Nurturing Faith in Our Second Generation
By Paul Hyung Cho
Our children’s lives are more precious than our own. We want the best for them. If it were possible, we would transfer all of our collective wisdom and experience upon them in hopes that they might learn from our mistakes and build upon our success. The feeling is mutual regarding our faith. We would give them all that we hold fast to so that they might experience God in deeper and more enriching ways, grounding and sustaining them. We wish that they might have a life in Christ and life abundant.
Recalling a child’s baptism will remind us that nurturing faith in our second generation is not a matter of whether we ourselves have any children. As full members of the body of Christ, nurturing their faith is all of our shared responsibility and indeed, our solemn vow with God.
Sharing our faith with our children comes with its set of challenges. From differing cultural perspectives to language barriers, there are bound to be obstacles that get in the way. Not to mention the fact that speaking about faith is already challenging for us to articulate with our peers, let alone teach our young. How do we go about nurturing faith in our second generation?
In the past, we have often looked to those young adults with exceptional faith or those young seminarians to lead in this kind of ministry. But times have changed. Employing specialized staff is becoming more difficult to manage financially. Even when we have the budget to do so, finding such persons called to this particular form of ministry has been increasingly difficult to find.
Still, there is good news. Nurturing second generation faith is something anyone can participate in. Even across those cultural and language barriers, we have hope in nurturing the next generation because ultimately, it is a relationship we want to develop, not our grammatically correct sentences nor our accent-free sermons.
Here, I hope to share with you five ideas I believe can help us in nurturing faith in our second generation.
1. Teach Critical Thinking.
One blessing we have in our Wesleyan tradition is that we regard our ability to reason as a gift of God.
Reason is seen as a particular grace which enables us to draw closer to God, not something worldly that must be ignored or uprooted. The hope is that we, therefore, prioritize how reason plays a role with our second generation, teaching them how to think critically about our faith.
Just as the goal of learning math is for its application, we must show that the purpose of our faith is, likewise, in its application. Our faith is not in the retention of biblical or theological knowledge. So, rather than focusing on particular theological dogma, we ought to help them think critically at specific issues and situations. I believe that in the end, this will enable them to hold a more diversified faith.
For example, in the midst of Black Lives Matter, we might claim that “God is like this” or that “The bible says that.” However, what would it look like if we took a moment to open up an opportunity to think critically? We can ask them, “How is *this* affecting your perspective of God?” (Note here that *this* can be any issue we are facing in our society or in the church.) “How has the church responded in the past?” “How might we respond in light of this?” Questions like these opens up room for thinking critically about our perspective, our bias, what we lack, and how we might respond in faith.
2. Wrestle Authentically.
Wrestling in our faith is not only normal but almost essential if we claim that our faith is alive. Recall that the name of God’s people, Israel, means to “wrestle with God” and rest in the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus as he prayed with sweat and blood. Holding on to our living faith can at times mean real spiritual struggle.
Now, as an educator, it may seem ideal to show a kind of problem-free faith. We want to show our best selves and that is likened to a struggle-free faithfulness. However, we are not called to be educators, but a body of Christ, a body that lives and experiences faith in real-time. Our second generation will no doubt live and experience life differently that ourselves. Therefore, portraying our “perfect” faith, can instead become a stumbling block.
What if we teach our second generation that wrestling with our faith is not a sign of poor faith? What if we shared with them that no matter how long we have lived in faith, at times we wrestle in it because the word of God is alive, because God is remolding us constantly. We might say, “I’m really challenged with this new information, I’ll need to explore what that means.” “I don’t know why I have this prejudice. Let me rethink my position.”
The hope is that we share with our second generation authentically how we wrestle in our faith with ethics, morals, and the issues of our society because of our faith, not in spite of it. Furthermore, this is how God is making us anew through God’s living word.
3. Exemplify Walking in Faith.
You have heard it before. Faith must be modeled. When it comes to subjects like math or English, we can teach our children or at least have others teach them if we are found lacking. But when it comes to faith, nobody can share a faith that they themselves do not have.
Generally speaking, our second generation will be more inclined toward checking facts, punching numbers, and reviewing stats than we ever did. I argue that because of this, our second generation are also less comfortable in areas of ambiguity and have more difficulty with a lack of transparency. I believe our role is not to define everything as black and white, but rather to show a kind of faithfulness that can walk into the haze of divine mystery.
This kind of faith requires the kind of resolve we read about in Joshua 24:15 “... As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” What kind of faith are we portraying as we give our time and money, not just in our access, but even in our sacrifice? This is not something we teach with words but model with our own decisions and actions.
As stated before, we should share authentically our spiritual struggle, not merely show a kind of polished faith. And, we must exemplify walking faithfully even in the midst of that uncertainty and ambiguity.
4. Posture Discipleship.
A disciple is one who holds a posture of learning. Disciples can also teach others what they have learned but they cannot become unteachable. Do we still hold the posture of a disciple? Are we still striving to learn?
Our second generation will hold different opinions and attitudes, for they have experienced and endured a different world. When we are confronted with such differences, before we rush to teach what we know, what we deem is right and wrong, might we posture an attitude of learning and humbly seek to understand their perspective?
Have we not upheld academic rigor for our second generation all this time? It would be so ironic if after all this time, having placed such a high value on education, we should become unteachable. I find it difficult to imagine how our second generation would not see our faith in Jesus Christ as anything but hypocritical for we are claiming ourselves to be disciples of Christ.
We must posture discipleship as we seek to see God at work in and through our second generation, their thoughts, their understanding of scripture, their theology, their faith at work. This will not be easy, but here are some suggestions to what we might say. “I did not know that. I was wrong.” “I have never considered it that way, but I’ll think on it some more.” “That’s new information to me! Thank you. I think I’m beginning to understand.”
This is not to say that we should disregard our faith all together, only that we ought to be humble, continue to posture an attitude of a disciple, seek to learn with our second generation, and grow because of our second generation.
All throughout scripture, we are exhorted to remember the grace of God. There are times when we remember the ways God has been gracious with us but there are equally if not more times when we forget. A good coach will remind us of what we have learned, what we have practiced so that we can be our best. Likewise, we must also help our second generation recall later the grace of God they are enjoying now.
In particular, with our instant on/off, digital age, we are prone to missing out on the walk of faith which I find more akin to our former analogue approach. As such, I think it would be good to organize these analog experiences and key moments for our second generation.
For example, we might regularly ask what dreams they have, what goals they are seeking, what they are praying about and writing it down for them. The goal here is to present these small moments of faith later on, after several months, or even years and have conversations about their journey. Which prayers were answered? Have their prayers changed? How so and why?
If I could encourage just a step further, we might also journal all of our prayer for them, at different stages of their lives. Then gift these prayer memories as they become fulfilled. I imagine it to be a great way to teach faith. More importantly, to show them that this relationship matters.
I believe that the fruits of our faith are in our next generation. We must pave the way for them to live their progressed faith.
Rev. Paul H. Cho [email protected]
First UMC of Tucson, AZ