What is your legacy?

by Carolyn Lawrence.

Anyone who has spent any time with me will have heard me regaling you with stories of my three grandchildren! Becoming a grandparent has been a wonderful and profound experience and has made me reflect on the kind of world in which they will be growing up and the legacy they will inherit.

I wonder what kind of legacy you want to leave for the children amongst your own family and friends and the young people connected with our churches?  Does it involve just leaving them some money in your will or a functioning (and warm!) church building or does it go deeper than that?   Whether we intend to or not, we will still leave a legacy of some kind to the next generation. 

I believe that the most valuable legacy we can pass to our children, is that of faith in Christ.  Even though each of us must make their own decision to follow Jesus, there are some things we can do to help create an atmosphere where faith can grow and thrive. 

In Psalm 78 we read the following:

‘My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,  so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.’ 

What can we do to leave a spiritual legacy and encourage a relationship with God in the lives of the children and young people that we know, as well as those young in the faith in our churches?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Look at your own life – the best way to prove to our children the value and relevance of faith in Christ is to be a living demonstration of that truth. Children learn more from watching us than they do from what we say.  If our children see that our walk doesn’t match our talk, behaving and speaking in one way at church but living and speaking differently at home or work, they will see through our lack of integrity and perceive that Jesus doesn’t make a real difference in our lives.  Try to live out your faith in an authentic and relevant way. Let them see that even though you make mistakes and life gets messy that you can overcome these difficulties with God’s help.
  2. Share God’s Word – from a young age we can teach our children to know and love God’s Word in an intentional way.  The first place a child learns about God’s word is in the home with their families. Let them see you reading and studying God’s word regularly, have family devotions, read Bible stories at bedtime, play worship music, let them see the relevance of God’s word in your everyday lives and they will grow to love God’s word and value its importance.
  3. Pray with them – don’t just turn prayer into a shopping list at bedtime but ask them what they would like God’s help with and pray together about those things.  Then talk together about the answers to prayer as they come.
  4. Value the church – I know of parents whose children have heard them speaking critically about people at the church and their church leadership and then been surprised when they have grown up not wanting anything to do with the church.   I have also known parents who have allowed other priorities to take the place of worship such as sports and other leisure activities and then wondered why worship is not a priority to them as they grow older and been disappointed that their grown up children don’t remain in the church. Make sure your children understand that the church, though far from perfect and made of all kinds of people, are the family of God and that they appreciate the importance of meeting together in worship and fellowship – even if it is on Zoom!  
  5. Be outward looking – allow your children to see you being generous with your time, money, home and resources.  Encourage them to value all people and to treat people with compassion, kindness and mercy just as Jesus did.  Find ways of helping others and try to engage with your community as well as teaching them to have a global view of the world.
  6. Look to the future – teach the children that God has a good plan for their lives and encourage them to seek God’s will for their future. Help them so see that the goal of life for a Christian is to walk in obedience to the Lord rather than be dragged along by the goals that the world says is important. 

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and friends: you will impact the next generation. What kind of legacy will you leave?

11 thoughts on “What is your legacy?”

  1. Thank you Carolyn for a useful reminder to those of us who are grandparents of how we can share our faith in not only what we say but how we live.

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  2. Thank you Carolyn for this reflection and these questions.
    I hope and pray that our legacy will include a ‘looking beyond’ the family (of our families or the ‘family’ of the church). As I talk about my legacy I hope for an honesty and a humility about the legacy of ‘looking after our own first’ as well…. both in the churches, in this nation and in families. We often ‘tell our story’ as though ours is the history and the behaviour that we want our children to copy. When I think about the legacy that my generation is leaving I’m conscious that we’ve taken too much, and taken too much for granted. I really want our children to know that we made awful mistakes, that we have been blind to how our own behaviours have had a bad impact on other people (thinking of our ‘othering’ of other people) and on the future of the planet. I pray, too, that we’ll leave them a legacy of knowing that each generation can learn from the disasters, mistakes and sins of the past. I want our children and their children to know that there is much bad as well as good in the past and that we repent of the sins of our own legacy, and that we want a future where we look beyond our family traditions (personal or church).
    I’d love the legacy of today’s Methodists to be a return to the social justice which is God’s will, alongside a humble personal faith. I think this is all tied up in our seeking to do God’s will in this age. Thanks for provoking us to think

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  3. Yes, we have to value the church; but isn’t there a reciprocal part to this relationship? How does the church show that it values those children and young people for whom Sundays bring other commitments? A third of children live in split families, and Sundays are for many the only time in the week when they are able to see one of their parents (and the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on that side of their families). Sunday is now a very popular day for grassroots sport as well as professional sport. Telling children who are passionately keen on a sport that they cannot play in a team with their friends but must instead sit through a sermon in a church which regards music written 30 years before they were born as ‘very modern’, can engender a resentment that will persist into adulthood. For many parents, including those in retail, entertainment, essential services, and the health and care sectors, there is a requirement for them to work on some Sundays. Before we criticise those parents and grandparents who don’t make children come to church on a Sunday morning, perhaps we should ask ourselves where, when and how we can best provide for the spiritual development of children and young people.

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  4. When I was taking the Faith and Worship course, I looked forward to the section on all-age worship, only to find that the recommendation was that all-age worship should be very similar to regular worship. The reason given was “You don’t teach people to appreciate Stilton by feeding them cornflakes.” In my frustration, I googled ‘Stilton’ and found that the cheese firm had real problems, because few under the age of 30 seemed like or trust blue cheese. It was a taste that suited an older generation. How different are many of our services from the services of 60 years ago? And we wonder why we have lost much of two generations from the church!

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    1. Doesn’t your church have a children’s minister, Pavel? Ours does, and she does wonderful things with the young people, and in the local primary schools. I love helping out (as do many of our more mature church members) when she brings the schoolchildren into church at Christmas and Easter, for a child-friendly service, appropriate for those children whose parents don’t bring them to church. We don’t expect our youngsters to sit through a sermon written for adults; many of our preachers are willing to do a short children’s address before the young folk go to their Junior Church for more interesting activities. I’m sure this is the way of many Methodist Churches these days; things like Messy Church, Godly Play and worship videos and cartoons which tell the stories of Jesus are great ways of engaging the young. Teenagers can be encouraged to supervise the younger ones if they are not attracted to mainstream worship.
      Sorry, but even your ‘Faith and Worship’ course is now very outdated; since 2015 it has been W:L&P (Worship: leading and preaching) a very different way of training worship leaders and local preachers for 21st century Methodism. If I dare say so, you and Robert Bridge need to catch up a bit with what’s going on in Methodism, adopt a positive attitude, and start helping instead of criticising!

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  5. Hi, great thoughts Carolyn. In my work as the Intergenerational Mission (IM) enabler across the Southampton District, I have seen the benefits of congregations that seek to actively encourage IM, and the ways it benifits all those involved. Deut 6:speaks a lot about the passing on of faith. So let’s not wait until we are Grandparents ourselves, but less us talk about our faith along the ways of life. Also Gail Adcock has a great chapter about IM in her book https://www.brfonline.org.uk/products/the-essential-guide-to-family-ministry-a-practical-guide-for-church-based-family-workers

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    1. I agree with Carolyn that the image we put out about the Church is crucial.
      Church is a body of believers in Christ. Each believer will have different thoughts on creeds and doctrines, how to interpret the Bible, and how we deal with the very real problem of sin, in the world, in the church and in each member of the church (forgiveness, not condemnation, is the only message I have ever heard being put forward by priests and preachers!) But when we join a church we sign up to the creeds and doctrines of that church, and accept that they over-ride our own opinions and egos. The Church, the Scriptures, our Tradition and our Spiritual Heritage are bigger, deeper and richer than we can ever be alone.
      When people criticise the Church to me I point out that, in all the community projects and enterprises that have materialised in recent years (foodbanks, Street Angels, debt advisors, support for refugees, lunch groups, drop-in centres for people with mental health issues, community visitors/shoppers/drivers etc. and countless others) the vast majority of volunteers come from the churches.
      Does this make us an army of self-righteous do-gooders? No! We are the ones who bow to a higher authority, who are obedient to Christ’s two commandments (love God and love each other) and who are very aware of our own weaknesses and failures, and thus our need for a forgiving God.
      The self-righteous have no need for God or for Church.

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      1. Sorry, that should have read ‘the self-righteous think they have no need for God or for Church.’

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  6. Pavel.
    Your insight into children’s lives and the changing needs of society is apposite. We need to face the reality of falling membership figures, failing churches, concerns over property and the increasing perceived irrelevance of the church. Back in the 1960’s I remember church discussions about this issue that created deep divisions in what we thought the role of the church should be. There were two attitudes to the idea of change. There were those who denied there was a problem, everything was ok, the church had reached a state of perfection and if there was to be a change then it would be the secular society that would have to change. Often they were angry and upset that the church should even contemplate any change. I remember someone saying “Change! Not in my lifetime!” and another who said he could not understand why numbers were falling because “we are doing what we have always done”! The “solution” to this problem was assumed to be a revival. On the other hand there were those who accepted and even welcomed change. There was much talk about harmful Christianity, judgmentalism and sin dialogues that alienated some people. About that time a young woman in Derby removed her child from Sunday School and reportedly said “If anyone tells my child she is a sinner I will scratch his b….. eyes out!”. Events like this reinforced the argument for change. Many read Bonhoeffer and others who foresaw the possibility of revitalised faith in a religionless Christianity or a secular ethical spirituality.
    In reality of course the church has always been changing, often reluctantly, and so often the changes are forced upon it. As I see it dialogue is the key to addressing the issue of change. There are absolutes the church must cling to such as God, Christ, love, prayer, forgiveness, courage, hope, justice and fairness, but there are other things in the Christian tradition that could change. I applaud the founders of Theology Everywhere for giving us the opportunity to engage in discussion on these matters.
    I say this as a person who loves his church. It is my second home. It is because I care for my church and every other church that I accept change, seek dialogue and ask questions.

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