Children and Religious Education

When talking with parents about their children and religion I invariably hear, “We want our child to pick their own religion when they grow up.” I respect the open-minded sentiment and the desire to see our children grow up to be happy and content in a faith of their own choosing. I, too, want my children to find a religious community where they feel at home—where they are supported when in need, and challenged when comfortable. This is why I think it is so important to raise a child in a church community.

Some parents of the “let them choose” camp seem to use it as an excuse for why they do not go to any religious community. To take a child to church would seem to lock the child into one faith and close their mind to any other truth in the world. Unfortunately this is like saying you want your child to be able to choose their own spouse when they grow up so you are going to keep them away from others until they are ready to marry. The child best prepared to make an informed choice about religion is the child who has been raised in a faith community.

In one way this can be viewed as any consumer activity. If we are to choose the best car to purchase we need to have some education in automobiles. My primary knowledge of cars comes from driving one so I can judge the next one. I know from my previous cars that I like a smaller car, quickness and good mileage. So with a church one chooses best when there is something to compare. At the most basic, raising a child in a church helps them to learn the right questions to ask. It also gives them a base from which to grow. And, it lets them know that a church is full of all kinds of people—good and not so good—all trying to do the best they can.

Positively, and more importantly, a good church home provides the depth of faith that will be bedrock for the child to stand on his/her entire life. This is needed at every age. Faith in God provides a source of comfort and hope that is impossible to replicate anywhere else. It is as important to have a church home at 5, as at 55. An education in the history of faith and the Bible is also an essential part of any liberal arts education. Religion is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. And in the right church home children will learn that they are loved and cared for while given opportunity know the joy of service to others.

The alternative to church attendance abandons children to learn about religion from popular culture. This may mean rambling web pages about esoteric beliefs, evangelical preachers on television, or news reports on religions (and the news usually only covers religion when there is a problem). There really is no better education about religion than a religious education.

The best method of faith development, though, is the same as for all values education—it is learning by example. Children learn best not by what their parents say, but by what they do. If faith is important in a family it will shown by the way they live their lives.

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