Did I mention yet that I am a nerd? I spent a good portion of my Saturday sitting in Caribou doing research. I am currently reading A Faith of Their Own by Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I am reading it partially because I am more than a little interested in this type of research and its results, and partially because I want to try to synthesize some of this information into something useable for those in youth ministry.
A repeated theme in this research is the importance of parents. We get what we are. (This is a little unfair to say because I am not a parent, but the saying itself holds true) Parents are consistently the best predictors of the spiritual life of young people. In Soul Searching (116), Smith states it this way, “Family socialization generally seems to work when it comes to teenagers’ religious faith and practice. Furthermore, the quality of the relationships that parents build with their teenagers, and their own choices about marriage relationships, education, and occupations—insofar as they have choices in these areas—also create family contexts that again form the outcome of their teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives.” In A Faith of Their Own, this theme is reiterated about religious behavior and beliefs for students in all levels of religious engagement. In short, if parents attend church on a regular basis and integrate thier faith into their daily lives, children do. If parents don’t, neither do their children. And if parents are sporadic, nominal or culturally Christian, so are their children.
One thing is becoming more and more obvious to me: as youth workers we must minister to parents. I wonder how many of our ministries do this at all? How many do it well? What does it take to build this kind of ministry?
I think ministering to families is one of the largest challenges facing the youth worker today. Families are incredibly hard to minister to as a whole. One has to consider all ages, all maturity levels, and all education levels. Each family has a unique pattern of communication. Each family has a set of rules, assumptions, values, dysfunctions and functions. And each family is composed of individuals working as a whole. It is daunting to think of ministering to a family, and, specifically to parents. I love listening to parents about their children and vice versa, and while listening is incredibly valuable, it is not, in and of itself, the kind of ministry that is going to help build and equip families to grow in their faith in Christ.
The real question is, of course: what is?