Friday, March 28, 2014

What Suzanna Wesley Taught me about Children’s Ministry

Touring the Epworth Rectory I was reminded how important Suzanna Wesley was related to the personal and spiritual formation of her children. She took seriously her role as mother, teacher, and spiritual advisor. She laid the theological foundations that two of her sons, John and Charles, would build the Methodist movement upon. Suzanna knew that as their parent she was their most important spiritual and theological mentor. She had a profound understanding that what was
modeled in the family home would be repeated the rest of their lives. She also knew that the rest of their life the children would reflect the spiritual life of the home they were raised in. Essentially, Suzanna Wesley provides us with a model to follow to be a parent to raise children who will change the world.

The most important spiritual mentor in your child’s life is the parent. The average child raised in a spiritual “active” Christian family spends about thirty hours in Sunday School or Children’s Church each year, about 1,000 hours in school, and typically spends more than 3,000 hours in the home with their parents. So rather than chasing flashy kid’s programming for your children you should be focused on living a Christian life that includes family prayer time, regular devotions, frequent spiritual conversations, and active mission engagement as a family. You should be a family on mission.  If you want your  child to escape the cultural trend of children being less spiritually engaged than their parents you have to live an active spiritual life in front of them and involving them. While this may not guarantee that your children won’t abandon their faith, it becomes significantly less likely. As the Proverb reminds us, “raise up a child in the way they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” That doesn't mean that when they are young they won’t stray, but the spiritual seed of the gospel will be waiting to blossom when the time is right. John and Charles watched as their mother taught hundreds of people in Bible studies at her kitchen table. They observed her practice the faith she proclaimed and they would go on to proclaim the faith she practiced.

What is modeled in the home gets repeated. The Wesley children spent dedicated time with their mother in one-on-one discipleship each week. So intense was the instruction that they were trained in Greek, Hebrew, math, and writing before they were adolescents. Long before the current “home school” movement, Suzanna was instructing her children, both boys and girls, to think for themselves and preparing them for the world. They were so prepared that the three boys left home to move to boarding school at the age of ten. By this age they had already made deep spiritual commitments, were dedicated to regular worship, and knew how to interact with people of a variety of economic and social levels. The behavior modeled by Suzanna being socially
committed and dedicated to lifelong learning was lived out in John and Charles to such an extent that it became a foundation of the emerging Methodist movement. What you live at home will be embraced as the norm for the rest of your child’s life so, be careful and intentional with how you live and the spiritual commitments you practice (or don’t practice) because those ideals with be replicated in the lives of your children.

The power of the child’s spiritual life is a direct reflection of the parent’s commitments. John Wesley would go on to be an innovator in embracing women in ministry, in practicing social justice, and in encouraging education for children. All of these he learned sitting at the table under the instruction of his mother. While we can’t be sure how much impact his father had upon his education, because Samuel was often away for long periods of time, we know that for the rest of his life he made an effort to live the life his mother had first modeled for him. As he grew older his regular correspondence with his mother saw him asking for advice and seeking counsel from this woman of deep faith. His affection was so deep for his mother that when she died he had her buried just across the street from his home so that he could look upon her grave and remember her words of wisdom.

So the next time you are tempted to run off and find flashy children’s ministry for your children, remember that no matter how great the entertainment those ministries provide, the real molding of your child’s spiritual life happens in your home. We, as parents, provide the foundation for our children to build their life of faith upon. If the foundation we lay is weak, our children’s spiritual lives will crumble. If it is sound, when times get tough, they will return to the faith of their mothers (and hopefully their fathers) to find God. The best thing we can do as spiritual leaders is disciple mothers and fathers to live a faithful, missional, and committed Christian life as a disciple. 

Pray for me that I live out the life before my children that leads them to Christ. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

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