Most parents in churches do believe, at least on the surface, that their children’s existence will persist past this life. The problem is that this tenet of faith doesn’t always make its way into their daily practices of prioritizing household commitments. Parents mentally accept the fact that their children will exist forever, but they do not live in light of this truth. When this truth works its way into daily life, parents begin to weigh their family’s priorities and schedules in light of the gospel. Until that happens and until the gospel drives even our scheduling priorities, families will continue to default to the values of the culture around them, and parents will remain too busy to engage in intentional discipleship with their children.
So how can your ministry help parents rethink their family’s priorities in light of the gospel?
A critical look at your own ministry calendar is probably the best place to start.
::CROWDED CALENDARS AND THE MATTER OF TIME::
The cluttered family calendars that hang from refrigerator doors in members’ homes mimic patterns that are modeled each week in the church bulletin. Both tend to be excessively busy—and sometimes because of a similar fixation on visible success. Parents seek success for their children in the form of higher S.A.T. scores or athletic victories; church leaders add more activities to make members happier and to improve the numbers on their annual church profiles. The idolatry is the same; only the paperwork is different.
When ministry calendars become too crowded, weekly Bible studies and committee meetings and youth groups compete with seasonal activities and monthly events. Eventually, families become so busy doing church that no time remains for them to be the church in their homes and communities. If your church is planning for parents to disciple children, your ministry may need to do less so that parents have time to do more. After all, if active church members invest half their evenings each week (or more) enabling their church’s fixation on programs, where will they find the time to form the spiritual lives of their children? And when will they mentor children whose parents aren’t yet believers?
Not only parents but also church ministries must be challenged to reevaluate every time commitment in light of God’s plan for the homes of his people. Over time, family ministry may require you to streamline, combine, and even cut back activities so that families become free to join God’s mission in their households and communities.
This matter of time is highly significant—but scheduling priorities are not the sole roadblock in parents’ practices of discipleship. Around half of the parents in a recent survey identified themselves as too busy to engage in practices of family discipleship—a significant proportion, to be sure, but not enough to explain the full number of parents who have disengaged from their children’s spiritual formation. The second and far more significant problem has to do with the expectations and equipping that parents receive through their churches.
::WHAT PARENTS AREN’T GETTING AT CHURCH::
When asked whether their churches had helped them to develop any plans for their children’s spiritual growth, nearly sixty percent of churched parents disagreed or strongly disagreed, while an additional seventeen percent somewhat disagreed. Only seven percent could state without any reservation that their churches had helped them to plan for spiritual growth in their children’s lives. When asked if any church leader had ever contacted them to help them to engage actively in their children’s spiritual development, more than two-thirds of parents could not recall a single instance in the past twelve months.
Other recent studies have replicated these patterns: In a survey of churched parents with children under the age of thirteen, eighty-one percent said that no church leader had ever spoken to them about how parents could be involved in their children’s spiritual development. A study of student ministry values and practices revealed that, when youth ministers’ efforts and expenditures were analyzed, almost nothing was being done to equip parents to engage spiritually with their teenagers. Despite placing family ministry fourth on their lists of ministry priorities, youth ministers spent only three percent of their time and less than three percent of their budgets in any ministry that related to parents and families.
All of this, despite clear evidence that most parents in churches want to be equipped to guide their children’s spiritual development. When asked about their family’s most pressing needs, more than three-fourths (77 percent) of church-involved moms and dads specifically mentioned their desire to know how better to help their children to grow spiritually. The same percentage of parents also wanted to be better equipped to teach Christian values in their homes. And so, the issue seems to be not so much that parents have resigned their role as primary disciple-makers. It isn’t even that parents don’t desire to disciple their children. In most cases, the problem is that churches are neither expecting nor equipping parents to disciple their children.
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For more research on this topic, click here.