When communicating to parents and grandparents about passing on the Christian faith, I stress that this is a matter of “get to”, not “got to”. We pass on the faith because we love our children and young people enough that we want them to know the much greater love of God, personally. We pass on the faith because it is our joy to be co-partners with God in the shaping of a life for eternity. We pass on the faith because we desire that our lives make a difference, and the most wonderful difference we can make is to see another grow in the grace of Christ.
I have recently begun reading Rachel Turner’s book It takes a church to raise a parent: Creating a culture where parenting for faith can flourish (The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2018). Turner suggests a number of “get to” (my words) messages we can communicate to parents. I have used some of her words and added some of my own thoughts.
- God has given parents “a place of significant influence in the spiritual lives of their children, and that place cannot be replicated or replaced.” They have been uniquely positioned by God as instruments of spiritual blessing. Turner highlights two elements of this uniqueness. Firstly, “influence happens through personal connection“, and parents have a stronger and longer personal connection with their children, including their teenagers, than anyone else. Secondly, God is real in the everyday, and works through the everyday to relate to God’s people. “Our relationships with God are woven into those everyday boring bits of life“, and only parents are present in those moments.
- Because of the unique positioning of parents, they are ultimately more effective in passing on faith than church professionals and church programming. What parents do “casually and imperfectly” trumps anything the church can offer.
- God is not looking for perfect parents, he is seeking faithful ones. God works through the challenges and ups-and-downs or parenting to reach into the lives of our children and young people. “God knows what parenting is like” and has designed parents to be able to do it even when they are not functioning at their best.
- “What children need most is to see what a real relationship with God looks likes up close in the everyday.” The struggles, hardships, failures and failings of our lives are the crucible God uses to bring real faith for real life. As our children experience the struggles of life with us, they learn how faith responds and how God responds. When they see us fail and confess, and receive our forgiveness for their own failures, they learn of the grace of God in ways that matter. “Children need to be invited into the reality of the everyday” and only parents can “give them that invitation“.
- Parents are the experts on their particular children, and know best how to respond to them and relate to them. This also means that parenting in faith will look different from family to family. There is no “one way” to share faith and values. Turner says to parents, “Comparison steals joy. Don’t compare your unique path to others. Delight in yours.“
- Though parents may not themselves recognise it, they are “already doing loads of useful and significant spiritual discipling” by living as people of faith from day to day. Faith is more caught than taught through informal, habitual, seemingly mundane words and actions over time.
- Relationship with God is a journey, and like any meaningful journey, will have ups and downs. Parents “don’t have to go fast“, they “just have to be moving forward“.
- Children are on a journey too. Some days they may exhibit strong faith, other days we may question their relationship with God. That is relatively normal. Parents can rest easy in God’s faithfulness to them and to their children from day to day, and from year to year.
- There are no guarantees in Christian parenting. Our children are their own people, and we cannot control their spiritual lives. Our calling is to be faithful – to parent them to the best of our ability – and leave the rest in God’s hands.
- In passing on the faith, parents are not alone. The wider Christian community is their God-given partner in faith formation. While church staff and church programs are not a substitute for Christian parenting, they can be a wonderfully helpful and supportive resource for parents.
I wonder, what might you add?