by Stephen Ingram
We have moved into a new age in student ministry.  Working with parents—long seen in youth ministry as a nice addition to our programs—now might need to become the central way we understand our students’ spirituality and the future of the church. The need to shift to a new age is emphasized in studies like the National Study of Youth and Religion and the brilliant conclusions drawn in Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy DeanWe as youth pastors must realize that we are no longer able to view parent ministry as optional.  I have been working on a new understanding of parent ministry recently.  In my talks with parents, the most prevalent problem being raised is that parents do not realize how important their spirituality is in regards to the development of their children’s spirituality.  It was not a lack of desire or fear as much as a lack of knowing the importance their spirituality plays.
After many conversations with different parents I came to the conclusion that they first had to understand why they needed to be intentional in their parenting before they would actually do anything about it.  With this understanding I am proposing four ways to help your students’ parents understand not only the importance of their roles, but also some ways that they can more effectively engage their youth.  This is, as always, not an exhaustive list but provides a great start to promoting intentionally spiritual parenting in your church.

Not Talking About God Says a Lot!

One of the first concepts that we have to get parents to understand is that their children’s faith is going to look a lot like their own.  More specifically it is going to look a lot more like the spirituality that the youth perceive from their parents.  The NSYR says that a significant number (in most cases over 70%) of the youth’s spirituality comes from their parents.  This means that if a parent is actively spiritual, then their child’s spirituality will likely reflect it.  The inverse is also true.  If the parent is nominally spiritual or has a “closeted” spirituality, then their child’s spirituality will likely be nominal or closeted. So I teach parents that not talking about God says a lot!  It is so important for parents to understand that their responsibility as Christian parents is to take ownership of their role as primary spiritual influence in their child’s life—not to outsource their child’s faith to youth groups, Young Life and youth conferences.  
Breakout Questions for Parents
1. Who were, consciously, the most influential people on your spiritual journey as a teenager?
2. Who were, subconsciously, the most influential people on your spiritual journey as a teenager?
3. How do you see your parents’ spirituality reflected in your own life today?
4. What are the specific things you want for your child to grow up and embody as a Christian adult?

When the Best Answer is a Good Question

One of the most intimidating aspects of being an intentionally spiritual parent is the fear of not having the right answer of, even worse, no answer at all.  In working with teenagers, I find that they are not looking for an easy answer but are looking for someone who will wrestle through the questions with them.  In many cases, I find that this means helping the youth refine their questions to ask even better ones that get to the heart of what they are feeling.  In Andy Root’s book Relationships Unfiltered, we learn that place sharing and questioning with teenagers through intense times of is one of the best gifts that adults can give our children.  Simply being in the struggle of the question with their kids can be a hundred times better than coming to the rescue with a quick-fix answer.
Breakout Questions for Parents
1. How would your conversations with your children look different if you did not feel the need to always be the answer-giver and intentionally helped them through their questions, offering some of your own?
2. Describe a time in your own spiritual life when the answer was not evident and you had to struggle through the questions and uncertainty.  Did the uncertainty feel scary or freeing? 
3. Describe a time when you were on a difficult journey with God.  Who were the important people who journeyed with you?  Why were they important?

We Are Either Living or We Are Dying

Youth are looking for something to die for, but even more they are looking for something to live for!  This is my one-line synopsis of Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Practicing Passion.  Everyone gives his/her life to something.  It could be success and money, acceptance and the desire to be needed, or personal passions and desires. If parents have such a heavy influence over their child’s faith, then shouldn’t parents give them a faith that is passionate and worth their time (read: life)?  We must challenge the parents not to adopt a passive faith, but rather an active faith that is alive and full of awe and wonder.  This sort of faith has less to do with what we say than with what we do!  Not only will this type of faith closely follow Jesus’ teachings but will be one that sticks with the students and will begin to change the church and the world.
Breakout Questions for Parents
1. What were some things you remember from your teenage years that caused feelings of joy, passion, and courage?  Why do you think these things fostered these feelings?
2. As an adult, do you have these same awe-inspiring, passionate, change-the-world feelings?  What are they about now?  Do you act on them? Do your children know what they are and can see them acted upon?

Hitting the Target Sometimes Means Missing the Mark

Finally, it is important to help parents understand that the spirituality their children will develop will ultimately belong to their children. In many ways it will look very familiar, but it will ultimately have nuances that are different than the parents.  In order for the youth to have a growing and vibrant faith, we must help the parents understand that a faith that looks different from their own is a sign of growth and God working individually in the student’s life.  The most important goal of Intentionally Spiritual Parenting is not that the youth will have an identical faith to their parents but will develop a unique and intentional faith that they can call their own.
Breakout Questions for Parents
1. Do you remember differing with your parent on a major issue of spiritual importance?  What was the reaction to this difference? How did that come across to you then?
2. What are some ways you can continue to engage your child and continue a spiritual dialogue when the two of you do not see eye to eye?
Related Articles:
The National Study of Youth and Religion in a Nutshell
Almost Christian in a Nutshell
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for more than 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at