This is part two in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith. Read part one here, and stay tuned for part three.
Shoveling Dirt, and other spiritual lessons
So, we have seen how the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of passing on faith memes, in order to cement and pass on our rich Christian faith and heritage. We have seen how in the past Israel’s neglect of this duty led to apostasy, syncretism, and moral decline. The next obvious question is, “So how are we doing now? Are we passing on these memes?”
I contend that we aren’t.
OK, that seems a bit harsh. Yes, there are Christian children and teens who are growing up with a deep faith. There are young people learning how to lead worship services, run ministries, and do evangelism. But there are also ridiculously high numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are leaving the church, never to return. The percentage of Americans who are claiming an allegiance to Christian faith is declining, and the socio-political influence of Christianity on Western culture is undoubtedly in retreat.
A large reason for this according to the book Essential Church, is that many Americans (This book deals with American church statistics, although I would contend that this holds true in other Western countries) see the Church as an institution that is not essential to their lives. They see the ceremony and programs, and can’t find a vibrant and valuable relationship with God happening.
More anecdotally, in 14 years of youth ministry I have noticed a growing loss of biblical literacy within the next generations of the Church. There is also a lack of practiced disciplines of faith in these generations. Many teens know each and every part of the church service, but don’t have any understanding of fundamental elements of Christianity. This is not something I have noticed as tied to a particular church or denomination. It is much more of a cross-section than that.
To take a small detour:
After I take a shower at night, I use a squeegee to wipe down the walls. This helps keep my shower from getting mold and mildew. But that isn’t really the reason I do it. I use the squeegee because my grandfather did the same thing. He had a squeegee in his shower and I heard him use it after he finished with his showers.
Every time I sweep the grass clippings off of my sidewalk I hear his instructions in my head. When I sort laundry I hear my Mom’s voice, and when I spell Renaissance, I hear my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Maddox. I am who I am because of those people’s example in my life, and not just in instructional ways.
I read my Bible because I know that God grows me through that communication channel, and He makes me more like Him. But every time I open my Bible I remember my Grandad with his Bible open on his desk, and all of the highlights and notes he had put in it. In case I ever forget, I have his Bible on my shelf. It is one of the few things of his that I have. In it is a picture of generations of my family together at a family reunion. My Mom was pregnant with me, her only child.
My grandfather obviously had a mental connection to reading his Bible with the faith strain running through the generations of our family, and that connection has passed on to me. It is a meme. It is good. It is the plan of God.
These things came to my mind recently as I was moving a large amount of dirt in a pile with one of the students in my High School group. He is a good kid—a little squirrely—but a good kid. He has a good dad. But as we shoveled dirt, he needed me to explain how a shovel is used. I didn’t mind explaining. He responded by saying that he didn’t know, because he never did these things with his father. I told him that his dad was a busy man with too much on his shoulders, and that is true.
The point of this is that things even as rudimentary as shoveling dirt have to taught, and that requires things like mentoring. Boys and girls learn how to be men and women by watching their parents, teachers, and mentors, and by doing things alongside them. How much more is it important to instill things of faith to your children?