This guest post was written by Ron Hunter Jr., PhD, CEO of Randall House Publications and author of DNA of D6
Buying a gift for a toddler is easier than buying for a middle-schooler or teenager. Entertaining these older ages can be challenging. As kids age, parenting grows more complex. And ministry to them does, too. God ordained that kids would be like arrows, not meant to stay in the quiver. Parents and the home form the bow that launches the kids.
If our children are designed to leave, they internally desire more independence. Parents prepare kids to make their own decisions eventually, which should not begin after they leave home. The decreasing “shared space” parents get with their kids as they mature makes this exponentially harder.
Parenting has definitive stages. Bruce Johnston talks about the four Cs of parenting: caregiver, cop, coach, and consultant. I have added the overlap diagrams to depict potential influence. Looking at the chart, you will see overlap at each stage.
As children grow, they naturally have less interaction with parents. But it also leaves room for leaders to come alongside them in sticky situations.
Consistently maintaining a positive spiritual influence in your child’s life or the lives of children in your ministry, regardless of age, should be your primary parenting and ministry goal. Most parents already do well to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing, but what good is life without eternal life?
As parents and children’s leaders, do you have the tools to connect with your child on what matters for eternity? If you wish to connect deeply with a child’s heart, you cannot always be lecturing or badgering. If he or she is not receptive to coaching, suggestions, and mentoring, then nothing you say will penetrate a guarded attitude.
Start with fun shared moments
Children need to see you put down your phone, step away from the computer, remove your serious face, and engage them in some commonly shared interests. If they like to play video games, sit, watch, or ask if they will teach you. Pour out a puzzle on the table over the weekend. Bring some old photos to the dinner table and have the back-story ready to tell. Ride go-carts, make pottery, head to Starbucks, or go hiking.
When a child knows you cleared space to spend with him or her exclusively, that child knows you care and will be ready to hear from you with the more serious conversations. (For leaders: make sure you’re connecting in groups of kids or with another adult present.)
Watch for sticky moments in life
No matter the age of a child, from elementary to young adulthood, he or she will bump into sticky situations that conflict with their own goals, desires, or beliefs. If you already have a relationship that connects regularly, you will hear about these moments as they occur. Such sticky moments deal with the feelings, emotions, and on some level, affect the thinking of a child.
Whether a child experienced a bad grade, got snubbed by a friend in the lunchroom, was benched by the coach, got dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, or is wrestling with a question regarding faith, who do you want to handle the situation? A friend? A teacher? Google? Or parent? And many parents would also want a leader like you to be there for their kid, too.
Navigate with more than your experience—use God’s Word
Whatever sticky situation a child may face, start by letting him or her know he or she is not the first to deal with such an issue. If you have dealt with the same issue, share it (even if you handled it wrong). Let them learn from your experience, but don’t stop there.
Apply appropriate Scripture to your counsel so your guidance is always from the most credible source. Referring to Scripture regularly will speak volumes. Frequency does not mean every conversation. If you do not connect on a fun-related level of listening to them, you have not earned the right to speak into their world.
Use these three steps of effective connection—sharing fun moments, being attentive to sticky moments a child wants to talk about, and connecting those sticky moments to biblical counsel.
One method churches use to naturally combine these steps is by aligning the teaching within small groups, LifeGroups, or Sunday School. Teaching the same biblical theme to all ages provides a natural connection point when sticky situations arise.
When a child or grandchild deals with a fake friend, parents and leaders can bring up a recent lesson everyone studied at church and relate the details. For parents, it can be a conversation rather than a lecture as you ask what questions were discussed in class and what was said from that lesson.
This natural connection point provides an easy “handle” on what would otherwise be a missed opportunity for parents and grandparents. What better phone calls or FaceTime could you have than to discuss the lesson on a Sunday afternoon with a grandchild 540 miles away?
Imagine a mom sharing with her daughter how sometimes we follow God’s direction even though we don’t understand, like building a giant boat. Grandparents can talk to their grandkids about what it must have been like to come out of the ark and start fresh.
Randall House provides D6 EveryDay Curriculum and At-Home Bundles to help families connect naturally, even when the slice of shared space is small. By starting when kids are small, these conversations will become natural for both parents and children as they grow older, and leaders can help with that. Their worldviews will be developed together and experienced within life together.
This is what those sacred commands meant when directing us to connect spiritually as we go, as we do life together. When you want to help teach more than just your group, family-aligned curriculum provides teaching for every group throughout the week, giving connectional wins every day.
*This article was originally published in ONE Magazine and used with permission.