As a pastor serving in the field of children, youth and family ministry who has sought to partner with parents in the faith formation of their child(ren), I am often saddened to hear parents who feel overwhelmed, inept, and quite frankly guilty about their role in passing on the God story to the next generation.
As a dad who has a 14- and an 11-year-old under my roof, I can assure you that none of us want to go down the parent-guilt road. To complicate matters, if we check our social media feeds any time soon, we find that the media milieu is not making things any easier. (We've all received links to articles with titles like "5 Critical Things You Need to Know Now about Parenting.") A virtual information avalanche is burying parents, myself included. It makes us feel that even our best attempts at raising a child are at least two steps behind.
How many times does a parent lament, “I need a little grace!”
Research in recent years has been less than comforting when considering the priority and practice of all parents in the Christian fold. Various streams of data have suggested that parents are trying to talk about faith in their household. Well, a little bit anyway. Search Institute reported that 12 percent of youth have a regular dialogue with their mom about faith/life issues. The number decreases to 5 percent in talking with dad. The Barna Group says 10 percent.
Now, before you or I are tempted to head down parent-guilt road regarding our own practices, I invite you to consider the metaphor of jazz, and more specifically, consider how you (or the families you serve) might bring solid faith practices and resources that fit your/their own homes and daily lives. I hope this will help you to experience God’s grace over guilt.
I have resolved to do a little more jazz in my life of faith. You may call it grace. When a pastor or leader encourages families/households to explore faith practices, faith dialogues, or read the Bible together, there will surely be dozens of ideas of what that looks like.
Rather than getting stuck on definitions of what the "perfect family" might be or prescribing a step-by-step regimen of family faith practices, consider what jazz might bring to our understanding of family life.
Jazz is improvisational. Jazz is expansive, jazz is expressive, jazz has stops and starts. Jazz brings out mood in music. Jazz can be hard to "get" right away. It may explore a different cadence, and sometimes a whole different key. Jazz doesn't always follow a script well. Yet, jazz done well always manages to find its way back to the melody, back to the unity of the collective body of work. Jazz looks a lot like the way I parent my kids in their (and our) faith formation.
The Exemplary Youth Ministry study has provided many resources for people to consider with regard to nurturing faith in their children, both inside the church walls and far beyond. Among 44 key "faith assets" lifted up in the study (download the PDF), there were a few that spoke specifically to faith formation in the context of homes and families. These assets can be seen as the common melody sung throughout faith communities of every denominational stripe across this nation. Although they stand as solid practices that nurture and encourage faith and discipleship, they can also serve as one more detour down the parenting-guilt road!
Here are the faith assets from the Exemplary Youth Ministry study paired with some resources for doing jazz:
Asset 25 – Possess Strong Parental Faith: Parents or household leader(s) practice a vital and informed faith.This means parents are finding ways to incorporate worshipping, praying, and serving in mission into the fabric of their lives. How these practices come to fruition in individual adult lives will vary like the stars in the sky.
- Resources for doing jazz: It's critical to find ways to support your own spiritual journey first. Consider taking a faith oasis time each day, to nurture your own soul. Possible web resources to explore include:
Asset 26 – Promotes Family Faith Practices: Parents engage youth and the whole family in conversations, prayer, Bible reading, and service that nurture faith and life.
The day-to-day practice of forming and becoming disciples through Christian practices, such as prayer, is brilliantly captured in the words of the Rev. Walter Wangerin, who writes:
It is as if we are preparing a cup in each child's life and expectations, a sort of habitual cup which, though in the children it may be nearly empty of understanding, will nevertheless remain in the child's habit until understanding and personal agreement come to fill the cup to the brim. We need to make a place in them by action for the understanding that will follow.
- Resources for doing jazz: Consider exploring some apps that provide a daily word from the Bible: Words of Jesus Daily, Uplifting Psalms Daily, Wise Proverbs Daily. Web resources include:
Asset 27 –Reflects Family Harmony: Family member’s expressions of respect and love create an atmosphere promoting faith. These households practice open communication and are finding ways to engender hospitality, mutual respect, and welcome. You know these families well, because they have regular visitors at their kitchen table, and cannot help but welcome others in. There is no perfect family, and this asset in no way is suggesting it. But, there are households that seek to embody and encourage a culture of high regard.
- Resources for doing jazz: Web resources for parents and families can be found at the following sites:
The next time that you find yourself feeling guilty about your attempts (or failures) at creating or sustaining a faith-filled household, take a deep breath. Say a prayer. Attend to your own spiritual needs. Talk with your household about it. Let God, the master jazz leader, speak to you through scripture and through each member of your "ensemble" bring you back to the melody, the song of love for creation and all that is in it.
Tim Coltvet is contextual learning associate at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.
Image credit: "Family Band" by Benjamin Wald via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.