I was born in 1995, so while I was not alive when it aired originally, I was a big fan of the show Full House. In the summer months my older sister, brother, and I would spend time with my grandparents – and on rainy days if the Cubs or Braves weren’t on, we watched Full House on ABC Family.
One of the biggest tropes in Full House was the heart-to-heart: a moment in almost every episode where either Danny (the dad) or Uncles Joey & Jesse would sit down with one of the kids to resolve conflict or talk things out.
Unfortunately like most things on T.V., this is an idealized way of life. There are certainly times where heart-to-hearts happen in the classic Bob Saget style, but they probably don’t happen daily, weekly, or even monthly. What is even more unfortunate is that when it comes to having heart-to-hearts about our faith & what God tells us in times of conflict, doubt, and more we often drop the ball.
Research continues to show that parents are the most important mentor and leader in a child’s faith.
Not their pastor, DCE, or youth leader. Conversations about faith, doubts, God working through all things, and more are more impactful when it is from a parent than from a church worker.
That doesn’t mean that pastors, DCEs, or youth leaders aren’t important in the faith lives of young people. It just means that they aren’t the first person a child looks to for an example. Often our programs are designed with this lens, which leads us to difficult questions.
If you’re a pastor, DCE, or congregation leader, are you equipping parents to be that most important person? To be that example? Or are you trying to fill that void – a void that isn’t yours to fill?
If you’re a parent, grandparent, or guardian, are you taking necessary steps to talk to your children about God, what His Word says, etc.? Are you taking the time to listen to your child’s fears & concerns and then pointing them back to Christ?
Those are hard questions to ask! You might not like the answers. Sharing the faith, answering & asking questions, and passing on the faith – It’s a TOUGH task.
Joshua and his generation, after saying that their houses would serve the Lord, didn’t pass on their faith to their children & grandchildren. Judges 2:10 tells us of the next generation and that they did not know God. Their struggle with doing a noble, but tough task of sharing their faith leads Israel to need Judges to get them out of trouble.
Sharing our faith is scary, uncomfortable, and awkward at times. Letting kids know that we have failed, that we have struggled, that we don’t know the answers, is hard. Taking the time to educate ourselves in God’s Word, Lutheran theology and how to understand in the context of our lives is difficult and takes time. Thankfully God has showed us time and time again, and ultimately on the cross, that scary, uncomfortable, and awkward tasks are often worth it.
Where might we start?
First, transition some of your traditionally youth focused programs to better equip the whole family.
In my context, we have tweaked some classic programs to be more about families than children. Our confirmation program has more parent involvement. They work through readings and questions with their confirmands. The confirmand then comes to class and goes through the same readings and questions with pastor and I. We made the switch 3 years ago and have already seen & heard from families about how it has impacted them. One parent let me know that they often look for extra ways to apply what they’re going through in Confirmation to their life that week.
Second, equip parents with tools to carry what they see and hear at church into the rest of the week.
Due to the pandemic we have been able to think outside the box. We’re moving away from traditional Sunday School, instead moving to online programming for the whole family. It is geared for children and includes discussion questions to do through the week. We are also developing a video podcast to go over topics & subjects parents may struggle to talk to their kids about that will also provide them with questions to discuss with each other & their children.
If what we are doing in my context isn’t something that would work in yours – that is okay! Think of ways you can get information in the hands of parents! Communicate with parents about what topics you are covering in youth ministry. If you can, provide them with discussion questions for at home & encourage them with resources.
Finally, if you are a parent, grandparent, or guardian reading this, know your role is important but God will equip you for this task.
One big obstacle for many in having faith conversations is the fear of failure. My wife and I use the phrase “Progress is Progress” when encouraging each other. For example: “Did you work out today?” “No, but I did go on a nice long walk.” “Oh, nice! Progress is Progress.”
You might not feel successful when you share your faith with your child for the first time. It might feel awkward. You might feel you are stumbling over your words too much. You might think that you aren’t speaking coherently. Our gift of faith in Jesus and this gift given to our young people in Baptism is the most important thing we can share, even when it’s difficult.
God will speak through you as you share with your child. Progress is progress. Look for key opportunities like upcoming times of transition. There might even be instances where faith conversations happen naturally! This could be when they are heartbroken, disappointed, scared, angry at a friend, grieving, overjoyed, have sinned, and so much more.
You can build on progress as you go, in adding time in God’s Word and prayer together. LCMS research found that when parents build on spiritual practices like prayer and Bible study and faith conversations in the home the impact in retaining young people in the faith is multiplied, not just added, with each one. Progress isn’t always a straight line as life shifts. It won’t just happen; it will take time. We will fall short and need forgiveness. It takes practice and being willing to step into having that awkward conversation or moment to start.
God put parents first in the faith development order in Deut. 6. That hasn’t changed over the last 4000ish years. Jesus was taken to the Temple by Mary & Joseph. With His help, you can do it. God designed the vocation of parenthood to help pass along saving faith is Jesus.
Study after study shows us that youth who have parents that talk about faith issues, and churches that help foster that relationship, are more likely to value their faith into adult hood. When it comes to faith conversations, whether you’re a parent, church leader, or church worker – you can do it. Pull up a seat, sit down on the edge of the bed like Bob Saget, and remember: God is with you (Matthew 28:20), and He is NEVER against you (Romans 8:31).