Words by Kerry Provost
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon 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: 4-7
Could there be a clearer message when it comes to sharing our faith with our children? This passage is a building block for how we raise our children; it provides biblical direction for living out God’s Word in our homes. Let’s consider what this passage means in our context today. Is this happening?
Are parents ready because they themselves love God with all their heart, soul and strength? Are parents willing to show vulnerability when it comes to sharing their faith and answering tough questions? Are parents able to recognize opportunities and spend the necessary time teaching their kids God’s Word?
More and more we are hearing about churches that are moving away from children and youth ministry, believing that parents will take responsibility for the spiritual formation of their kids. However, churches should reconsider this and even more, should be prioritizing these ministries. Let’s consider.
Ready: Prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action. Willingly disposed. Immediately available. – Webster’s Dictionary
The fact is, we live in a time and culture where Christian concepts and values are not common or the standard. Relying on families for biblical teaching only works when the parents are themselves devoted to following Christ. For children from unchurched or agnostic family backgrounds, their attempts to discuss faith can be met with lack of knowledge, indifference, or conflicting views.
Relying on families for biblical teaching only works when the parents are themselves devoted to following Christ.
Willing: Ready and eager. Inclined or favourably disposed. – Webster’s Dictionary
Consider this. John’s family has been going to church for the past three years. His mom really enjoys the sense of community and thinks the worship team is amazing. John’s dad loves how his wife is feeling part of something and that the kids have a safe, positive place to meet with friends. Both parents believe in God and enjoy Sunday morning services. They think the pastor is doing a great job of communicating how God loves them and how we should live a life based on what the Bible says.
John attends the mid-week youth group and comes home with some pretty big questions. Mom and Dad are always a little wary of what he’s going to come out with next. It’s not that they aren’t happy their son is learning and asking tough questions, the issue is they don’t want to be without an answer, or even worse, give him a wrong answer. John is asking great questions, but these conversations are complicated and take a long time.
So many parents are not willing to put themselves out there when it comes to questions that are difficult. They lack solid answers and in some cases are wrestling with the questions themselves. Faith development can only be supported at home if the parents are willing to put themselves out there; sometimes this means unwelcome transparency or risk.
Able: Having sufficient power, skill or resources to do something. – Webster’s Dictionary
You may recall an earlier article from Awana about why we hold back as parents when it comes to sharing the gospel with our kids, discipling them and pouring into their faith journey. In that article we addressed the issue of time. There is simply not enough of it.
Every family has a different reason for why it’s difficult to rely on them as the only or primary source of faith teaching and encouragement. So often we hear from pastors that their congregation is burnt out from the variety of programs and events they have been trying to keep up with. They haven’t seen impact, and something has got to go.
Absolutely, programming is not the solution—specifically, any program void of biblical foundation and relational discipleship. Consider if what you are doing is focused on the core principles of a healthy ministry. We will write more about these core principles this coming year, but for now just consider this one piece.
Partnership with parents
Consider instituting a policy that all kids being dropped off and picked up need to have a parent sign them in. This can be tricky for the senior high age group but shouldn’t be a problem for younger kids. This gives a chance for leaders to meet face to face with parents, say hi and start a relationship. You will be more successful in your endeavour to equip parents if you have relationship with them. You can also consider having a leader greeting kids as they get out of cars. This might help you meet some of those senior high parents as well.
Genuine, open invitations
Have an open and genuine invitation to come on Sunday. Give out an info sheet for the night outlining what’s being discussed. Or invite parents to a parent discussion time. If there is a place for parents to hang out, participate, or provide input, many will do so.
You could create a blog to share with parents what the kids are learning or even what questions they are asking. Maybe you have a writer or blogger in your church. If this seems overwhelming, maybe just send a semi-regular email to parents.
Parallel program for equipping
Whatever avenue you are using to reach parents (blog, email, parent discussion nights/times) should include a focus on what the kids are learning. Equip the parents with the verses that are being shared and why they are meaningful. Give them two questions to use as conversation starters with their kids. Maybe include some common questions and consider what the Bible has to say. Another idea would be to host an Alpha course for parents on the same night as the kids’ programs or host a Building Faith at Home family day at your church.
You have the opportunity to equip families and encourage a Deuteronomy 6 environment at home. Don’t give up aspects of your children and youth ministry because you assume parents are already doing it or it’s primarily their responsibility.
In many instances, youth will leave the church by the end of high school. In the 1980’s and 90’s, for every two kids raised in the evangelical tradition who attended church weekly, one has left the Church as an adult. Most of these have also dropped their Christian affiliation (Hemorrhaging Faith, 2011, p. 5). Consider partnering with parents to reach their kids with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be biblical, be relational be a parent-partner.