What We’re Learning: Parents’ Unique Spiritual Longings


Parenting tips, strategies, and philosophies are well-resourced in our culture—through books, seminars, social media, and online resources. And in the contemporary church we’ve always been focused on the needs, developmental pathways, and spiritual formation of children. But, in many ways, we are just waking up to the needs, developmental pathways, and spiritual formation of the most significant forming influences in kids’ lives—parents. While parenting styles are well-spotlighted, parenting faith-growth has remained under the radar. 

As we seek to help churches engage the faith-life of parents through Vibrant Faith’s Fourth-Soil Parenting Project, we’re targeting their SPECIFIC spiritual longings. This work has prompted us to listen for the realities and issues feeding into parents’ commitment to growing disciples while they grow as disciples themselves.

 And here’s a big “AHA” we’re working hard to help churches lean into: The very PROCESS of parenting can be one of life’s greatest faith-shaping experiences. Parents’ faith in Jesus Christ CAN BE profoundly transformed through their insights and experiences while parenting.  Those parenting insights and experiences can funnel them toward new ways to be with God…

  • To discover who God made and called them to be, 
  • To claim or re-organize their relationship with God, 
  • To steward and care for God’s world, and above all…
  • To love the gifts God has entrusted to their care in their children. 

Our Big Idea
One big idea we’re developing provides parents with regular SPIRITUAL PARENTING content, through their church’s communication channels. Our Fourth-Soil churches can stream these short, simple, creative prompts to parents on an almost-daily basis. To feed this stream, we’ve  identified 12 themes that touch on parents’ “pain points,” then embedded ideas and practices to help them grow spiritually and connect to Jesus while they’re in the thick of parenting. The idea is to help them come alive to what God is seeking to do IN THEM through the process of parenting children.  

It’s critical to note that these 12 themes are markedly different from the kinds of problem-based topics that feed tips and expert advise for parents—discipline tips, dealing with technology, bullying, navigating financial pressures, or helping your child with peer pressure.  Yes, there’s plenty of interest in solving parenting-related problems, but underneath all those problems are the parent’s own spiritual longings. Unless we engage those, we can’t actually help parents effectively navigate their surface issues.

The 12 Themes Tied to Spiritual Transformation
So here are the 12 themes that we hope will open parents to ongoing recognition of the transforming spiritual experience that literally has been dropped in their laps.  

  1. Calling: Parenting is a process—we’re partnering with God for the sake of the children God created and gave us as gift to tend and nurture. Though parenting is one of their callings, our research has discovered that “calling” is a foreign thought to most parents. But an understanding that they are called by God into their role as parents changes EVERYTHING about how they view the parenting process and the children that God has placed in their care.  
  2. Comparison: One of our great spiritual challenges is grappling with how we measure up to all the “others” in our life. Parenting brings its own set of comparisons and measuring sticks.  Learning to let God do the measuring is one of our most significant spiritual challenges.  
  3. Decisions/Discernment: How do I make decisions as parent? What spiritual criteria do we follow in our family? 
  4. Embracing My Story: We KNOW that we live (often quite unconsciously) out of our own life stories. We know that our brains and our bodies carry the joys and the traumas of our own development with us into adult life. Knowing and embracing our own stories is a critical task for parents as they build their capacity to help their children love Jesus.   
  5. Forgiveness: Learning how to love as Jesus loved brings transformational impact, and forgiveness is central to that.  
  6. Home Is Holy: We don’t often recognize the presence of God in the midst of our everyday life—especially in the midst of our sometimes messy and chaotic homes.  
  7. Letting Go: Our children do not belong to us—they belong to God. Repeat again and again. 
  8. Listening: To see and experience and take in the people around us is our greatest gift to them. That’s especially true when it comes to our children. How well do we listen to them? How do we learn to listen to God? 
  9. Noticing God’s Action: We tend to compartmentalize our attentiveness to God by separating our “religious life” from our “everyday life.” But it’s in our everyday experiences that we truly live out our trusting relationship with Jesus. To do that, parents must learn to notice God’s movement and activity all around them. 
  10. Time: Learning how to embrace the moment in the relentless pace of our days, rather than fighting the limits of time, is an essential spiritual undertaking. Acknowledging that our days belong to God is a foundational spiritual understanding. Parents are also stewarding their children’s time.  
  11. Waiting: Christians often talk about learning to wait on God, and accepting God’s timing. This is a daily experience for people who are watching children grow, sometimes quite differently than their expectations. Learning to wait with intentionality puts us expectantly in God’s hands.  
  12. Mental Health: How do we grow more able to carry the wounds we’ve experienced in our body and soul as we share a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ with the people we love most. Parents need to be able to lament—to live in and through their suffering as they help their children see the impact of God’s redemptive movement in a broken world.   

A generation of adult educational theory has taught us that adult learning is “JUST IN TIME.” When we consider how to engage parents, our strategies need to land comfortably in their everyday rhythms. They need spiritual prompting that fits their relational ecosystem. And they need Scriptural connections that are the MOST meaningful and resonant for them in the moment. We describe this as “familying the faith.” It’s also the name of our new podcast—check it out HERE.  


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.



If you liked this articles, check out the following resources that help parents become the primary influencers of their children’s faith: 
lives of meaning and purpose

Practical Tools for Raising Faithful Kids           Familying the Faith.


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