I have just completed a university degree course on sociology. Sociology is the science of how people interact with each other. It arose as a field of scientific study during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. It was during the Industrial Revolution when there was much upheaval in the western world as families were uprooted from their farms and villages to relocate into cities to work in factories. Many previously unheard of social problems arose as a result. People, often living in crammed inner-city conditions, became disconnected with their extended families. These cities became huge drawcards not just for people to move from their rural villages and towns, but also for impoverished immigrants to leave behind their poverty in foreign countries and migrate to countries where they could not speak the language let alone understand the local customs, traditions and laws. It was a French academic, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who noticed that after the French Revolution (which coincided with the Industrial Revolution) that “a new form of society” was forming, and that this could be scientifically studied. Comte coined the term, sociology and set about to write several books explaining how the scientific method could be applied to study of how the members of a society interacted. Those who came after Comte began to study why some people seemed to grow up to become virtuous contributors to society – who always seemed to have ever increasing opportunities for advancement – and others did not. The universal discovery of all sociologists ever since Comte was starting. The secret to the success of these high achievers, seemingly without exception, was determined by the first five years of their life! Sociologists now describe the first five years of anyone’s life as “the most important years of anyone’s life.” This is particularly important for every parent and educator to know.
Consider my picture of the two burning candles. The caption asks, Which candle represents the adult and which candle represents the child? Which candle has been burning longest? From this point in time, which candle has the potential to burn longest?
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A CHILD IN THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF THEIR LIFE?
“Characteristics of personality that are established in the first five formative years will survive into an individual’s adulthood, directing his or her responses to various life situations.”
(Introduction To Sociology, Koichi Kitano, 2013: 57)
Sociologists have discovered that much a person’s future direction in life is largely determined by the extent to which they were socialised in their first years. Being positively socialised depends on the level of interaction a child has with his or her biological parents, the extent to which their boundaries and consequences are clear, the values enforced, their education (distinct from ‘schooling’) and their comprehension of their place in this world. Sociology Professor, Alex Thio (Society Myths and Realities, 2007:73), cites numerous examples of negative instances where these necessary formative aspects were deprived some children and the result was what he calls feral children.
Professor Thio also cites examples where these formative aspects were intentionally provided to some children with extraordinary results. I think that all Christian parents, educators, and disciplers should be aware of why the first five years of a child’s life are the most important years of their when it comes to shaping a person’s personality and character; and, how can each play a critically important role in positively contributing to each child entrusted into our influence.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.
Proverbs 4:3 (NLT)
#1. Children need to learn love.
A newborn and growing child is designed by God to immediately experience love. This often involves being hugged and held by his or mother. As both mother and father then demonstrate and model appropriate touch and affection the child develops the psychological security that he or she is loved. This experience of love is then translated into realising that mother has been serving her son or daughter. The child comes to realise that serving is an intrinsic aspect of loving and being loved. Educators and disciplers (Kids Church/Sunday School teachers) are recognised as reinforcing this vision of love which the child’s parents have also established. In this way the growing child realises that his or her loving community extends beyond their family to their church family. The child can come to see that God is his or her loving heavenly Father, and that we love, because He first loved us (1Jn. 4:19). As the child comes to understanding that love involves sacrificial serving they develop the virtue of helpfulness and see it as an honour to help others.
#2. Children need to learn that boundaries and consequences are necessary for a virtuous life.
A newborn and growing child is designed by God to immediately experience boundaries and consequences appropriate to their age. Some boundaries are laws, some are rules, and some are what sociologists call norms. Norms are the way we are supposed to behave even when there is no law or rule telling us we have to. Understanding that life involves learning how to get along with others, a child comes to understand that do so requires learning what the norms are for doing so. These norms are often referred to as “common courtesy” or “being polite” or “showing respect”. By experiencing their mother and father’s boundaries and consequences the young son or daughter can come to see that God has boundaries and consequences for violating them that are designed for our good, because He loves us (1Jn. 4:17-18). As the child comes to understanding that God has ordained certain boundaries with consequences for breaching them they develop the virtue of godliness and see their worship of God as an honour.
#3. Children need to learn that honesty and integrity are essential qualities of a virtuous life.
A child is born a rebel with a disposition to sin, lie, cheat, and steal (and I should know, I was one). The person who said that children are as perfect angels had obviously never had children! Prof. Thio describes a new born child as a tabula rasa (a blank slate, p. 72). But he also says that every child is born with certain “inherited” qualities. Biologists might argue that iis merely genetic but Christians know every child is born with the stain of sin on their soul (Rom. 5:12) because the first man, Adam, represented each us via a genetic connection (1Cor. 15:22). But the good news is that God has made a way for each of us to be set free from the stain of sin through repentance and confession of sins and putting our faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9). Every child needs to be taught to how to confess their sins, how to repent, and how to apologise. By witnessing their mother and father confessing their sins, repenting, and apologising, a child comes to understanding that God is good, loving, holy, and forgiving Saviour and that he or she can also develop the virtue of honesty and integrity and learn to forgive those who offend against them (Eph. 4:32).
#4. Children need to be taught to learn and educated into how to live a virtuous life.
A child requires teaching to learn how to learn and how to be educated. In a recent Pastor’s Desk I discussed the important role that parents play in educating their youngest children by simply reading to them. Parents, Kids Church workers, and Christian educators need to teach children that this world was created by God and it is His will that we learn about it. Children can be introduced good stories, how to count, how to spell, how to write, how to discover, and taken on ‘field trips’ around their neighbourhood to learn about bio-diversity and ecology (the plants and insects and animals that inhabit their neighbourhood). Every child needs to be taught to how to learn and then how to be taught so that they respect their teachers (Prov. 19:20). By witnessing their mother and father reading, studying, and learning, a child comes to understand that God is inexhaustibly magnificent and that He has made a beautiful world full of diverse wonders which reflects His artistry and unlimited intelligence (Psalm 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20).
#5. Children need to be taught how to discover that the purpose of life is to live to the glory of God.
A child must be taught that their life is a gift from God meant to be lived to God’s glory – not theirs. Happiness is a poor substitute for the true purpose of life. Ignoring God’s Word as the moral compass for our lives and fooling ourselves into thinking that we are a better moral compass than the one God has provided can only lead to inevitable pain. Every child needs to understand why the claims of the Bible are true and what the evidences are for the existence of the God of the Bible. By understanding why the Bible is trustworthy and authoritative, a child can develop their own confidence in their faith in God and His Word. The result for a child will be an understanding about how to live to the glory of God and how to see their role in society – whether they are a student, an employee, a volunteer – is to be carried out for God’s glory (1Cor. 10:31). Christian parents, Kids Church workers, and Christian school teachers play a critical role in a child’s life — especially in a child’s first five years. When a child is living to the glory of God they have discovered the meaning and purpose of life itself.
LET’S SEE INFANTS AND TODDLERS DIFFERENTLY
The early years of a child’s life are critically important. As a church family we can each play our part in ensuring that we together do our best to ensure that youngest members of our church family are given the best role models that we can be so that their parents are supported through this important season of a child’s life. For those of us who perhaps did not receive the benefit of intentional virtue training and discipleship, the good news is that the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit can redeem any life.
While our society seems to be doing all it can to avoid marrying early and starting a family, and even promoting so-called marriages that are biologically incapable of procreating children, if we can just encourage and train prospective parents on how to raise children to be virtuous followers of Christ, we stand a great chance that within one or two generations the majority of our society will actually know the Lord. And perhaps then, we will be one or maybe two steps closer to fulfilling the Great Commission Christ. While parents, Kids Church leaders, and Christian school teachers should be intentional about shaping young children to be fully devoted followers of Christ who have reasons for believing Christianity is true – which shapes them into virtuous contributors to society and to find their role in God’s Kingdom, we can all play a supportive role in prayer, volunteering, and encouraging. Perhaps then, this Sunday, you might see some of the young children in our church family through different eyes. Hopefully you will see future doctors, future teachers, future pastors, future politicians, future business leaders, and future prime ministers. This is why I think our Kids Church and Youth Group are pivotal and key to us establishing a church than in generations to come will win their generation to the Lord!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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