In truth, we’ve turned this whole Christian parenting thing into a “how to” industry—tips-and-tricks focused on discipline and strategies for helping our children get ahead. The fact is, this is far from what God intends for us. Parenting is a sacred calling, even though that’s a new thought for most parents.
Here’s a reminder about an urgent truth that’s foundational, not rhetorical: Parents are the primary faith influencers in the lives of their children, so their own relationship with God is the lifeline for the next generation of the church. This will be the focus of our work with 20 churches from across the U.S. over the next four years.
As we plan this adventure with church leaders and parents, we’ve developed a detailed “manifesto” that captures what our Vibrant Faith team believes about Christian parenting. This is the next installment of several posts that focus on our research work on the call of God to parenting. I’m including another set of guiding convictions for this work, paired with pondering questions that will fuel your practice…
- We believe we are all called by God, whether or not we recognize it. We believe that as parents discover and embrace their parental callings, they become the way that God invites their children into relationship. Parents’ callings as parents form in them the image of Christ, and reinforce their individual and communal identities.
Questions: In what ways have the parents in your church been invited to consider their role as a calling? How might you include parenting as a spotlighted aspect of faith formation in your congregation?
- We believe the process of being formed in the likeness of Jesus takes on a variety of cultural expressions, and is widely diverse, but the “flow” of influence from parents to children in their faith development crosses all of these boundaries. This is God’s process for all children.
Questions: If you have diverse ethnic groups represented in your church, how do you see their parent-to-child faith influence lived out differently? Why would God choose to move through parents as a primary faith-forming influence?
- Referencing Dr. Christian Smith’s research, we believe that a lifelong, embedded faith in God is primarily influenced by two factors: 1) Parents’ horizontal relational intimacy with their children primarily experienced as authentic and close, and 2) parents’ vertical relational intimacy with God primarily experienced as authentic, every-day, and core to their identity. These truths apply to people “who are like” parents in a child’s life, as well. Parents set a “glass ceiling” of religious commitment above which their children rarely rise.
Questions: In your own life, how have you seen this horizontal/vertical dynamic fueling your deepening relationship with God? In your congregation, what specific ways are you helping parents build experience and strength in both their horizontal relationships with their children and their vertical relationship with God?
- Research tells us that parents who talk about their faith with their children is associated with the importance children place on faith and with more frequent religious service attendance. Because of this, we believe that parents who are confident and equipped in a conversational approach to their faith increases the odds of those children having the highest level of religious importance 10 years later.
Questions: In what ways are you giving parents practical opportunities to talk about their faith, not just listen to someone else talk about it? What are the hurdles you’ll need to overcome on your way to helping parents feel comfortable talking about their faith?
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.