The Way We Look at Parents

It’s a sad-but-true reality—we often see parents primarily as our church volunteers, not the faith-forming leaders of their families and homes. As we have begun to dig into the rich work of exploring and nurturing the faith life of parents through our Lilly-sponsored “Christian Parenting and Caregiving” research grant, we’ve had the unique opportunity to engage parents through a new lens—“parenting as a spiritual process.”  

When we first interviewed churches to invite them to become part of our 4th-Soil Parenting Project, we asked them: “What are you currently doing to nurture the faith life of parents?”  Sadly, several churches told us their approach to serving parents was, simply, to ask them to serve as volunteers in their children’s and youth ministry. Friends, that is not the same as nurturing the faith life of parents.  

What if parenting is much more than a season of life or an important job? What if parenting is actually a spiritual calling, established by God as a primary way to deeply impact the faith-formation of an emerging generation? What if the developmental arc of the 20+ years that parents spend as Christian adults actively parenting children at home is God’s invitation to draw them into a deeper relationship with him? (And, BELIEVE ME, we all know our parenting doesn’t end after 20 years—it simply changes!)  

So then, what ARE the unique spiritual practices of parenting, and how can we help parents lean in to them and their relationship to God in new ways? Our 4th-Soil Parenting Project has given us the time and space to dig into a dozen ideas that we believe are on God’s “spiritual menu” of possibilities for people who are parenting. Things like… 

  • How do I care for my kids the way God cares for me?
  • How do I “let go” and recognize that this child belongs to God?
  • What does it mean for me to wait on God to move in the life of my child?
  • How can I learn to listen to God by listening to the needs and longings of my children?
  • What am I learning about how to forgive?
  • How can I follow God’s lead in my parental decision making? 
  • How is my daily life with my family helping me notice how God is active and moving in our lives?
  • How are God’s promises real for me and my children despite the challenges of sin in my life?  
  • How can I parent with my eyes focused on God and my child, and not on my parenting peers?
  • How can our home, whatever it looks like, become a place where God is present? 
  • Who “owns” my time and my children’s time? 

We all love the “shake your head” parenting memes and jokes that fill our online and in-person spaces. The challenges of parenting are true, and we need ways to embrace the humor of those challenges. But maybe our humor is a way to keep us from asking ourselves deeper questions about what God is really doing IN US through the crazy experiences that accompany caring for children. What if we became missional about walking alongside parents in their struggle to engage their faith in God, who is alive and with them daily? What if we saw and treated them as the important people that they are—the people who ACTUALLY hold the faith of the next generation in their hands and hearts. Parents represent the heart of Jesus with their children—and God has established this pattern long ago, all the way back to the first parents in history.   

And God gives us a reminder about his intentions that don’t change from age to age. “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7).

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.


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