Involving Parents in Faith Formation – Part 2

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1. These approaches to parental involvement were discussed and developed at CYMT’s Preparing Parents for Spiritual Leadership Summit in May 2012.

by Andrew Zirschky
Involving parents in the spiritual growth of their kids is a hot topic in youth ministry these days, and models and perspectives run the gamut from including parents in ministry to seeing parents as the ministry. Their varying approaches range from simple strategies to complex systems, and from organic to programmatic. But not every approach is right for every church. Since faithful ministry is always contextual, there will never be an approach that is right for every congregation.

As you search for ways to involve parents in forming the faith of their kids, here are four more broad approaches worth keeping in mind (click here to read the first four approaches). While there are dozens of variations for each approach, these broad categories are helpful for sorting your options. As you search for the right solution for your community, consider ways to combine various approaches. What follows gives you a starting point and a few handholds for sorting through your options:

Parents as evoking and nurturing faithfulness

This approach begins with the understanding that faith is always a response to God’s presence with us, and so the role of parents in nurturing faith is guiding and evoking the response of young people to the recognition of God in their lives. As an advocate of this approach, Karen Marie Yust (see her book Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives) talks about the need for creating a spiritual world for young people to inhabit. Rather than merely setting aside time to teach faith, parents should consider their lives and relationships with their children as being pervaded by opportunity to make faith come alive. Parents need to help children and youth to link their stories with the story of God, and to name God’s presence in their lives. Parents should be able and willing to listen to children’s questions and wonder with them, rather than shutting down or providing the answers. The role of the faith community is to similarly be a place of exploring our responses to God’s presence and activity. The role of the youth pastor in terms of parent ministry is to help prepare parents to open a spiritual world to their kids.

Families as agents of ministry and faith enacted

Kenda Dean has advocated for a reversal in our understanding of family ministry. “I’d rather talk about ministry that families do, rather than ministry to families,” says Dean. This approach begins with the understanding that usually family ministry comes across as cheesy and ineffective. So instead of trying to get families to talk about faith together, why not view the family as a “unit for ministry, an agent for ministry, rather than an object of ministry,” says Dean. This approach takes the family seriously as an “agent of God’s mission in the world,” by encouraging families to enact their faith together in real and radical ways. One example might be canceling the usual family Caribbean cruise to spend a week as a family in service to others. The role of the youth minister, rather than inventing artificial ways to get parents and kids talking, is to create encouragement, ways and means for families to engage together as units of ministry.

Church as preparers of parents to be the primary ministers

Increasingly, this approach is labeled “family ministry,” and there are dozens of books, resources, models, and methods for this approach that sees the primary responsibility of faith formation as falling on the shoulders of parents. “Parents are the primary disciple makers, the primary catalysts spiritually in the life of a child,” says Jay Strother of Brentwood Baptist Church, who has written on family ministry. “It’s supposed to begin in a home of faith that is fueled by a New Testament community of faith.” In this approach, the church is to provide support and help to parents as they directly minister to their children. This approach takes seriously the data on parent influence on teenage faith, though some implementations of this approach can be susceptible to ignoring the developmental reality that teenagers are largely in a place of detaching from parent faith. Normally, this approach requires significant restructuring of the youth ministry and a revisioning of the purpose of youth ministry from ministering directly to youth to ministering most directly to parents.

Church as cloud of witnesses surrounding parents and youth

This approach understands the limits of parental influence and seeks to arrange the congregation as a web of support around both parents and teenagers. Starting from an understanding of the church as a cloud of witnesses and a lifelong community of faith, those who advocate for this approach emphasize the importance of teenagers having close and supportive intergenerational relationships in the church. “Too many Christian parents live in insecurity and shame over what is perceived as their inability to serve as guides for the spiritual formation of their children,” writes Mike King. “We were not made to parent alone without the help of a community of people committed to being the people of God.”

Veteran youth minister Mark DeVries takes a similar view: “The chances of parents doing more spiritual nurture for their kids when they’re teenagers than when they were younger is pretty slim. So I don’t spend a lot of energy trying to get parents to do more and try harder. We need to be architecting a constellation of relationships around kids so they’ve got six or eight adults—the parent passes on the baton so the kid knows what it’s like to be a part of a lifelong faith community. . . what we want to do is attract kids to what appears to be a more peer-oriented program and use those programs as a doorway to connect with parents and connect kids with other Christian adults.”

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