When we gather with other ministry leaders, the conversations inevitably gravitate toward a common complaint—we disapprove of the way most parents allocate their time as a family. We’re frustrated by what parents prioritize over attendance at church or church programing.
With our 4th-Soil Parenting Project, Vibrant Faith is helping churches focus on the faith life of parents so they can partner with the Spirit to nurture faith in their children. To do this, we have to name long-standing obstacles to a home-centered, church- supported approach to ministry. And the next obstacle in line is…
Obstacle 3: Many families are time-starved, always functioning on the go.
Yes. Google “percentage of families who eat dinner together” and the facts are sobering—just 20-30 percent of the time. That stings, because research from Harvard and many other sources show clear support for the value of a family gathered at the dinner table. How, we wonder, can parents acquiesce so often to an ungathered table?
No matter how frustrated we are by “the facts on the ground,” shaming will never motivate parents into prioritizing their time the way we want them to. So maybe we embrace a more strategic and humble response when we consider how they’re engaging their kids. Maybe we reconsider our expectations and reorient our help around their already-established family rhythms and patterns. This is what we’re learning. If family Bible-study is unrealistic, maybe car-ride conversation prompts will resonate. If family meals happen infrequently, maybe a family text thread with prompts for story-sharing will have traction.
We need to adopt faith-forming expectations that reflect people’s real lives. If the church is tacitly asking parents to change how they function as a family to engage their children with faith in Jesus, we’re missing the mark. Many families are uber-busy because that’s what economic survival looks like for them. And yes, some people’s financial priorities are also not what followers of Jesus would affirm. But most families operate under small financial margins.
Instead, let’s help families claim, affirm, and live out a Deuteronomy 6 way of living. Moses didn’t encourage the children of Israel to sit around the table and do Bible crafts. Instead, he encouraged them have conversations “on the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7). They had to adopt a “manna” life style when it came to taking care of one another. What would it look like to help parents talk about their faith as they are literally “on the way.” Help parents and grandparents to learn to talk about their faith in the natural rhythms of their family lIfe. I know a family that just stops their conversation to pray when they come across either joy or sorrow in the midst of their day. And family celebrations are great opportunities for prayer and conversation about God!
As you discover the everyday rhythms in the lives of your people, and help them lean into and express their faith through them, you’ll be amazed at how parents and kids embrace faith practices and priorities. You’ll be surprised at the ways that parents re-organize their lives and find TIME for growing in and sharing their faith within the rhythms of their daily lives. And isn’t God already there with them?
Psalm 145:4: “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts …”
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.