Helping Parents Nurture Faith

The content of this post is drawn from a short paper I wrote for a graduate studies subject I completed last year (2019). I hope it contains some helpful thoughts and suggestions.

Helping parents nurture their children in faith is vitally important aspect of children’s ministry.  Partnering with parents to form faith in children involves leveraging an arena of faith influence equivalent to, or greater than, that of church-based programming.  Providing parents with vision, training and resources to engage with their children in faith-related conversions, devotional activities, faith rituals and traditions, and service is both a wise use of ministry time and effort, and fertile soil in which to sow. With an appropriate awareness of the related opportunities and challenges, children’s ministry leaders can significantly broaden the scope and effectiveness of their ministries by partnering with the home.

This paper discusses the children’s ministry dimension of helping parents to nurture faith in their children, examining aims, benefits and challenges.  Practical suggestions are provided for the development of this ministry dimension in a church setting.

Aims

Helping parents nurture their children in faith is a vitally important aspect of children’s ministry.  There is substantial research attesting to the significance of the practice of faith in the home for the faith formation of children[1], together with strong Biblical support (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:1-9).[2]  In Bruner’s words,

The home is the primary context of our spiritual formation – for better or worse. God wired us for flesh-and-blood relationships with a mom, a dad, a spouse, a child, and others who profoundly shape our perception and experience of faith – whether they intend to or not.’[3]

The aim of this ministry dimension is to grow parents in their understanding of their spiritual role; affirm them in sharing faith with their children; and provide resources and practical support to them for faith life in and through the home. 

Benefits

Partnering with parents to form faith in children involves leveraging an arena of faith influence equivalent to, or greater than, that of church-based programming.[4]  In comparison to church ministry leaders and program volunteers, parents have more time, opportunity and influence through which to “impress” faith upon their children. 

The deliberate efforts of a lay-level parent, who only brings a passionate love for Jesus and a passionate desire to pass that love on to their children, can eclipse the most sophisticated efforts of the best seminary-trained professional a church can find.[5] 

Moreover, because faith formation is ultimately a relational endeavour, with faith “more caught than taught”[6], a home of Christian practice is a powerful “crucible” for the spiritual growth of children.

It is precisely among our most intimate and abiding relationships that the character of our spiritual life is not only shaped but seriously tested and revealed for what it is.[7] 

Providing parents with vision, training and resources to engage with their children in faith-related conversions, devotional activities, faith rituals and traditions, and service[8] is then both a wise use of ministry time and effort, and fertile soil in which to sow.

The fruitfulness of church-based programming is also enhanced through partnering with the home.  As Kehrwald explains, children and young people are spiritually formed in “systems”, with those of their families being of primary significance.  If the church is not working in partnership with parents, there is a very real danger that our efforts in age-specific ministry will be ‘undone unconsciously by the family system’.[9]

Partnering with parents also extends the reach of church ministry.  Not all children of the church will become regularly involved with its age-specific programming, or engage with it to the same extent. Active recognition and support of the home as “domestic church” expands both the scope and influence of children’s ministry.[10]

Challenges

Developing an effective ministry of support to parents requires an awareness of the following associated challenges:

  1. While faith-at-home is a significant factor in child faith formation, the practice of faith in the home does not guarantee an adult faith life.  Care must be taken not to give parents the impression that the faith formation of their children is their sole responsibility, or that their faithfulness will always be rewarded through the responses of their children.
  2. Not all children associated with a church’s ministry may have parents of active faith. 
  3. Parents who are “single in the faith” (i.e. their spouse/partner or ex-spouse/partner is a non-Christian) may require particular support and care.
  4. It should not be assumed that parents have confidence, skills or experience to support faith practice in the home.[11] 
  5. Many households are “time poor”.  These households will be best served by providing easy-to-use resources and building on and around their existing involvements with the church.
  6. It is important to recognise the diversity of family types within the church.  Care must be taken to avoid communicating that ‘there is some abstract norm for the Christian family, whose secret is known and dispensed by the church.’[12]
  7. Merely sending resources home for parental use may not guarantee they are used or used well.  Processes of modelling, encouragement, follow-up and feedback may be necessary.
  8. Not all parents will feel “up to the task” all of the time.  A culture of grace and mercy will be helpful for encouraging parents to “give it a go” and “keep on keeping on”.[13]
  9. Supporting faith life in the home involves encouraging households to practice faith in connection with the wider church community, rather than becoming separate, isolated units of faith.  Parents should be helped to understand the importance of “widening the circle” of faith influence for their children through cross-generational engagement with the wider church community.[14]
  10. Congregations may need to downsize their demands on households to give them time and space to “do faith” together.  Age segregated programming can also work against the goal of bringing parents and children/youth together around matters of faith.
  11. Effective support of parents to pass on faith requires an understanding of the different stages of child development and household life – what is helpful for parents and children will differ according to age and stage.[15]

Some Practical Suggestions

  • Tweak current ministries to add a faith-at-home support or resourcing component e.g. provide “take home” Sunday School or worship-related materials.
  • Leverage existing points of engagement with parents to encourage home faith practice e.g. add a “faith at home moment” to Sunday worship.
  • Provide practical modelling of the basic “how to’s” of home faith life (e.g. rituals and traditions) and promote easy-to-use models and resources for the practice of faith e.g. the FAITH5[16].
  • Help parents to recognise the “ministry of the ordinary”, i.e. the opportunities God provides in the “creases and folds” of daily household life to share and teach the faith.[17]
  • Facilitate parent-to-parent sharing of stories and examples of faith life in the home.[18]
  • Draw upon the traditions and rituals of the church seasons (e.g. Advent/Christmas, Epiphany, Lent/Easter, Pentecost) to engage parents and children together around matters of faith.
  • Utilise child development and faith-related milestones as strategic opportunities to connect with parents and resource them to share the faith with their children.[19]

Conclusion

In conclusion, helping parents to nurture faith at home is a vital and fruitful dimension of children’s ministry.  With an appropriate awareness of the related opportunities and challenges, children’s ministry leaders can significantly broaden the scope and effectiveness of their ministries by partnering with the home.


[1] For instance, see Mark A. Holmen, Building faith at home: Why faith at home must be your church’s #1 priority, Ventura: Regal Books, 2007, pp. 25-27; Kara Powell & Chap Clark, Sticky faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011, pp 23-24; Leif Kehrwald, Families and faith: A Vision and Practice for Parish Leaders, New London: Twenty-Third Publications, 2006, pp. 105-107.

[2] For a discussion of this passage, see Phil Bell, Team up!: The family ministry playbook for partnering with parents, Loveland: Group Publishing, 2015, pp. 46-54.

[3] Kurt D. Bruner, & Steve Stroope, It starts at home: A practical guide to nurturing lifelong faith, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010, p. 17.

[4] Robert Wuthnow, Growing up religious: Christians and Jews on their journeys of faith, Boston: Beacon Press, 1999, pp. xxxi-xxxii.

[5] Tim Kimmel, Connecting church and home: A grace-based partnership, Nashville: Randall House, 2013, p. 11.

[6] David W. Anderson & Paul Hill, Frogs without legs can’t hear: Nurturing disciples in home and congregation, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003, pp. 71-82.

[7] Marjorie Thompson, Family, the forming center: A vision of the role of the family in spiritual formation, Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1996, p. 13.

[8] These are called the “four keys” for nurturing faith by David W. Anderson & Paul Hill, Frogs without legs can’t hear: Nurturing disciples in home and congregation, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003, pp. 96-111.

[9] Leif Kehrwald, Youth ministry and parents: Secrets for a successful partnership, Winona: Saint Mary’s Press, 2004, p. 87.

[10] Marjorie Thompson, Family, the forming center: A vision of the role of the family in spiritual formation, Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1996, pp. 25-29.

[11] Mark A. Holmen, Building faith at home: Why faith at home must be your church’s #1 priority, Ventura: Regal Books, 2007, p. 37.

[12] Marjorie Thompson, Family, the forming center: A vision of the role of the family in spiritual formation, Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1996, p. 27.

[13] Anderson, David W., From the great omission to vibrant faith: The role of the home in renewing the church, Minneapolis: Vibrant Faith Publishing, 2009, pp. 71-85.

[14] Reggie Joiner & Carey Nieuwhof, Parenting beyond your capacity: Connect your family to a wider community, Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010, pp. 57-80.

[15] Leif Kehrwald, Families and faith: A Vision and Practice for Parish Leaders, New London: Twenty-Third Publications, 2006, pp. 26.

[16] Rich Melheim, Holding your family together: 5 simple steps to help bring your family closer to God and each other, Ventura: Regal Books, 2013.

[17] Mike Justice, It takes a family to raise a youth ministry: developing an effective strategy for serving families, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1998, p. 36.

[18] Pamela J. Erwin, The Family-Powered Church, Loveland: Group Publishing, 2000, pp. 81-88.

[19] Phil Bell, Team up!: The family ministry playbook for partnering with parents, Loveland: Group Publishing, 2015, pp. 113-126.

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