The real measure of children's spiritual health
Practices Principles

Beyond the Checklist: The Real Measure of Children’s Spiritual Health

According to a 2016 survey by Lifeway Research, the spiritual activity with the most impact on long-term children’s spiritual health is Bible reading. “A child who reads his Bible regularly while growing up has 12.5% stronger spiritual health as a young adult.”

Director of LifeWay Kids Jana Magruder says in order of impact the ten most significant influences on children’s enduring spiritual health are Bible reading, prayer, serving in church, Christian music, participating in mission trips, interest level in church, the godly influence of others, the faith nurturing effect of parents, gender and siblings (girls have a 3.75% stronger spiritual health as young adults and children from large families have more vital spiritual health as young adults), and church attendance. [Findings presented in the book Nothing Less].

Considering the above list, you may erroneously conclude that the way to strengthen the lasting spiritual health of children is to ramp up their Bible reading, help them pray more, get them involved in church events, encourage them to listen to Christian music, and so on. While these things are helpful, engaging children in a lifetime of faith takes more than getting them to participate in spiritual practices.

The preeminent requirement for lifelong faith isn’t spiritual activities; it’s trusting God. Share on X

Beyond the checklist: The real measure of children’s spiritual health is faith in Jesus. The preeminent requirement for lifelong faith isn’t spiritual activities; it’s trusting God (Romans 4:5). Religious activities are secondary to a born-again relationship with Jesus. We should never rank spiritual practices over knowing, loving and living for Jesus. If we do, we compromise a child’s spiritual health rather than enabling it.

We’re a bit shaky on this matter. Magruder quotes the American pastor A. W. Tozer, who said, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” The statement has a measure of truth only if a person is a Christian. It also veers dangerously close to bibliolatry. While God’s Word is contributory, we must look beyond it to make a whole Christian. Nothing less than a redeemed and undivided life lived for Jesus makes a total Christian.

It’s a false security to place our hope for the continuing spiritual health of children solely in the spiritual activities we do with them. Everything we do must point to Jesus – everything! [Read the article]. For lifelong faith, a child’s conviction should increasingly mature into an adult devotion to Jesus that surpasses their love for parents or church rituals.

Resilient spiritual health begins with a believing allegiance to Jesus and continues from there. Share on X

Resilient spiritual health begins with a believing allegiance to Jesus and continues from there. When children renounce everything for another kingdom and its King, they’re well on the way. While we want children to be steadfast church members, that’s secondary. The aim is to see them inspired, informed, and inclined to follow Jesus.

That’s not to say that children shouldn’t be invited and encouraged to participate in religious observances and practices. Once a child’s sinful past is forgiven, the Holy Spirit teaches them what is of Christ and what isn’t. Without laying down rules (legalism), we should expect good behaviour from our children. That is to say that God’s Word should guide and direct our children’s actions.

Spiritual growth happens when children hear God’s voice and do what He tells them to do. To follow Jesus through rain or shine, pleasure or pain, children must increasingly learn how to yield themselves to God’s will.

To follow Jesus through rain or shine, pleasure or pain, children must increasingly learn how to yield themselves to God’s will. Share on X

This brings us back to where this article started – but in a nuanced way. While it’s important for children to know the Bible, we really want children to know the God of the Bible. Long-term spiritual health requires Bible engagement driven by a desire to meet with Jesus, pray to Jesus, serve others in a way that brings honour and glory to Jesus, worship Jesus, and so on.

Notice the emphasis on Jesus in the above paragraph. There should never be a scrap of religious obligation when we invite children to participate in a mission trip or serve in the church. Nor should we ever consider children’s long-term spiritual health congruent with church attendance (though it does contribute to a child’s faith formation). The only justification for engaging children in spiritual practices is to help them grow in their devotion to Jesus.

Is a relationship with Jesus essential to children’s spiritual health? Please share your comments below.

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© Scripture Union, 2024

2 Corinthians 4:5

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