3 Things I Learned: Children’s Spirituality Summit Keynote
By Kevin Johnson
Rachel Turner and the Keynote Address from the Children’s Spirituality Summit and Intergenerate Conference 2021
Rachel Turner is the author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Parent. She is a writer, public speaker, and the Parenting for Faith pioneer for the Bible Reading Fellowship in the United Kingdom. (That’s another nice thing about virtual conferences: We can travel the globe, learning from leaders without leaving our homes.) Rachel’s discussion began with this insightful question: “How can churches become centers for empowering parents to raise God-connected children?”
1. Home is where the center is, not the church
Parents spend a larger portion of life with their children than even the most effective church leader. On average, parents spend around 2,500 hours per year with their children if they live with them. Included in these hours are journeys spent to and from activities, mornings together, and many meals together.
The church spends much less time with children per year. Even if they are the most active children in church life, the time difference between what the church has and what parents have is massive. Therefore, the church must shift its way of thinking about equipping parents to raise children in the faith. The home should be at the center of faith development. The children’s leaders should see their roles as equipping and providing ample opportunities in the home for families to collectively grow in all aspects of their faith. Church leaders should provide activities and encourage ongoing faith conversations during the times families are away from the church.
This shift changes how the church sees staff job descriptions. It will also change curriculum and resources. The paradigm shift of making the home central in faith development is huge.
2. Disclaimer needed
Along with that shift comes the need for a parental disclaimer. Parents may be insecure about their ability for help their children’s faith development. They may feel guilty and worry about failing because they are already stretched too thin. Some adults carry baggage related to their own childhood experiences of church. Leaders must be prepared to address these guilt reflexes when equipping parents for faith development at home.
Parents may feel that it is the church’s job to do faith formation. This shift includes how parents understand the role of the church. Leaders must beware of potential unexpected negative responses. Leaders must also be truth-tellers and give parents the confidence to embrace the life into which God has called them.
As a church, ask how you can encourage parents to grow in faith and become faith formers, equip parents to incorporate faith practices into family life at home, and engage parents in education and formation, as well as the whole family in faith-forming experiences and programs. Remember that the goal is to equip, engage, and grow parents.
3. Parents and leaders are not equal
Author Rachel Turner reminds us that a two-oared rowboat being paddled by only a parent or only a church leader is not optimal. The rowboat symbolizes the faith formation of a child or young person, with one oar being the parent, while the other oar is the church’s ministry. If one person rows alone, the boat will continue in circles. The example suggests that by partnering and rowing together, the discipleship of the child or young person moves forward. This symbolism of collective rowing suggests that there is equality, a partnership that is a 50/50 split between church leaders and parents. This simply isn’t true. Partnership is hard and requires shared responsibility and shared authority. But we aren’t partners with parents. Church leaders are the supportive community around parents and families. The more church leaders think we are equal partners with parents, the more difficult our relationships with them will become.
Church leaders need to be communities of support, equipping and honoring parents and reinforcing what they are doing in the home. We must be an empowering community for children by loving and enabling them to understand their part of the body of Christ. This means helping them to become involved in leading, participating on church teams and outreach events. We must incorporate children in key leadership roles in the life of the church so that they are seen as key to the worship experience. Plug in entire families into the life of worship as well. This supports the wider congregation to become a vital part of the children’s lives, which will enable a multigenerational church.
Church leaders need to be communities of support, equipping and honoring parents and reinforcing what they are doing in the home. We must be an empowering community for children by loving and enabling them to understand their part of the body of Christ.
Church leaders must listen to parents and truly help them feel understood. The church must demonstrate the same values and goals for family faith development that are held by parents. Church leaders should “hold the hand and walk in between parent and child,” allowing the church to help guide and navigate families in their faith development. What is taught and learned by children during groups (i.e., Sunday school, small groups, etc.) should get communicated by the child to the parent. Church leaders should be proactive in identifying and offering parents what they need even before they realize they need it. This gives parents the confidence to help parent for faith. Plug parents into key moments of faith development in the life of their children by including them in major components of ministry. Be consistent in listening to parents and families for feedback. Affirm and recognize families when they become healthy vital pieces in the life of the church.
It is powerful when a child comes to faith and hits a new milestone in faith development. Can you imagine how a parent would feel to be a part of that? Effective leadership in children’s ministry and pastoral staff teams turn children toward their parents. Shift the focus on families participating at home in activities together.
Several examples of family “homework” that empowers parents and identifies the home as the focal point in faith development could include:
- Reading the Bible as a family and encouraging children to read the Bible regularly
- Eating together as a family
- Praying together as a family (more than just before meals and bedtime)
- Serving people in need as a family and supporting service activities initiated by children
- Providing moral instruction
- Having family conversations about faith
- Ritualizing important family moments and milestone experiences throughout the year
- Talking about faith, religious issues, including difficult questions and doubts
- Celebrating holidays and church year seasons (liturgical seasons) at home
- Participating regularly in Sunday worship as a family, and being actively involved in the faith community throughout the week
After all, children spend much more time at home than in church. Home is the perfect place for parenting for faith to occur.
Rev. Kevin Johnson is the Director, Children’s Ministries for Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship at Discipleship Ministries. Kevin’s hero Fred Rogers suggests that we, “listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.” This quote defines Rev. Kev’s approach to ministry. Kevin, an ordained elder of the Kentucky Annual Conference, has over fifteen years of ministry experience in which he has thought of the children first. Prior to ministry, Kevin worked with children in the hospital setting and in group homes for emotionally and physically abused children.