Obstacles of Forming Faith: What We’re Learning

Forming faith

It’s maybe the oldest “shop talk” topic in ministry—Why can’t or won’t parents take responsibility for forming faith in their children? 

And, always threaded into this conversation, our common conclusion—This is why church and parachurch ministry leaders simply have to step in and teach the next generation of children and youth about Jesus.   

As our Vibrant Faith team moves deeper into the first year of our Fourth-Soil Parenting Project, working with 20 churches under the umbrella of a “Christian Parenting and Caregiving” grant funded by the Lilly Endowment, we’re working with our VF Coaches to encourage our partner ministry teams to “name the obstacles” in front of them. Inside church culture, we’ve held onto many myths about what matters for forming faith in the next generation of believers. Many church systems (both programmatic and economic) are built on these myths, which have driven children’s ministry and youth ministry for decades. For example…

  • “Parents are looking to the church to teach their kids.” 
  • “Parents don’t know enough Bible to talk with their kids about Jesus.” 
  • “Parents are too busy and overwhelmed by everyday life to pay attention to their kids’ faith formation.”

So, as a first step, we’re guiding our Fourth-Soil Parenting Project churches to name the perceived obstacles preventing them from helping parents claim their God-given role the primary formers or faith in the lives of their children. In order to move past the myths, we have to name them first. We’ll be leading these church teams in a process that helps them surface deeply-entrenched obstacles, as they see them. We’ll be exploring how they experience these challenges playing out in their churches.  

Over the next several posts, I’ll be sharing insights from these conversations about well-known-but-not-tackled problems in the relationship between parents and their churches. The research confirming that parents matter most in forming faith in their children has been around since the late ’80s (Search Institute’s Effective Christian Education study) and has been magnified by multiple other research projects (including The National Study of Youth and Religion). However, as we all know, churches have had a difficult time adapting to and embracing this reality. Why is that?  

Here’s a tip-of-the-hat to what’s coming… In our initial explorations we’ve already observed that the “obstacles” we’ve named are all INTRINSIC to the Christian church’s embedded assumptions about faith-formation among young people, rather than EXTRINSIC to the world and the culture that we live in. We’ll be taking a close look at that in the coming weeks.    

 We need to expose the free-floating, unconscious myths and truisms dominating our discipling ministries. We need to name all the reasons, obstacles, and problems parents actually experience as they live into their given God-role as the primary faith formers of their children. Just as we have to drag our anxieties into the light before we can move past them, we have to separate the wheat from the chaff if we hope to make real progress in better equipping parents for their calling.

So we begin by offering a starting place for conversations with parents in your church—first, name the ASSETS.  

  • How ARE your parents paying attention to the spiritual lives of their children?  
  • What ARE they doing to share their faith in Jesus with their kids?  
  • What IS already happening at home that is sacred in the mundane?   


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