Dear church family,
I have a favor to ask. I need your help with something that is far too important to accomplish on my own. Will you partner with me in helping my children develop a love for Jesus that lasts a lifetime? This tops my list of things that matter! The good news is that encouraging children to walk with Christ may be easier than you think.
First, let me ease your fears. I won’t ask you to knock on doors or pass out flyers to strangers. You won’t need to preach on a street corner with a bull-horn. I won’t even ask you to volunteer in the children’s ministry. Although I am exceedingly grateful for the incredible leaders who faithfully build into the lives of our children each week.
Instead, my children need adults who model Jesus’ example in one specific area. This has been meticulously researched and is proven to help children develop a faith that sticks. As a side note, I think it’s exciting that psychologists validate key ideas present in Scripture all along. In other words, God said it first.
Today, I would like to share with you what psychologists are learning about the value of attachment. We’ll also examine how Jesus lived these key relationship principles, and how you and I can adopt similar strategies to support our children in developing a lifelong love for Christ!
The Science of Children and Relationships
Before exploring how you and I can best team-up, I want to introduce you to a British psychologist named John Bowlby. John grew up in the early 1900s. This was a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard. John was raised by his nanny, who became a mother figure in his life. Sadly, John was only allowed to see his biological mother for an hour each day. This took place only during tea time. Additional interaction was viewed as a dangerous spoiling of children.
As an adult, John described two childhood tragedies that left festering wounds. The first was when his beloved nurse, Minnie, left the family. Minnie was John’s primary caregiver, and John bonded to her the way that most children attach to their mothers. Although John was only four years old at the time, he remembered this event vividly. John’s second major tragedy was being sent away to boarding school. Although his parents were trying to protect him from World War I, this event also left a lingering wound. As an adult, John wrote, “I wouldn’t send a dog away to boarding school at age seven.”
These childhood traumas piqued John’s interest in human attachments. Eventually, this became his area of expertise. John discovered that children who securely attach to their mothers are better prepared for the rest of their lives. Secure children see their parents as a safe-haven, where they can find comfort, nurture, and love.
John Bowlby and his assistant Mary Ainsworth spent countless hours conducting attachment experiments and confirming their results. His research reveals that securely attached children have higher self-esteem, are better at regulating their emotions, and make friends more easily than children with insecure attachments. When secure children grow up, they report higher satisfaction in their own dating relationships and marriages. As you can see, security matters. And a secure attachment develops through a close connection with others.
John Bowlby’s primary contribution is a mountain of data that points to the life-long benefits of children connecting to safe, positive, supportive adults.
The Psychology of Adult Attachment
Recently, psychologists have begun exploring the impact of attachment on adults. Marriage therapists noted that the traditional strategies of teaching couples to communicate better were not producing positive results. In The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, Researcher John Gottman shares that no matter how well couples learn to communicate, they continue to argue about the same things over the course of their marriage. In the past, couples in therapy learned how to refine their arguments. They toned down their anger and began to argue better. Yet, eliminating marital spats was not meeting their primary needs for friendship, love, and attachment. For couples who primarily connected through fighting, this isolating effect may even have been counterproductive.
Eventually, therapists caught on to the fact that most married couples long for a closer connection even more than they want to stop arguing. Naomi Eisenberger, from the University of California, conducted brain imaging studies revealing that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the brain as physical pain. God has hardwired human beings to connect. So much so that when this attachment isn’t present, it hurts! [Tweet “Both children and adults need safe, loving, encouraging people in their lives.”]
Jesus and Attachment
In the Bible, we find that Jesus knows the value of attachment. In Matthew 9:11, the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus spent so much time eating with tax collectors and sinners. Apparently, hanging out with a less than reputable crowd was something that Jesus did often. So often that Matthew 11:19 calls Jesus a friend of sinners. The Bible never says if Jesus preached to this “sinful crowd,” and we don’t know if this was on Christ’s agenda. What we do know is that Jesus ate with them, drank with them, and was an honored guest at their parties.
John Bowlby would describe Jesus’ actions as forming a secure attachment with the people who needed Him the most. Jesus loved those he met, accepted them as they were—warts and all—and became their cherished friend! Long before psychologists conducted thousands of hours of research, Jesus understood the value of safe, secure attachments.
Children, the Church, and a Faith That Sticks
Sadly, recent studies show that nearly half of our youth will drift away from God, and the church, once they graduate from high school. Today, attachment research is making it’s way into our churches to help combat this epidemic. Kara Powell is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and a 20-year youth ministry veteran. Her research reveals that children involved in inter-generational worship–that is, they actively participate in the adult worship service–and children who have tight-knit relationships with adults in the church, are most likely to develop a faith that sticks.
Helping Children Develop A Lifelong Love For Jesus at Church
As you can see, parents really do need the support of other encouraging adults in the church! It has long been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Kara’s research reveals that it tasks a church to keep a child connected to the body of Christ.
In light of these facts, will you team-up with us and help our children develop a lifelong love for Jesus? When you see my children at church, would you take the time to greet them by name, give them a high-five, let them know that you enjoy seeing them in the adult service? Will you ask them about their week and develop a genuine connection with them? These small acts of kindness are often more powerful than we realize!
When I served as a camp counselor, years ago, our camp director would proclaim, “First children will learn to love their love their camp counselor, then they will learn to love their camp counselor’s God.” Our camp director was right, attachment is powerful! I believe that the children who attend our church wil fall in love with the church leadership, volunteers, and the body of Christ. Then they will fall in love with the God we serve! [Tweet “Research and Scripture confirm that genuine friendship is the glue that makes faith stick.”]
Connecting with our children will help them grow into more confidant kids. It will also help them have better relationships as adults. But most of all, it will help them to develop a lifelong love for Christ! As a daddy to four girls, I would like to thank you for taking the time to connect with our kids!
What about you? Have you seen the power of relationships at work? Are you teaming-up with the church to help your children develop a sticky faith? How are you fostering creative family connection times? What are you doing to develop a secure parenting attachment with your kids? I’d love to hear more from you in the comments below!