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 Dean. We 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.
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.
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.
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.