What does it look like for a single parent to pass their faith on to their children? When the pressures of providing and parenting fall onto one set of shoulders rather than two, sometimes sharing faith effectively can feel like an impossible task.
Ed Springer, former head of ministry support at Youthworks, believes that single parenting shouldn’t be a bleak experience. Instead, it can provide opportunities for the church to step up to be fathers and mothers without degrading the role of the parent.
“The church and the parents are co-workers on the same mission to see the next generation receive the knowledge of God and pass it on themselves,” he says.
He has identified 13 simple things that single parents can do to help them realistically share the gospel with their children and raise a new generation of disciples.
- Pray for them. An obvious, yet often overlooked, place to start. Prayer is powerful because we pray to a powerful God who is able to do more than we can imagine. Begin by praying for God to work in your children, for their minds to be curious and for their hearts to be open to Jesus.
- Ask two to five people to regularly pray for your children. Create a small network of people who are committed to praying for the salvation and sanctification of your kids. This provides a spiritual support network for your kids but, as a single parent, helps you to know that you are not shouldering the burden alone.
- Ask two to five other Christians to invest in them. “It’s choosing people apart from the parent who are helping them grow,” Mr Springer says. “It’s relational… It’s brothers and sisters helping the solo parent.”
- Find people who will be there each step, and who can celebrate milestones that your kids reach as young Christians. That is not just steps in their own faith but also stepping stones such as starting youth group or getting their first grown-up Bible. This creates a real and recognisable family of God around the nucleus of you and your child(ren) that is founded in Jesus and the joy of being part of a bigger eternal family.
- Read the Bible with them regularly. Opening the word of God together as a family doesn’t have to be complex, although as a single parent it can feel like it at the end of a hard day of work and parenting. Start by reading something small daily, and let God’s word do the work.
- Walk and talk the faith. Deuteronomy 6 outlines the ways that parents are to explain the commands and decrees and promises of the Lord to the next generation. In the same way, explain to your children why you do the things you do for the Lord. Tell them why you pray as a family, why you give thanks for meals and why you make church a priority on Sundays. When they ask questions, take the time to share about who God is and why these things are important.
- Invite questions and explore doubts. Welcome challenging questions and invite your children to wrestle with their faith. Share what you are reading in the Bible and praying for, and give them space to engage with these things.
- Treat them as your child, but also as your eternal brothers and sisters. You’re their parent, so you must treat them as your child, but at the same time you are equal before God. Share with them your own doubts and struggles, in an age-appropriate way, and allow them to share the same with you.
- Pray with them. Help them develop prayers that are not just asking God for things. Help them to pray about who God is, give thanks and grow in their relationship with him.
- Do faith-related things together. Normalise Christian things with them, such as attending Christian conferences or church weekends away, serving together at church and outside church, sharing meals with other Christians (or bringing them with you to deliver food to someone’s home).
- Give them a heart for the lost. Talk with them about the reality that many don’t follow Christ yet and teach them a biblical response.
- Prioritise Christian community. Being part of the Christian community matters, not just for your faith but for theirs and others. Help them to find ways to serve and support other Christians, and also be supported in their own faith.
- Provide more input as they get older. It’s tempting to pull back as children become teenagers, but from 12 years onwards they need more input, not less. As they grow, they are looking for more input in life from others and if Christians aren’t there, our teens will find their influence and input elsewhere.
You can always start again. Things may stall, but that doesn’t mean they need to stop. Don’t give up on giving these things a go. We have never finished the job of shepherding our children.
The suggestions on this list are not exclusive to single-parent families – they would benefit any Christian family trying to raise disciples. However, for those undertaking the task solo, it’s not an impossible task that you’ve been left to do alone.
“God is sovereign, and we parent with him,” Mr Springer says. “Choose to invest in the discipleship of your children in the rhythms of their life, whether that is the weekend you have them, or the whole time.”