Encouraging a child's relationship with God

Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009

A common question asked by parents is, "How do I motivate my child to be more excited about God?" I suppose this question could be added to the larger concern of, "How do I get my child to be motivated to do anything?"

It seems as though some kids are naturally inclined to play sports, study music or engage in a hobby, and yet there are other kids who have chosen no particular path of involvement. There also is the timeless parent-child struggle of asking kids to clean their room, do their homework or take out the garbage.

Since I work at Echo Ranch, and youth ministry is our priority, I am going to stick with the question about God. But if I ever come across a good way to motivate your child to clean their room, I'll let you know.

The Bible says in Proverbs 22:5: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

This is pretty good advice. And from preschool until about fifth or sixth grade, parents seem to have relative control over how much exposure to God their child has. Churches have nurseries, Sunday school, weeknight programs, musicals, plays, faith-based sports clubs and more.

The Bible has great stories about Adam and Eve, Noah, Joseph, Moses, David and Goliath, Jonah, Jesus and the disciples. There are fun videos for kids such as Veggie Tales, which entertain children and show them Biblical principles. There are children's Bibles with pictures and books that help parents talk about God with their kids. Even the wonder of going to Echo Ranch Bible Camp has its appeal. Then, somewhere around junior high, there often is a shift in how kids feel about God stuff.

Along with the fight against cleaning their room is opposition to going to church and learning about the things of God. The difference is a parent has every right to reprimand their child for not doing their chores, but does the same system apply for not going to church?

The last thing you want is for them to turn their back on God. Could forcing them to go to church or read the Bible make it worse? Every parent has their method for raising their child and I am not going to call that into question. All I want to do right now is bring this particular struggle to light.

It hurts mom and dad to see their child who may have once been excited about God suddenly grow disinterested. From personal experience, I remember during junior and senior high how God was the last thing on my mind. I grew up going to church and hearing my mom read Bible stories, but eventually that wasn't important anymore.

At camp, we have chapel twice a day, and some kids really enjoy it. For others, it is their least favorite time. They might enjoy the rest of camp, but hearing about God doesn't really do much for them. I know for me what took precedent over God was making friends, meeting girls and having fun. Of those, popularity was a really big deal. How could I choose to follow God when nobody else was?

This might not have the truth but it sure felt like it. My emotions ruled everything I did and they were telling me that if I followed God I would be a loser. I already felt like a loser; this wasn't helping. Basically, as a junior- and senior-high student, there are so many voices coming at a child it is easy to let the voice of God fade into the distance.

What can a parent do then with a child that lacks spiritual motivation? The number one thing would be to pray for the child. Ask God to help keep the fire burning. Secondly, be patient and realize that making the decision to follow God is ultimately a personal choice for all individuals. Thirdly, set the example. If they know you enjoy prayer and going to church and really see you living out your faith in God, that speaks louder than words. Fourthly, be honest about a time when maybe God wasn't so important to you and explain that to your child.

And finally, maybe a week at Echo Ranch Bible Camp surrounded by kids having fun plus learning about God will help to encourage them.

• Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at jonmichael@discoverechoranch.com.

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