Help parents care about their children’s spiritual growth so they cultivate faith in families.
Growing up on a farm, Joani Schultz 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 interests.
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 18.
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 those times.
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. A great tool from Children’s Ministry Magazine is the Parenting Christian Kids newsletter. The editors provide practical ideas for parents and news on the latest media with what parents need to know. You can send it to parents as is or customize it. Check out how Faith Church in Anderson, Indiana, is using their Parenting Christian Kids newsletter on their church’s website.
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 discussions.
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 and goodness.