What We’re Learning: Setting Unrealistic Expectations

(EDITOR’S NOTE: At Vibrant Faith we’ve partnered with our team of ministry leadership coaches to name the obstacles and challenges the church has put in the way of a FAMILYING approach to the formation of faith. Check out a previous blog that sets the stage for this conversation with Obstacle #1: https://vibrant-faith-catalyst.mn.co/posts/what-were-learning-wrong-assumptions-about-parents. In the coming weeks we’ll look at each of these objections individually, with ideas on how to overcome them.)

Obstacle #2: Churches and ministry leaders often suggest activities for faith-sharing at home that are not reflective of their families’ daily lives. 

Maybe you’ve had parents ask for recommendations for family devotions, but I’m guessing it’s uncommon. Communication patterns have radically changed over the last two decades, along with the “norms” of family rhythms. We need to stop making parents feel guilty that their spiritual and devotional daily lives don’t follow the same patterns as previous generations. A LOT has happened (can you say smartphones and the necessity of two-income families, for example?) that has morphed families’ daily lives in significant ways. Most manage their relationships, get their news, and enjoy their entertainment on that phone in their pocket or purse. Many rarely gather at the same time and place for a meal. They are in the car a lot.  None of these realities mean that God is not present in their every day, or that your families with children at home do not care about raising them to love Jesus.  

I hear ministry leaders complaining about the realities of parent’s scheduled lives all the time.  However, I don’t often hear much empathy for what it’s like to live those lives and bring up kids in this hurried and unsettled world, often without the kinds of financial and emotional support systems that were enjoyed in previous generations.  

If we continue to give our parents “help” in forms that don’t fit with their current way of living, they won’t be able to take the first steps to USE those helps. I’m always amazed by the many family devotions and Bible lessons that are centered around a craft. Just why?   When we give people tools that are a mismatch for their normal rhythms and patterns, we leave them feeling guilty and disconnected from the church and, ultimately, from their faith.  

Of course, people can and do learn new habits, and can often change some of their ways of doing family life together. But those changes most-often follow parental spiritual awakenings and commitments, not because they’ve been given a book of family devotions or a take-home paper from Sunday School.

We also use churchy language that can be equally intimidating…  

When we urge imperatives such as “Family Devotions” or “Family Faith Practices” we signal that there is a “THING” that qualifies as a “proper family devotion.” Is it Scripture and prayer? Does prayer alone count? Must it involve words alone, or do pictures or nature or music count? And what if we can’t sit around a table to do it? What if we don’t have the bandwidth or the resources to make a devotion happen, even if we’re given what are labeled “simple” tools? When we talk about “Family Faith Practices” it sounds like a much higher bar than “We pray together” or “we remind each other of a story from the Bible.” 

Instead, we need to lean into the patterns of the normal family life (or lives) that is familiar to most people in our congregation, most of the time. Why not encourage family check-ins—which many families already do—by adding a God question: “Where did you see Jesus moving in your life today?” or “When did you sense the presence of God today?” or “What did you see or experience today that reminded you of God’s love for you?“ Encourage them to say or text or post a short Scripture passage or word for the week. Ask them to notice and tell about what they are thankful for. Help your parents to feel GREAT if a conversation happens once or twice a week. Be sure to encourage and affirm any small steps, because that will help them take another. 

We come back again and again to what life looked like for all those children of Israel in the wilderness, and the physical stress and profound uncertainties of their daily lives. Think of all the Christian resources that weren’t available them! And yet, Moses knew how and what they could and should do to share their faith in the God who brought them out of Egypt: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and blind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8).

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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