  1. Seed faith — Give teachers each one seed. Have them mingle and
    discuss the following questions with at least two other teachers:
    What’ll it take to make this seed grow? What does it take for
    children to grow in faith? What’s my role in children’s faith
    development?
  2. Row by row — Form groups of three and have group members each
    number off. Have all the 1′s get together and use this article to
    discuss faith, goodness, and knowledge; the 2′s discuss
    self-control, patience, and service for God; and the 3′s discuss
    kindness and love. After 10 minutes, have teachers return to their
    original group of three and each take five minutes to teach their
    group what they learned in their numbered group.
  3. Bumper crop — Have teachers each tell one area where their
    class needs to grow in faith and what they’ll do about it. Then
    close in prayer.

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