“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8
As I sat today with the above words from the prophet Jeremiah I was led to wonder about how they might apply to the faith formation of our children and youth. In particular, the mention of “roots” stood out to me. It is sometimes said that the role of parents is to give children and youth “roots and wings” – a foundation to build their lives upon, and the strength, courage and confidence to make their own way out of the family nest into the big, wide world. It struck me that the role of parents, children’s and youth ministry leaders, pastors and other caring adults of faith is to give our kids “roots” in the rich soil of faith life that will sustain them not only through adolescence but also through young adulthood and beyond. The source of faith is God himself. He is the stream. The flow of God’s love, grace and wisdom never runs dry! The call and the challenge we as church (= home and congregations together) have is to help our children and youth grow and direct roots towards the stream. They need to be mentored in faith practices such as prayer and Bible reading that will help them feed on God’s Word when the “heat is on”. They need to be rehearsed into rituals and habits of worship and confession which will “hold” them they are struggling to hold on in life. They need to be grounded in a range of deep, close caring relationships in Christian community so that the “living waters” of Christ can flow to them through others in the “dry spells” of their lives.
I admit to being a very ordinary gardener. My wife designs and plants in the garden. My job is to pull the weeds. I am good with weeds! One thing I do know about a weed is that the more numerous and deeper its roots, the harder it is to remove. Satan sees our children and youth as weeds he wants to remove from the garden of faith. The greater the number of active connections to Christ we can graft into their lives, and the more deeply they can be embedded into our faith communities, the greater the likelihood they will be kept secure in knowing and following Jesus.
I referred earlier to the church as homes + congregation together. In the garden ecology of faith formation, they are interrelated and interdependent. As a parent there are only so many “faith roots” I can give my daughters through the life of my home … only so many relationships, only so many experiences, only so many lived illustrations of God at work. I need my congregation to provide for them another layer of live connections into the rich soil of God’s life and presence. On the other hand, without faith life in the home there is often no plant at all! Christian parents of young children in particular are the embodiment to them of God’s love, grace, protection and provision. Young children receive (or don’t receive) their first “God impressions” from mother and father. The congregation cannot substitute for that. As children and young people grow, however, an intertwining of the faith life of the home and of the congregation becomes more and more crucial for their feeding and sustenance in faith. They need to experience our worship spaces as grace places. They need opportunities and guidance to show their talents and grow their gifts. They need to have their God-ordained value and worth “imaged” to them by adults of all ages. They need to learn from other generations what it means to drink from the stream of divine grace and love through all the seasons of life.
So, what “faith roots” is your congregation helping families to lay down in the lives of their children and young people? And in what ways is your congregation giving them yet another system of roots to sustain them above and beyond the home? There is no shortage of lifegiving water in God’s good stream. Let’s do all we can to help our kids drink from it!