Faith Nurture, Family Ministry
Church, Your Families Need Help (And Adding More Programs Isn’t the Answer)
August 20, 2019
Updated August 21, 2019
5 comments 6434 views
Recently I facilitated a workshop on family faith formation for a group of parents whose children ranged in age from newborns through young adults. We began with a reading of Deuteronomy 6:5-9—our call from God to form the faith of our children:
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 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Having spent the previous week speaking with pastors from across North America who described the families in their congregations as “busy,” “exhausted,” “overwhelmed,” and “over committed,” I followed that Scripture reading with what I hoped were words of encouragement:
Faith is formed in the ordinary and the extraordinary days of our lives. It’s like breathing; it doesn’t require a degree in theology, just intentionality.
For the rest of our time together we talked about how to weave faith-forming conversations into and out of daily family rhythms so they become a natural part of who we are, like breathing.
After the workshop I was approached by the parent of a young child. “I didn’t grow up in a home where the Bible was read or where anyone prayed,” she said. “We’re trying to teach our son about God but we don’t even know where to begin. We figured out Christmas—we made a nativity scene and read a Bible story—but we stumbled through Easter. And what are we supposed to do on all the other days? I have no idea how to do this.”
And then it hit me: we were assuming that families know how to breathe.
“Many Gen X and Millennial parents did not grow up in families where they experienced religious traditions and practices. . . They lack fluency with the Christian faith or the confidence to share it with their children,” says John Roberto in Families at the Center of Faith Formation.
This reality also applies to parents in your congregation who were raised in homes with believing parents. Many of today’s parents lack the experience, knowledge, and confidence to tell God’s story and engage in faith practices with their children.
Church, we have a problem. And adding more programs isn’t the answer.
“The families in my church do not need more activities to do, more ducks to juggle. Nor do I.” says Austin Crenshaw Shelley (When Doing More Isn't Enough). “We need help setting aside all the doing that we clutch so tightly, so that our hands can be open to receive the gifts God has in store. . . . We need time to be. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and sing and daydream and stargaze. Time to love our neighbors. Time to seek justice and mercy. Time to draw close to a God who revealed God’s own name, which turns out not to have anything to do with doing, but everything to do with being: I Am Who I Am.”
We need to help parents breathe.
In our congregations, children and teens are being raised by the following, and more:
Each family also has its own schedule and rhythms. Some are able to attend Sunday-morning programming, while for others midweek ministry works best. Some eat dinner together daily; others are quite busy during the week but set aside Saturday morning to catch up as a family.
As a result, some congregations are grappling with lack of attendance in programs that used to be filled to capacity with kids. Some church leaders are frustrated that a only handful of people are reading their family-focused social media posts, while others are surprised by the success of faith formation experiments they try.
“It’s not that people don’t value the content [of church programs],” says Marc Hoogstad, pastor at Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church in Trenton, Ontario, “it’s that they value family time and aren’t able to commit to long-term attendance at things. We need to meet people where they are at.”
We can do that as a church community by
In addition to meeting parents where they are, our churches can encourage and equip families by weaving the teaching of faith practices into congregational life and doing so in a way that blesses households of all shapes and sizes. Such an approach requires planning, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Some examples:
Family faith is formed at home, but it’s also formed in church community life where we have opportunities to include, encourage, and equip families. In community we show by our actions that families are part of a bigger tribe—God’s family, their church—and that the body of Christ is with them every step of the way.
And with every breath they take.
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Karen, I want to read this post again and again because there is so much that resonates with me. I think you hit the nail on the head with the need for less programs and more "weaving of faith-forming conversations in our daily family rhythms." This is huge. And sometimes the "how" is the hardest part. For this reason, your tangible ideas, including repeatable faith practices, ideas for community engagement, and more, are so, so great.
Thank you so much!
Great headline and article. I agree that the concrete ideas are helpful. I plan to send this to our congregation and ask them for thoughts and ideas.
One thing that we do is give our kids "jobs" at church as soon as possible. They are song leaders, sound techs, accompanists, children's ministries aides (and leaders when old enough and capable). That is one way to make the church their own.
Thanks for sharing the ways you are including and engaging children at your church, Mavis. That's great!
One of the biggest aspects that we can help families focus on, is simply praying together. I'm finding the "family altar" has pretty much disappeared from our rhythms for the most part. There are lots of reasons why... so restoring the family altar - a time of sharing the word, worship and praying together as a family is a key piece for the family faith formation. Praying together on a family level and on a congregation level, seems to be an area that has been under-emphasized in the reformed tradition, at least in our more recent history.
Cheryl Saks has written several helpful books on prayer to help restore praying together...
Thanks, Bev. Prayer is so important. I will check those resources out!
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