There’s an interesting statistic that keeps popping up again and again. I’ve seen it many times over the last eighteen years that I’ve been involved in ministry to children and youth. It goes something like this: When people who became Christians as children or teenagers are asked to cite the most significant influence on them becoming a Christian, the answer overwhelmingly given is, “My parents.” Not peers or children’s or youth leaders. Parents.
Here’s how those same statistics popped up yet again in the most recent National Church Life Survey (2011). Fifty-nine percent of respondents cited their mother as the most significant influence in their coming to faith. Thirty-eight percent cited their fathers, while twenty-three and eighteen percent cited youth and children’s leaders respectively. Peers or friends sit in between at nineteen percent.
While there’s a lot we could say about these statistics, I just want us to notice one thing:
a parent has a significant impact on their child coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – often more so than their child’s youth and children’s leaders.
The importance of parents in the faith life of their children is a Biblical idea. Passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Ps 78:2-7, Ephesians 6:4 and 1 Thess 2:11-12 paint a picture where parents are the primary spiritual-caregivers of their offspring, teaching the word of God to their children and instructing them how to live as God’s people.
At St George North, we know the importance of parents teaching their children what it means to love and follow Jesus. We know that parents are the primary spiritual-caregivers of their children. Our youth and children’s ministries are complements to the ministry parents do at home as they disciple their children. (As an aside, our Take Home and Yr 7 & 8 Sunday ministries are both expressions of this principle).
Yet, if we are anything like a lot of other churches, we struggle to put this into practice. Timothy Paul Jones writes about this in his book Family Ministry Field Guide: how your church can equip parents to make disciples. As part of his book-writing project he consulted research into family discipleship patterns from 2003. What he found was this:
1) The majority of Christians strongly believed that parents (in particular the father) were responsible for the spiritual growth of their children.
2) The majority of Christian parents did not read the Bible, pray or engage in other forms of Christian input on most days during the average week.
3) The reasons given for not discipling children varied, but busyness and feeling ill-equipped were among the most common.
So - if parents teaching their children what it means to love and follow Jesus – parent discipleship – is a big deal, and research shows many Christians struggle to do it, it begs the question: How are we going at parent discipleship at St George North?
Here are just a few questions it would be good for us to think about together as a church:
1) Parents, how often do you read the Bible and pray with your children each week?
2) Parents, are you seeking opportunities for other positive Christian input during the week?
3) Christian Dads, how much input are you having in the discipleship of your children?
4) Parents, do you feel equipped to do these things? If not, what things do you find hard? What things do you have questions about? What would make it easier?
5) Families, are there things that regularly get in the way of discipleship (eg, sport training 5 nights a week)? What can you do to manage these?
6) Youth and Children, do you ask your parents questions about living as a Christian? Do you value their input and take time to listen to them (even when it’s awkward and embarrassing!)? Is there something in particular that you wish you could talk to them about but don’t know how?
7) How often do parents and youth and children’s leaders talk? Is there a flow of information that means leaders are complementing the primary ministry happening at home or are the two happening independently?
8) Children’s and youth leaders, do you understand your role as a complement to the primary ministry in the home? How is that reflected in your ministry practice? How do you encourage the children or youth you lead to honour and value the input of a Christian parent?
That should get the conversation started for now. Over the next few weeks, let’s keep this conversation on the boil. Take the time to talk to Brendan (Youth Minister) or Sarah (Children’s Minister) about your questions on a Sunday morning, or give us a call to chat, or arrange to catch up for a coffee. Parents and leaders – catch up over morning tea or supper, have lunch together and enjoy the partnership you have in ministering to our young people. Parents - talk to other families about how they are going discipling their children, share the joys and the difficulties. Children and young people – love your parents, love learning about Jesus from them and ask that awkward question you’ve been putting off!