Home-Centered Youth Ministry
group magazine: May-June, 1998
GROUP MAGAZINE - May-June 1998
Home-Centered Youth Ministry
How to support and train parents to take back their traditional responsibility as primary faith-shapers in their kids’ lives—from the just-released book The Family-Friendly Church
If you’re not partnering with homes, you risk producing kids who have a weak faith.
Few parents deliberately choose to give up their parental responsibilities—that’s just the way the culture has changed.
By Ben Freudenburg with Rick Lawrence
Over the years, church youth workers have adopted a consumer-driven mentality toward faith development in young people. We tend to see ourselves as one more "provider of goods" for harried families: "Let’s see, I need to drop off the laundry at the dry cleaners, pick up some entertainment for tonight at Blockbuster, get a quick oil change at Grease Monkey, then drop off the kids at church for a little faith development."
The ’90s church has become just another service provider in our consumer culture—and the service we provide is faith development.
The trouble is, we can never provide this service as well as families can. Over and over, studies show that parents are the #1 influencer of faith in kids’ lives—bar none. Of the 20 "external assets" (forces outside of kids) that Search Institute has identified as crucial to teenagers’ positive emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual development, half involve parents.
It’s clear that parents are the key faith developers for their children—they can have either a positive or negative impact on their kids’ faith growth. But either way, they’ll have the biggest impact. You can have strong faith-shaping programs for kids at church, but if you’re not partnering with homes, you risk producing kids who have a weak faith.
The No-Parenting Zone
Some churches have made the shift toward supporting homes in their role as faith developers. But they’re up against a culture that has stepped in to take over responsibilities parents have deliberately—or by default—given away. For example...
1. Why do so many schools now provide breakfast for kids?
In an ironic twist, some elementary schools now invite retired senior citizens to join children for breakfast at school. Why? The kids seem "as hungry for the attention of caring adults as they are for the food," says Jennifer Cox-Johnson, a special education paraprofessional at Sibley Elementary School in Northfield, Minnesota.
2. Why do so many teachers complain that they spend so much time as kids’ surrogate parents that they don’t have adequate time to teach?
Recently, the American Federation of Teachers targeted one cause of teachers’ struggles at school: "Discipline problems both cause and are caused by a growing gap between school and home." And that gap is forcing teachers into responsibilities that once were parents’ domain.
For example, check out the article titles in a recent issue of Educational Leadership magazine: "Confronting Dating Violence," "Peer Helpers: Encouraging Kids to Confide," "Linking Schools With Youth and Family Centers," "Reaching Out to Grieving Students," and "Becoming Heroes: Teachers Can Help Abused Children." More and more teachers are feeling the pressure to deal with kids’ big life concerns—and "Oh, by the way, if you have any time and emotional energy left over, go ahead and teach a little."
3. Who’s teaching our kids how to play baseball—parents or Little League coaches?
If you’re 35 years or older, you probably learned how to play sports at a neighborhood sandlot or someone’s backyard. Parents—yours or a neighborhood friend’s—probably helped teach you the skills you needed to play. Now, as communities have lost their neighborhood connections, parents have turned to organized programs as surrogate trainers.
4. Who’s the more influential teacher in the home—parents or TV?
American teenagers watch an average of three hours of television each day—that adds up to almost 15,000 sexual jokes, innuendoes, and other references every year. Fewer than 170 of these references deal with "responsible sexual behavior," according to University of New Mexico researcher Victor Strasburger.
5. Why, after we’ve worked so hard to offer high-quality programs in our churches, do more than half the adults in a recent study of my denomination fail to have an "integrated faith"?
For some reason, many parents have—intentionally or not—abdicated their roles as their children’s teachers and shapers. They expect the church to teach their children the faith; Little Leagues, camps, and YMCAs to teach them how to play sports; schools to put breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner on the table while teaching academic and life skills; TV to be the family entertainer as it teaches cultural norms and moral values; and so on.
Few parents deliberately choose to give up their parental responsibilities—that’s just the way the culture has changed. They’ve been reduced to a minor role in their kids’ development—the captain of the ship that simply ferries kids from one learning environment to another. Are the parents in your church any different? How many of them have learned from the church that their role in the spiritual development of their children is ferryboat captain?
Parents have so much to give their children—basketball skills, cooking skills, money skills, and faith skills. What a head start they could provide for their children if they were better trained for their roles as teachers. They’ll surely need help. In a Yankelovich Partners study of American adults...
•42 percent say their parents never taught them to balance a checkbook;
•25 percent say their parents never taught them to save and invest; and
•23 percent say their parents never taught them to create a budget.
Training Parents as Ministers
I believe we can help train faith-shaping parents if we’ll...
1. Transform traditional youth and children’s ministry activities into experiential parent-training events on communication.
For example, gather parents for a communication training session that covers active listening, feedback tips, receiving and transponding, and so on. Then have parents try out these skills on a rafting trip with their young people. You could transform servant activities by asking parents to teach their kids life skills such as painting, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, and lawn care. I’m confident can you can transform almost any youth activity into an opportunity for parents to nurture faith in their kids.
2. Encourage families to go grocery shopping together—call it a Food Scavenger Hunt.
Parents can teach their kids how to budget, what foods to buy, how to shop wisely, and how to be good stewards of family finances. They’ll also have a blast doing it!
3. Equip families to transform family vacations into journeys of faith.
Show them how to turn a typical sightseeing trip into an opportunity to discover truths about the people and places they experience.
For example, on the way to Florida, stop in Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the Civil Rights Monument and the church where Martin Luther King Jr. pastored. Ask a senior citizen about how the civil rights movement started on local buses—you’ll get an earful if you’re ready to listen. That night, rent the movie Mississippi Burning to see Hollywood’s version of civil rights history. Then travel to Selma, following the path of the historic civil rights march. In Selma, drive over the bridge where Bloody Sunday occurred. Find a local shop owner who participated in the march and ask what it was like. Go out to dinner—not at a McDonald’s or Denny’s, but at a locally owned restaurant—and talk about what you experienced and learned. Then talk about God’s view of prejudice and what he was doing during the civil rights movement. You’ll still get to Florida, but I’m convinced the kids will remember Montgomery and Selma.
Other journey ideas:
•Visit an old graveyard. Look at the gravestones to discover who’s buried there and how they died. Find favorite Bible passages on gravestones and do rubbings; then gather together to read the passages and discuss how they relate to life and death. Read the Easter account in Scripture, and ask family members to each share their own feelings about death.
•Go on a scavenger hunt in a museum. For example, challenge kids to find five famous people and be ready to report on who they are and what they did. Or ask them to find the oldest artifact in the museum and discover its purpose. Or have kids find museum employees and ask them to tell about their favorite artifact and then take kids to see it.
•Turn meal times into events. Challenge family members to find restaurants that serve food no one in the family has ever tried.
4. Encourage whole families to do mission trips together.
For example, you could plan a summer servant event to reach out to native Alaskan Indians by presenting a vacation Bible school program. Train kids and parents to work in a mission environment, and help them to use the gifts God’s given them as teachers, recreation leaders, craft instructors, and counselors. Prepare them for the challenges of communal living, and teach them about Alaskan culture, geography, and customs.
You’ll plunge families into situations that demand conflict resolution, forgiveness, and teamwork. And you’ll help them create a memory they’ll never forget. It’ll take them out of a Sunday Christian mentality and bring a whole new meaning to their day-to-day pursuit of Christian living. (We’ve learned it’s best to mix families and groups of teenagers together on the event—it takes some pressure off families whose relationships might get strained.)
If we want homes to be the center of faith formation, it’s critical we train parents for their role. Training is such a formal-sounding word, but it can be as simple as giving parents opportunities to practice giving to their kids. ˙
Adapted from The Family-Friendly Church, copyright © 1998 Ben Freudenburg with Rick Lawrence. Published by Group Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.
Life Skills Training
There are organizations besides the church that are ready to help train parents to teach their kids life skills. The American Automobile Association is now offering a driver-training kit to parents called "Teaching Your Teens to Drive: A Partnership for Survival." The $26.95 kit includes an illustrated handbook, detailed parent guide, and a video.
Shifting Your Paradigm
Don’t believe the myth that your job is to work yourself out of a job. The truth is that the more volunteers and parents you recruit and train, the more support you’ll need to give them. You’ll use your hands-on skills less and use your managerial skills more. And that takes time.