A blog dropped into my inbox this week with a lead-off question: “Why is it so hard to engage parents?” The blogger followed that with several really good answers and tips for doing things differently, including…
- We don’t communicate about our programs well or often enough.
- We EXPECT their participation.
- We don’t take their busy lives into account.
- We don’t build enough of a relationship to get them involved.
These are true and great insights… As long as you believe the focus of parents’ faith should be on US and the success of our ministry. I know, that sounds pretty harsh. But so much about how the church seeks to engage parents is not about parents OR their actual life with Jesus. As we prepare for our Vibrant Faith work over the next few years, focusing on engaging the spiritual lives of parents for the sake of the spiritual lives of their children, our questions are different:
- Whose job IS it to pay attention to the faith lives of parents?
- Is it the Youth or Children’s Department?
- Is it the pastor?
- Who is currently attending to their spiritual needs?
And here’s an urgent truth that’s so important that we can no longer treat it rhetorically… If parents are the primary faith influencers in the lives of their children, their own relationship with God is the lifeline for the next generation of the church. That’s why we’re making it 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 prepared a statement on 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 or guiding convictions for this work, paired with pondering questions that will fuel your practice…
• We believe that there is a story of the Christian faith, as shared in Scripture, and that parents can learn to live from that narrative and invite their children to live from that narrative. Yes, the Bible matters. Yes, Jesus’ story is central to this journey. But Scripture isn’t a subject to know ABOUT. Scripture matters because it’s a primary catalyst for growing relationally—to grow in our capacity to be present to God and to others. How are you engaging parents with Scripture for the sake of their relationship with God, not merely adding to their storehouse of knowledge?
• We believe that each person has a sacred “Life Story” narrative that must be surfaced, understood, and embraced on the path to a deeper relationship with God. As parents embrace their own stories in relationship to their Creator, they open up a conduit of faith-forming influence in the lives of their children (a truth drawn from Attachment Theory). This is huge. Many parents have not fully embraced an intimate, everyday life in Christ because they are blocked by their own developmental story. When we know and embrace and own our story, we find deeper freedom in our relationship with God. What would it look like for you to help parents engage their own stories?
• We believe the way children come to faith in God is a mutual embracing of God’s action in their lives and their response to that invitation including, in some traditions, parents’ response to that invitation. If parents are “first responders,” that commitment is later confirmed by the child. How do we move our attention from the “events” of our life of faith to the unfolding spiritual process for both parents and children?
• 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 relationships. Parents’ callings as parents form in them the image of Christ, and reinforce their individual and communal identities. Parenting as a calling? How does that change how we think about what the real “jobs” of parenting actually are? How are we helping parents see how God is drawing them closer, in and through their role with their children?
Wow, lots to ponder right here… In two weeks I’ll offer our last set of ideas in our “Theological Visions of Parenting” statement. Stay tuned…
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.