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The Old Mission is the New Mission

New Mission
Faith Formation

By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director

The other day, in the locker room of my health club, the TV was tuned to a cable financial show and I heard a business expert say that the future of investing is going to look a lot like the past—find companies that have good cash flow, are making money, and have a stable growth plan. This “back to the future” mindset applies to our ministry world, too. The future of faith formation is going to look a whole lot like its past.

A century ago, our society was rural, our churches were small, adolescence was a two-year apprenticeship to prepare for adult responsibilities, the church was merely an extension of the family, and parents knew it was their job to teach their kids about an everyday relationship with God.

Today, our society is…

  • urban/suburban,
  • our churches are larger-but-shrinking,
  • adolescence is more like a 15-year grind,
  • the church automatically separates families into age-based learning groups, and
  • parents most often expect professionals or trained laymen to teach their kids about God.

These changes seem like they’ve crept up on us. But from a historical perspective, it’s an eye-blink cultural revolution. And one of the side effects brought on by all this rapid change has had a devastating impact in the lives of our young people.

It’s called parent disconnection.

A Damaging Rift
Today’s young people not only don’t work side by side with their parents as they did a century ago, the time and space for actual conversation has been pruned and pruned again.

  • In a recent study commissioned by Cadbury Heroes, more than half of parents survey say they feel “distant” from their children and teens—almost half place the blame on their kids’ addiction to their phone.
  • In an average week, parents spend just five hours in face-to-face conversations with their kids—that’s about 45 minutes a day. And kids living in blended families say they spend “no time at all” in meaningful conversation with their stepdads during the week. In just the last four decades, American young people have lost 10 to 12 hours of parent-time a week.
  • Desperate to connect, a quarter of parents in the survey say they’ve attempted to learn and use slang phrases in their conversations with their kids.
  • In a Barna study, only 10 percent of all teenagers live in a home where faith issues are discussed daily.

These are just snippet descriptions of a problem so large it’s daunting to name it…

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The Answer Is Presence
In one of the largest research projects ever commissioned to study the root causes of teenagers’ high-risk behaviors, physicians at the Mayo Clinic concluded, “The most effective way to protect young people from unhealthy or dangerous behaviors is for parents to be involved in their lives.” Mayo researchers asked more than 90,000 junior and senior highers to fill out anonymous questionnaires, then followed up with more than 12,000 face-to-face interviews. Questions targeted key risk areas: mental and emotional distress, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual involvement, and violent behavior. In nearly every case, teenagers who reported a strong connection with their parents were less likely to engage in these behaviors.

In another key finding, psychologist Emmy Werner studied kids who managed to overcome poor, alcoholic, or abusive home environments. One of the top reasons some kids succeeded: “Their parents were consistently involved in their lives.”

Our primary function as ministry leaders in this age of postmodern, post-pandemic disconnection is to equip, train, and encourage parents to have a faith-nurturing presence in their kids’ lives. It doesn’t matter whether kids live in a one- or two-parent home. Every time we help parents connect with their kids, especially in a faith-building context, we’re building a bulwark against the cultural wrecking ball that threatens kids’ fundamental health.

The Old Mission Is the New Mission
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was promoted with posters that read: “The mission is a man.” Our driving passion must be: “The mission is a parent-kid relationship seasoned by faith-conversations.”

Here at Vibrant Faith we’ve launched into a four-year concentrated effort to research effective new strategies for parent impact on their kids’ faith—we’ll be developing new training, coaching cohorts, and resources that get at this challenge in innovative and transformational ways. In our own old-is-new-again pursuit of this core passion, we’re reclaiming Four Keys that unlock the viral transmission of faith from parents to kids:

  1. Rituals and traditions,
  2. Caring conversations-talking about faith at home,
  3. Anything devotional they do together, and
  4. Serving together.

We’re looking forward to diving into the deep end with you! If you have your own set of Keys, or have something to add to our four, please drop your input into the Comments section or email me at: rlawrence@vibrantfaith.org.

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Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He created and hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus

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