A big thank you to Tami Stevenson for writing today’s blog post. Tami and I worked together for many years writing curriculum for Awana. Here Tami talks about her family and how extended families can support each other.
I’m so thankful I grew up in (and continue to be part of) a strong Christian family. My grandparents on both sides were first-generation Christians and my parents trusted Christ at relatively young ages. My sister, brother, and I did as well. Sometimes we had a lot of extended family living near us and other times, work and ministry took various family members to other states and countries. But we appreciated the bond we had with our family because it wasn’t just genes that held us together; it was also our Christian heritage. And that’s something I want my kids to have – an understanding that Christ bonds our family. I want my kids’ faith to be strengthened by their extended family.
So how can extended family encourage the spiritual growth of our children? Here are some ideas.
Family Book Club.My dad started reading with my sister’s kids when they were young. The kids picked a book, they would read a chapter, and then they got together with my dad to talk about it. Even though they live eight hours away now and can’t have their talks in person, my dad video chats with them. My dad loves the connection he has with them, and the kids look forward to talking with Grandpa about what they’re learning and thinking. Now my kids are getting to the same age that my sister’s kids were, they’re having fun reading books with Grandpa too.
Prayer Book.My mom has a prayer book for family prayer requests. The rest of us in the family are responsible to write specific prayer requests in it and date them. Then she uses the book as a prayer guide and prays for those requests. When a request has been answered (no matter how it’s been answered), we go back to the book and write the answer and date. Seeing what we’ve asked prayer for and the date of the answer is a testimony to the power of prayer. My kids know a family member is praying for them and their specific requests and they see that God always answers those requests – even if it’s different than what is hoped for or expected.
Invest Time. Being at events like birthday parties, baptisms, and graduations makes an impact on kids – even if they don’t really understand it when they’re young. My uncle surprised me at my high school Baccalaureate service many years ago. He walked into the church and gave me a huge bear hug. We lived in the Chicago suburbs and he lived in Dallas at the time. I was so moved that he made the trip to celebrate the weekend with me and it means even more now because I understand the sacrifice he made in coming. Even if the event isn’t spiritual in nature, your presence, your words, and what you write in cards can make a deep spiritual impact on the hearts and minds of kids. And if you live far away and can’t get to events, ask the family to video tape it so you can still share in the celebration and talk with the kids about it after the fact.
Bible Memory Challenge. Family members can be an example and memorize Scripture with kids. You don’t have to memorize long passages. Pick a couple verses, work on them separately and together, and choose a way to celebrate (ice cream, picking out a book, etc.) when both you and the child achieve your goal. You can also expand the challenge and include multiple kids and adults in the family.
Family Service Project. There are many things an extended family can do together that will encourage the faith of kids. Kids as young as five can serve at Feed My Starving Children and it can easily become a family tradition to serve once or twice a year. Another option is to adopt a missionary family and take turns sending care packages and cards. Or family members can take turns delivering meals to someone who is sick. Kids watch adults, so seeing not just their parents serve but also their extended family serve shows them that God and serving others is important to the family.
Vacation Together. Last summer my family spent a week at a Bible Camp in the UP of Michigan. Christian camp is such a great setting for a family vacation. There’s still some routine with the morning and evening sessions and meal times, but there’s plenty of free time to enjoy outdoor excursions or play games in the cabins. We had such a great time being together away from the norm and in a spiritually nurturing environment. And going to family camp is very affordable compared to other types of family vacations!
Share Your Testimony. Do your kids know when Uncle Brandon trusted Christ? Do they know what happened in Grandpa’s life that led him to Jesus? Kids need to hear how their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. trusted Christ as Savior. It shows them that everyone is different and there isn’t a specific time or situation that is better than others. The key is to be sensitive to God’s leading in their lives.