Growing up on a farm, Joani learned early the meaning of faith.
Each year her dad, Bud, would begin the process: preparing the
soil, planting the seeds, cultivating the crops, and harvesting the
grain. But life on the farm wasn't always that smooth. Every week
the family would watch the sky and give thanks for receiving just
the right amount of rain and sunshine to grow the crops. Other
times they'd struggle, for nature didn't always deliver prosperity.
Sometimes ominous tornado clouds loomed. Other times hail shredded
fledgling greenery. And occasionally life -- giving rain overdosed
into torrents of devastating flood water.
Growing up on the farm involved more than agriculture. Joani saw
how her parents dealt with success and failure. She learned how
faith in God put life in perspective. By watching her dad work
unceasingly from dawn to dark -- but always making Sunday a day of
rest -- she learned the importance of worship and remembering the
Sabbath Day to keep it holy. She watched her mom live with a heart
of love and compassion, serving wherever anyone was needed. Visits
to the nursing home with her mom taught that caring for the needy
was a way of life. Whenever a neighbor had a special need, Joani's
parents were there (and still are today!). Her family was fertile
soil where the roots of faith grew deep.
Parents indeed are God's design for passing along the faith for
generations. In The Family-Friendly Church, Ben
Freudenburg and Rick Lawrence write: "Parents are the primary
Christian educators in the church, and the family is the
God-ordained institution for building faith in young people and for
passing faith on from one generation to the next."
Search Institute produced a landmark study called Effective
Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations.
Within the study lies a profound message for church educators.
Search discovered what factors were involved in producing people
who now profess a mature faith. Here's what they found:
• Talk with mother. Analyses of the results of
this study reveal that certain personal experiences have a
measurable positive impact on the maturity of faith of the
believer. The most powerful of these experiences is conversation
about God with one's mother during the ages of 5 through 12. But
among the five mainline denominations 16- to 18-year-olds, almost
40 percent say that event rarely or never occurred for them. Among
adults, 26 percent did not have that experience in childhood.
• Talk with father, relatives, friends. Talking
with one's father about faith or about God at the ages of 13 to 15
is another powerful correlate with maturity of faith, but 56
percent say this has occurred rarely or never for them. Other
powerful experiences as a child or youth are such things as talking
with other relatives about faith, the experience of having family
devotions, engaging in family projects to help others, and, at the
current moment , the number of friends who have strong religious
THE CHURCH'S ROLE
One could think all this "family impact" information diminishes
the church's role in Christian education. To the contrary! The
church, more than ever, is called to equip families to become
havens where Christ's love shines. It just means that we in the
church need to behave differently to capitalize on these hands-on
faith laboratories. And life won't always look neat and tidy.
It's this kind of thinking that is changing the church. Many
age-specific ministers are transforming their jobs into some form
of family ministry. Weary and frustrated by their short-term impact
on kids, they're realizing it's time to partner with parents in the
learning process. Plus, it means looking carefully at how they
relate to parents and their role. Cutting-edge family ministers are
passionate about redirecting the church's energies to families.
If this is true, what are we doing to help? How can we get
families talking about their faith? Can we prompt conversations to
take place between moms, dads, and kids?
HELPING ROOTS GO DEEPER
Reaching families and supporting them in Christian educational
efforts doesn't have to be overwhelming -- it just involves a new
way of thinking. We believe you'll find parents welcoming the
church's overtures to create family time together. George Barna,
president of Barna Research Group, Ltd., reported in a news release
that "One of the greatest needs expressed by adults is to have a
healthy, happy, and successful family. Millions of adults, however,
do not believe that they are as successful in this effort as they
wish to be. And despite the fact that four out of five Protestant
churches (80 percent) offer specific family-oriented ministry, most
adults indicate that those programs and ministry efforts achieve
only a marginal positive impact among their families."
But here's the good news: "Nearly two-third of parents (63
percent) said that their church should take on an increased role in
assisting parents; among parents who are born again Christians, the
opportunity is even greater: more than eight out of 10 (81 percent)
claimed that their church should be more involved in helping them
be better parents." Interestingly, parents weren't as keen about
looking to public schools or government for help.
Parents do want help from the church. These ideas help parents
see homes as fertile soil for God's Word to grow:
1. Help families reclaim mealtime. Maybe that
means providing a time for families to eat together at church. Or
maybe that means encouraging families to set aside certain meals
that are off-limits for any scheduling conflicts. Jacquelyn
Strickland, a licensed professional counselor, has developed a
program for parents and adolescents called "Building Family
Bridges." All families meet and share a meal at the beginning of
each of the nine weekly sessions. During this mealtime together,
participants are presented a mealtime discussion starter. This
activity models how healthy families make time to eat together and
demonstrates that this can be an excellent time for meaningful
discussion. Jacquelyn also structures this activity into her own
family to find out what is going on with her sons, ages 15 and
Discussion starters may range from "Share what you are most
grateful for this week" to "One difficulty I am having that I would
like support for is..." It's also a good idea to let family members
take turns creating discussion starters.
And do you know what's amazing? Chatting and chewing becomes
some of the most important time spent together during the session!
Jacquelyn reports that before this, many families never ate
together, much less had conversations of any significance during
Your church could provide opportunities like that too!
2. Make interactions with parents and kids
nonthreatening. Dave McClellan, former director of student
ministries at The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, maps out an easy process
for kids and parents to build relationships:
- Get families in the same room.
- Get parents interacting with kids other than their own.
- Get parents interacting with their own kids.
3. Provide training and resources. More and
more companies are publishing helps for families. In addition to
the book for parents, Joani produced a four-session, church-led
discussion guide. Families come together at church to learn how to
conduct family devotions in an unforgettable way. (The sessions
make for great family time at church, but can be done with parents
only.) Families can experiment during the week and bring back
questions, ideas, and support for one another. The books use all
the educational techniques that we believe make a long-lasting
4. Help parents be alert to teachable moments.
When families put up their "God antennae," it's amazing what they
can teach! For example, empower parents to use the media as a
teaching tool. If someone on television uses foul language, engages
in violence to solve a problem, or gets involved sexually with
someone other than his or her spouse -- use these examples to teach
Christian values. Say, "That's not the kind of language we use in
our family." Or "Our family doesn't resort to violence to solve
problems -- we talk it out." Or "We believe God invented marriage
as a special relationship." Instead of letting the media run
rampant without discussion, turn it around to open up topic
5. Help parents just "be" with their kids.
Royce Frazier, a marriage and family therapist, says he helps
parents "let go" and simply be present with their children without
an agenda. Now doesn't that sound freeing? He's found that when
parents stop trying so hard, they actually are more successful in
relating to each other and to their children!
6. Help parents realize their families don't have to be
perfect. Often there's a false perception that "Christian"
families don't have problems -- they're perfect. Not true. Just
page through Scripture and see for yourself. We can help families
see that God's grace is sufficient for families today as it was in
the Bible. Tim Smith, family minister at Calvary Community Church
in Westlake Village, California, recently taught a ten-week series
called, "So You Thought Your Family Was Messed Up!" Every week the
group explored Bible families who dealt with ten timeless issues.
For instance, "Abraham's Move to the West Coast" dealt with a
mobile society; "Lot's Last Night in Sodom" covered sexual
identity, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage; "Ishmael's Single
Mom" talked about single parenting; "Joseph's Wild Dreams" explored
rivalries and jealousies; and "Joseph's Family Recovery" dealt with
family healing. You get the idea. Making the Bible relevant for
families makes roots go deep.
7. Help families see the sacred in the
ordinary. David Thomas points out that families are living
"holy moments" all the time -- they just don't recognize it. What
would happen if families would attach "God thoughts" to their
day-to-day activities. What if bathing a child reminded the family
of his or her baptism? What if eating a meal together could connect
with the Lord's Supper? What if communicating with each other were
a reminder of the gift of prayer?
Royce Frazier tells about a favorite tradition his family
celebrates near Easter. They share a Passover meal. As they
remember the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt, they too recall
"near death" experiences that happened in the past. They celebrate
the times the Angel of Death passed over their family.
Miraculously, each child in the family has lived through a
dangerous event that they retell each Passover. It's an incredible
way for the Frazier family to give thanks for God's abundant grace