What We’re Learning: 4th-Soil Parenting

At Vibrant Faith we’re grateful to begin 2023 with a big announcement… 

Thanks to a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, we’ll be leading a learning community of 20 churches from across the U.S. geographical, denominational, cultural, and theological spectrum to plant new ways to fuel parents’ faith impact in their kids’ lives. With our expert team of Vibrant Faith Coaches, we’ll engage and encourage Christian parents for three years, culminating in a national “4th-Soil Parenting” training event in year four. 

The metaphor at the core of our 4th-Soil Parenting project references Jesus’ Parable of the Soils: “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand” (Matthew 13:3-9). Spiritual growth is generative for God and a mystery for us, but He’s invited us to partner in enriching the growth environment. That’s the point of His parable—that some growth environments are an obstacle to deepening discipleship, and some promote it. 

We’ll use this space to give you real-time updates and insights into what these churches are trying and learning—what is clicking with parents and what isn’t.

At the front end of our planning process, as we prepared to begin this work with parents through their churches, we knew that it was important to state what we as an organization believe about the process of Christian parenting. Join us over the next several posts of this research report in considering the call to parenting. We’ve added questions by our guiding convictions for you to wonder about, and hopefully take into your own ministry in the new year.  

We Believe…

That parenting is primarily a spiritual adventure—and has impact on both for the parent’s relationships with God, and for their children’s relationships with God.

  1. We believe that vibrant faith in Jesus Christ lived out in community (churches, families, and those who are “like family”) “transforms everything.” This is true experientially, and it’s confirmed by research, especially Dr. Christian Smith’s research reported in Handing Down the Faith.Think about how your church approaches your faith formation or discipling ministries. Is “familying” at the center? 
  2. Reflecting on the needs of people in today’s world (influenced by profound busyness and distraction), we believe that increasing parents’ capacity to be present to God, and to be present to others, is profoundly formative and leads to faithful influence on the lives of their children. Family life has been profoundly changed by the culture we live in. So…
    Does your process of forming faith in Jesus recognize and engage parents in ways that are life-giving for them?
  3. We believe that faith in Jesus is primarily formed through trusted relationships—most often, but not always, in our homes.
    How much of your ministry energy is focused on helping your people experience God in their day-to-day life?

That’s enough to consider at the start of your 2023. We hope you’ll continue to join us on this journey of developing the 4th Soil environment for growth—the place where seeds bear much fruit. Much more to come!

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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