Today’s parents are different; you need these 5 keys to open up faith-building at home. Use these tools to understand them–and help them pass on their faith to their children.
Erin, a single mom, has three daughters, ages 8, 12, and 22. Her oldest daughter is in college more than 1,000 miles away. Her youngest two are in elementary school, and they spend one week a month with their father, who lives across town. Erin stays in touch with all her kids frequently throughout the day through texts and phone calls. She’s close with all her children and considers them her best friends. They give her input on everything from what clothes to wear to what apartment to rent, and she offers them on-the-spot coaching on their school and life issues whenever they need it. She hasn’t seen her oldest daughter in six months, and her two youngest go directly from school to after-school care until Erin picks them up at 7:30 in the evening after work. On an average weekday, Erin spends about two waking hours with her younger daughters.
As you consider Erin’s life and relationships with her children, also consider the typical experiences of a mom two decades ago. Then, more moms stayed at home, families were more likely to fit into a cookie cutter shape, and parenting philosophies were much different.
A lot has changed.
Today’s parents have different views and expectations of their relationships with their children. They have different demands and pressures on their professional and personal lives. They have different social experiences. They believe different things about what it means to raise children. They have technologies that facilitate relationships and communication that most people couldn’t imagine 20 years ago.
So how do you effectively equip this generation of parents to become the spiritual influencers in their children’s lives? You start by getting up-close and personal with the parents in your ministry, and then by creating a custom, quality-built ministry that equips and honors them.
Today’s homes are radically different.
Our children’s homes today look a lot different than they used to. Today the divorce rate hovers near 50 percent, and a growing number of children live with only one parent. Most households have two people working full time to keep them afloat. Families come in all shapes, sizes, and combinations imaginable. These changes in family makeup have also changed the way parents respond to their kids’ ever-expanding mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Parents, especially single ones, are often exhausted. It can be overwhelming to do it–caring for children (and sometimes aging parents, too), managing a home, and trying to squeeze in some kind of personal life. It’s no wonder that parents today get discouraged, spend a lot of time feeling guilty, and may even be tempted to give up. You likely have kids and parents in your ministry who are irritable and stressed from all the pressures they face.
What to Do: Ministry to today’s parents is as important as ministry to their children. Your best tool is your ability to encourage. Continuously encourage parents to not give up. Encourage them to take advantage of the time they have with their kids. Encourage their daily efforts to care for and mentor their children. Encourage parents to use their lives as the best examples of their faith for their children.
Don’t pressure parents to take on involved projects, lessons, or “homework” to build kids’ faith; it sets parents up to fail when they don’t have the time or energy to follow through. Simply remind parents that every moment they have with their children is a moment they can use to point their children toward Jesus. Parents today carry around enough guilt because they feel stretched too thin and think their children are paying the price. Parents need reassurance–not more activities or expectations–from you.
2. Today’s homes are wired.
Today’s parent is connected socially–to people from every walk of life. In the past, neighborhoods often served as borders for parents’ social circles. Today we live in a global village where communication with people a world away is almost instantaneous. Parents rely on advice from people they know only through digital media almost as much as from immediate family and friends. They tend to place more trust in what peers and friends say than what “experts in ivory towers” say. To truly connect with today’s parent, you must build a framework of often-digital social connections.
What to Do: A significant way you can equip parents is to construct a safe, reliable social network where faith conversations happen daily. These parents don’t just need support from their pastors and leaders on how to instill faith in their children; they need support from each other. Give parents direct connections with other parents. Help guide them to forums and social networking sites where they can talk openly about the issues they face in an atmosphere they’re accustomed to. There’s nothing better for a parent who’s struggling through an ordeal than to hear another parent say, “Boy, have I been there” or simply, “I’ll pray for you.”
3. Today’s homes are screen-driven.
One of the most dramatic differences between today’s parenting landscape and yesterday’s is the dramatic increase in multimedia exposure.
The new millennium was ushered in by an explosive technological revolution. At any given moment, kids of all ages experience multiple technological influences in their lives–and the Internet is only the starting point. In most of today’s homes, it’s normal to see computers, televisions, and a cell phone for every resident old enough to walk and talk at the same time. Numerous forms of technology bring with them numerous avenues for media bombardment.
To put it another way, “Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Parents may be onboard with technology, but chances are they grapple every day with how to effectively monitor, manage, and mitigate technology when it comes to the largely uncensored media their children experience.
What to Do: Be curious and willing to learn from kids about the technology they use. Set aside time each week to read at least one article about what’s happening in the virtual world. Read product reviews on new gadgets. And open dialogue with parents about the technology and media their children live with every day. Encourage parents to maintain a Jesus-centered mindset when it comes to media. Whether it’s giving parents casual pointers on how to have a direct conversation with a child about their expectations or giving parents a list of ways to use technology to their benefit, you can serve parents by opening this door of communication.
4. Today’s homes are exposed to harsh realities.
Ephesians 5:11 tells us not to avoid the tough conversations: “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.”
In days gone by, parents faced with a tough conversation or topic frequently relied on familiar stories of the Old Testament, either to “scare kids straight,” eliminate debate, or change the focus of the conversation. We may out of habit encourage parents facing a challenging conversation to focus on familiar biblical subjects of love, salvation, God’s promises, and forgiveness–in lieu of tackling the many real issues kids face. Of course the Bible is primary and essential in teaching kids about Jesus–but let’s be honest: How many parents can wade into it and find a fitting verse in the midst of a family crisis?
Kids need to be ministered to on their level by their parents in real time. And the best relevant example of the biblical virtues we hope to imprint on kids isn’t found in words printed on a page–it’s in the behavior, reactions, and actions of the parent. We do parents a service when we equip them with that reality. Kids today deal with divorce, temptation, death, illness, obesity, drugs, depression, abuse, poverty, anger, bullies, medical issues, witchcraft, and so much more. Parents need encouragement and tools from you that help them address the realities their kids live with.
What to Do: Teach parents these discussion starters they can use at home with kids whenever a tough topic arises.
• What do you think about that situation?
• What do you think God thinks about it?
• What would you do if you were in that situation or what do you think you should do?
The discussions don’t have to be heavy or require deep and exhausting interfaces. What they can be are opportunities for parents to open communication lines with their kids that lead to greater trust and honesty. When parents feel equipped to talk about tough issues with their kids, they’re much more likely to lead conversations toward God.
5. Today’s homes are a haven.
Many parents today define their relationship with their children as a friendship and a parent-child relationship. Recent studies show that parents and children are closer than ever, with many parents relying on their children for everything from relationship advice to help with home-buying decisions and more, much as Erin does. But along with this camaraderie, parents still take seriously their role as mentors, coaches, and disciplinarians who are responsible for preparing their children for life in today’s-and tomorrow’s-world.
Enter Leonard Sweet, the “futurist.” Sweet travels the country inspiring thousands of pastors to step into this century with their thoughts and actions. Once when speaking about his childhood, Sweet said his mother told him repeatedly how she never wanted to isolate him from anything; instead, she wanted to insulate him. Sweet described how insulation protects a house from the outside elements that would otherwise harm it. I’m guessing almost every parent with a child in your ministry would agree with this idea: Parents today want insulation for their children.
What to Do: To help parents insulate their kids, continually remind parents of the enormous impact they have on the spiritual development of their children-without nagging them. Encourage parents to think about their daily lives as their daily faith example for their children. Many parents today recognize their influence on their children-encourage them to exercise that influence for good.
Finally, build a new mentality together. With parents, you and your pastors, leaders, volunteers, and congregation have a platform on which you can construct something to shelter kids for a lifetime: their personal relationship with Jesus. cm
Tracy Carpenter is a children’s pastor and the chief creative officer for Kidsworld Studios, Inc., (kidsworld studios.com). She’s a writer and has been involved in children’s ministry for 15 years.