Her name was Nellie Smith, and she was one of my mother’s closest friends. Through the years, they became natural partners in multiple ministries. Nellie would teach and my mother would make sure there were snacks, crafts, and a welcoming space. And through this relationship, my mother learned how to disciple and encourage me in God’s Word.

Deeply and faithfully, Nellie communicated God’s Word. She taught at the Good News Club, Sunday School, Children’s Church, and Vacation Bible School. She was a student of the Word, and those of us under her instruction learned the depth and breadth of Scripture. My love of the Old Testament and how it points to Jesus came from her. Though she was not formally educated, Nellie practiced the art of captivating storytelling and warm engaging lessons. It was never boring to hear her talk about the truths of Scripture.

The gospel was present in every lesson, and it pierced my young heart. One day near Easter, she prayed with me to receive Jesus and she rejoiced with my family in my salvation.

Nellie loved Jesus, His Word, and His church, and she loved me. Her influence in my life shaped the beginning of my spiritual formation.

From Generation to Generation

As the Family Ministry Director at my church, I constantly read and follow studies about faith formation and child discipleship. The Kingdom impact of Nellie’s initial investment in my life became clear to me as I learned about the development of lasting faith in children. The impact of meaningful relationships with older faithful believers, like Nellie, cannot be underestimated.

In his newest book, Raising Spiritual Champions, George Barna reminds us that a Biblical worldview in children is set—NOT in the late teen years—but in preschool through the early middle school years. [1]Several studies point to the importance of significant intergenerational relationships in the faith formation of children. As partnerships form between older and younger parents, children benefit. The same studies point to the importance of reading, learning, and understanding the Bible. In other words, it is exactly what God’s Word has always told us: we need to pass our faith from generation to generation. Relationships in the context of covenant community teach the Word of God deeply.

The promises, privileges, and commands of His Word are to be passed from generation to generation. Psalm 78:2-6 tells us, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders he has done. He has decreed statues for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers 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.” Whenever I read this, I ask myself, “Do the children in my world hear the “praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” from my lips and by my actions? Am I being faithful to this command, to pass the faith to the generation behind me, just as Nellie was faithful to do with me?”

The Call of Intergenerational Discipleship

We must be faithful to the call of intergenerational discipleship. We are all disciples, and we are all discipling others either formally or informally. What do the children in our churches see? Do they see us preparing for worship and welcoming them to worship alongside us? Do they see us engage them with smiles and questions where they feel intentionally included in the church family? Do they see us hurriedly preparing lessons to teach them or do they know the depth of preparation we have put into telling them about Jesus? Do they see us rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? Do they see us serve the needy and welcome the stranger? Do they see that we love them and that we long for them to know and love Jesus and His church all their lives?

I know that intergenerational discipleship is important and valuable at all ages and stages of life. But the children’s hallway has my heart. My prayer for the children in my family and in my church comes from Alexander Whyte, a nineteenth-century Scottish preacher: “O Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, give us a seed right with Thee! O God, give us our children. A second time, and by a far better birth, give us our children to be beside us in Thy holy covenant!” [2]

This year, the Made for More conference will help us lay seeds of faith formation in our children and teens as they learn about their creation design, their gospel identity, and the importance of forming intergenerational friendships. This is a relational conference bringing together grandmothers, mothers, and daughters—physical and spiritual—where together we will learn the Biblical truths that form Biblical worldviews about relationships, sexuality, and identity.

If you love Jesus, His Word, and His church, and if you know a young girl or teen that you can bring to this conference, your relationship and conversations can shape their spiritual formation to help them know that they are indeed Made for More than this world offers. Like Nellie and my mom, you can help form a faith foundation in these young girls’ lives. And one day, you will be the “Nellie” in their life.

[1] Raising Spiritual Champions by George Barna (pp. 21-45).

[2] Quoted in Heirs of the Covenant by Susan Hunt (p. 129-130).

Sherry Kendrick

Sherry Kendrick serves as the Family Ministry Director of Covenant Church of Naples in Naples, FL where she has been for 14 years. She has a degree in elementary education from East Tennessee State University and over 40 years of experience in children’s ministry as well as homeschool, private school and public-school education. She loves children’s curriculums and tends to collect them. Sherry was married to her pastor husband, Mike, for 36 years serving in both small and large churches. As a widow, she continues to serve the church and has three grown children and three grandchildren.