Before we begin...
Please also familiarise yourself with other ministries that are working in the same area below. Encouraging faith is particularly concerned with engaging with a child's faith at an intellectual level, but there are other approaches. Have a look...
Parenting for faith is run by the Bible Reading Fellowship, and incorporates Rachel Turner's, approach to fostering spirituality in children.
For an explanation of the ministry, have a look at this..
Check out their easy to use, intuitive resources...
Your encouragement sessions should, broadly speaking, be built in stages, depending on the age and educational attainment of your child. We take you through the foundation and then suggest you add additional layers when you judge your child is ready.
Bible stories, prayer, simple theology
Add in basic apologetics, memory verses
More advanced apologetics, debates
Maintaining faith after leaving home
One of the first things you are going to want to include in your encouragement sessions, exposure to the Bible. There are many excellent resources to facilitate this, from Children's bibles to video clips. There are also many ways to achieve this, and we would recommend reading Peter Enns' book, 'Telling God's Story; A Parent's Guide to Teaching the Bible' for sound guidance about an age-appropriate approach.
If you commit to this, you will steadily increase your child's biblical literacy, and give them a fund of stories to draw on to inform their relationship with God.
We would encourage you to build in regular prayer times with your child, into your weekly routine. Whether at bedtime or at the breakfast table, taking the time to pray with your child will encourage their faith to grow.
There are specific things to teach your children that can enrich both their prayer life, and also that of the family. Specific prayer formulas can be useful when just starting out, but as your child grows in confidence it will also be important to encourage spontaneity.
Since prayer is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, this is the most important of our recommendations. For more specific advice, check out the resources at the link below.
Teach basic theology
Your child will likely already be asking basic questions about God and reality, but just because they are basic, does not mean they are easy to answer.
Fortunately, there are high quality resources available to help you. Theology is the study of a lifetime, and beyond!
Level II: the next steps
Asking your child to memorise Scripture emphasises its importance in their growth and development. Knowing Bible verses by heart is of great value in witnessing, growing in faith and resisting temptation. If your child proves especially receptive you might learn a new verse each week. Often though it might be more realistic to look at a new verse each fortnight.
Self Directed Reading
Your child may now have the skills to read children's books on apologetics. There are many excellent resources that can be incorporated into your encouragement sessions. For example, consider asking your child to read a chapter a week from 'The Case For Faith for Kids' by Lee Strobel and discussing it with them when you meet.
Prayer and Bible Reading
Each of the stages of our method is intended to be cumulative, so we recommend keeping up the regular meetings, bible readings and prayer from stage I in stage III for example
At some point, you will want to encourage your child to start having their own 'quiet-times' or sessions of devotional prayer preferably centred on a passage from Scripture. Precisely what form this takes, how long it lasts, how frequently and at what time of day will need to be worked out between you. Starting this habit is crucial to the spiritual life of your child and will nourish them throughout their lives if adhered to. Hopefully, you will still be meeting up for encouragement sessions regularly, at which you might want to read and discuss Bible passages together, as with stage I.
Reasons to think God exists
Does it seem strange to talk about arguments for God's existence with your children? A bit dry and dull? See if these videos change your mind...
The Cosmological Argument
With 3 simple steps, it's quite easy to learn. My 8-year-old has already impressed her friends by learning it. My 6-year-old also knows it off by heart.
Each week we repeat the argument and then explore a different part of it, asking questions like "How do we know the universe began to exist?" or "What does it mean to be a cause of the universe?"
Consider using the video with your children as a teaching-aid.
The Moral Argument
Like the Cosmological Argument above, the Moral Argument is very simple to learn. At the time of writing, I am teaching it to my 8 and 6-year-old children. Some of the concepts are quite tricky though, like the idea of morality itself and subjective versus objective. However, part of the idea of this project is to stretch young minds, and progress can be made, especially with repeated explanations.
A word of caution if you are planning to show this video to your children; there is a quote from philosopher Michael Ruse which references the rape of children (as an example of evil being objectively real). If you don't want to explain this to your children, you might want to leave the video until they are older. This shouldn't mean you can't teach them the 3-step argument though.
The following arguments are more technical and should probably be saved for adolescence, (or when you judge your child to be ready). We would certainly recommend giving them a try once your child is more familiar with abstract concepts.
The Arument from Fine-Tuning
An argument based on the fascinating discoveries in physics over the past century, and a hotly debated topic. This video references staggeringly small or large numbers but it isn't necessary to learn these to pick up the argument. It might be worth saving this for when your child starts to learn Physics at school. Consider using the video as a teaching-aid.
The Argument from Contingency
Why is there something rather than nothing? It's one of the most profound questions we can ask, and it resonates with children just as much as with adults. This video explores the concepts of what it means to exist necessarily or contingently and is suitable for children with some exposure to abstract concepts and thinking.
The Ontological Argument
Possibly the most abstract of the arguments considered her, and one famously ridiculed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, Alvin Plantinga's formulation is nevertheless intriguing and compelling when properly understood.
You might think such an argument would be forever beyond the grasp of children, as it is for many adults; and you would be wrong!. In 'The Defence Never Rests', Dr Craig and Joseph Tang have developed Sunday School materials that enable many children to learn the argument and understand it.
Level III: Entering the Jungle
It is Likely your child will be encountering different attitudes towards their faith, and more sophisticated challenges. It is a good idea to show them common objections to faith. One of the best ways to exhibit articulate criticisms is to study a debate. There are many world-class Christian apologists who show just how robust the Christian faith can be under fire.
Basic Apologetics Books
At some point, your child will be ready for longer, popular level reads also suitable for adults. These books have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. Here is a couple to get you started...
William Lane Craig
An introduction to Craig's work as a philosopher and theologian in defence of the Gospel, On Guard has been optimised for ease of understanding, accessibility and application. Featuring the main arguments he defends, it includes diagrams showing possible objections with Christian replies.
Faith Under Fire
The time will come when it will be appropriate to strengthen your child's resilience to the challenges their faith will face. An excellent way of doing this is by studying debates. Whilst some may be dry and dull, others are far from it, and the sense of gladiatorial contest can create excitement and sustain interest. You will need to judge carefully when your child is ready for this, and they may find the experience disturbing. But our contention is that getting an experience of the to and fro of interacting with skeptics will benefit them immeasurably in the long run. Here we offer you a small selection of notable debates to get you started.
Richard Dawkins Vs John Lennox
Richard Dawkins barely needs an introduction to the thinking Christian, being one of the most influential atheists alive today. This is a debate that took place in 2007, in Alabama, sponsored by the Fixed Point Foundation, with John Lennox, a mathematician and theologian at the University of Oxford.
The debate focusses on key themes ('theses') from Dawkin's book 'The God Delusion', including the relationship between science and faith, the evil consequences of religious faith and the nature of morality. Both Lennox and Dawkins conduct an exchange that is not overly academic but has engaging flights of rhetoric that make it both substantive and interesting.
In watching this with your child you may wish to stop at key stages to gauge what they think of the ideas being discussed as well as the adequacy of the answers.
Lennox's answers to Dawkin's favourite attacks on theism ("Who created God?") are well worth committing to memory as is the vulnerability of atheism in lacking a transcendent ground for morality.
WL Craig Vs Christopher Hitchens
Probably the wittiest, most urbane and charismatic of the 'New Atheists', the late journalist Christopher Hitchens is able to make the case against religious belief with great rhetorical force. However, he had more than met his match in Craig whose measured, rational approach demonstrated the lack of depth behind Hitchens position.
I've chosen this debate because it not only elegantly showcases credible reasons for believing in God but also how Christian belief can be defended with the right balance of preparation, knowledge and humility.
Specific questions you may wish to ask your child:-
Which argument for God's existence do you find most persuasive? Why?
Can you briefly summarise what Hitchens objections are to 'Theism' (the belief in God0
Does Hitchens believe there is such a thing as 'objective' moral values and duties on atheism? How does he account for it?
What do you think about evils done in the name of religion? What can we learn from Hitchens? (you might want to balance the discussion with a mention about evils committed in the name of atheistic political theories, eg. communism).
WL Craig Vs Bart Erhman: Is there Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus
This debate took place in 2008 in Massachusets and concerned the historical evidences for the Resurrection. Ehrman is taking the position that this is not a matter for the historian to make judgements on, as it is a matter of theology. Craig is arguing that various facts, such as the Jesus burial, the empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are indeed items which can be historically attested. The final step, inferring the best explanation for these facts is a philosophical argument. Both Craig and Ehrman have considerable training in New Testament history, Ehrman especially so, and the exchange is stimulating and substantive.
We would suggest familiarising yourself with Craig's videos that outline his argument and then noting how Ehrman responds. Craig's counter rebuttals are the reason he is an eminent debator.
Whether it's off to university, college or starting that first significant job, leaving home will be a momentous time for you and your child.
There can be so many exciting changes that old priorities can be easily discarded. Perhaps that's why the bulk of people who walk away from their faith do so between the ages of 18 and 29.
What advice would you give your child to give them the best chance to sustain their faith? Read below for our suggestions.