Saturday, 25 June 2022

It takes a church to raise a parent

The online conference I attended in May had a session led by Rachel Turner author of a book with this title. I have heard her speak before and her enthusiasm and realism about the work of a Children's and Youth Worker is thought provoking. The talk was a short introduction to many of the elements of the book. I will try to do justice to her thinking in this article.

The Bible implores us to teach our children God's commandments (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) and although we may make a nod to this, we sometimes don't really know how to do this, and parents sometimes feel it is one more thing on their 'to do' list. As a church we may invest in programmes, holiday clubs, etc. for children forgetting that the primary discipleship of children is at home, in everyday life. The church as a community can support parents in this but often this is interpreted by giving them lots of materials for faith at home, providing 'experts' in church, and this may mean parents feel they are not up to the task. The work of the church should be to help parents walk alongside their children in their faith journey and be authentic about their own faith.

For this to happen there needs to be a shift in the way churches approach work with children. These are:
• Fight against expert culture - parents sometimes expect the church 'experts' to be responsible for their children's faith journey, BUT parents are the experts in their own children, and spend far more time with them than any church worker could. Experts need to serve the parents and journey alongside them in this adventure.

• Change from activity/homework to discipleship. Think of an ongoing coaching session, we teach our children how to behave by modelling it, doing it day in day out, not even really thinking about it, showing faith should be the same. Parents don't need to set aside a 20-minute slot every day, expensive resources are not needed, but helping children to encounter God in the everyday is something we may need to help parents with.

• Learn spiritual parenting - in the past, generations and different families may be together and day by day parents can see how others 'do it'. This coaching can begin before parenthood with older children discipling the younger, and everyone feeling involved in the responsibility of raising children in the faith. However, it is never too early, or too late to start doing this work. It should be remembered that you never stop parenting (believe me!) and we can resource parents and grandparents by being alongside them.

The problem with all this is trying to sell the vision. Rachel compares a trip to the dentist, which everyone dreads and isn't usually an experience that makes you happy to a trip to IKEA where you get the opportunity to see how things might be arranged to make a home, and generally it sells you a lifestyle (I know some of you hate IKEA but ...). IKEA supplies a vision of how things can be, this is what we need to do for parents in our communities. This is not an instant fix but with a determination and long-range view (ten years is not unreasonable) your church community can be somewhere parents are equipped to raise people of faith. It must not be 'more things we (as parents) have to do at home' but 'oh that is easy I hadn't thought of doing it that way'. Sharing stories of simple ways God is made visible in everyday life, how connections to God are made naturally and how enthusiasm for Christianity is shared, and how our faith is integral in all we do. Sharing struggles, when things go wrong, and being truthful about your own faith journey reassures others that they don't always need to get it right, and that we all go wrong from time to time.

There are some simple tools that can be used:
• Create windows - show your life with God.
• Frame things - this is what you are looking at.
• Unwind misplaced views of God - wondering together.
• Help children to find an authentic voice - to use and be listened to.
• Surf the waves of children's lives - help them to understand the ups and downs of life and of faith.

In an intergenerational church this can be something shown to one another, exercising these tools together in church, not just parents but everyone. It is important to make sure we don't give children tools their parents are not sure of, we need to work in partnership. Gathering parents together to give them support, not just information but time together sharing stories, parents learning from other parents and one to one support when it is needed.

There is no one right way to parent for faith - every parent, every child, every family unit is unique and what works for one will not work for another. Parents need to be asked what they need, not told what they should do, given options and guidance, encouragement that they are the best people to disciple their children. We may feel a call to serve the children and young people of the church doesn't include parents, but it is only by working with parents we can build a faithful community of all ages.

Buy the book here:
Listen to Rachel Turner - Dentist vs IKEA here:
More help for parents and churches from including links to the key tools - Creating windows, Framing, Unwinding, Chat and Catch, and Surfing the Waves - and to the parenting course.

Sr Joy Raynor
Provincial Youth and Children's Officer

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