Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ten Things I Want to Tell Parents

When I started this blog about a year ago, I planned to focus on sharing my insights into how parents can and should provide religious nurture for their children. As I have reflected on this past year, I thought it would be helpful to briefly lay out in one post some of the most important things that I have learned as a pastor and a parent who works with families.

Almost all of what I have written relates to one of these ten things that I think parents should know. Once we delve into the details and particulars of different parts of scripture or faith, sometimes these essentials can get lost in the shuffle.

So below are the ten most important things that I want to tell parents (even parents in my own congregation) as they work to strengthen the spiritual lives of their children.

1.YOU, not the church, are the primary religious educator for your children. Yes, the church serves as a resource for teaching your child about the Bible, worship, theology, and even religious history. But even if a child never misses a week of Sunday school, there is never enough time in that once a week class to reinforce and build upon the lessons of scripture and faith that children have the potential to learn. read more here.



2.It is okay not to know the answers to your children’s questions.The very fact that they are asking questions which you struggle to answer shows that they are working through their own faith and understanding of the Bible. No one (not even your pastor) knows the answer to every question. This is an important lesson that we can teach children as we show them how to find the answers to their, and our, questions about faith and the Bible. The church can serve as a resource to help you answer your children’s questions. read more here

3.You are responsible for building an adult religious life outside of your children.Many parents choose to return to the church and to religious practices once they have children of their own. Most often, then, their faith life and practice revolves around the religious upbringing of their children. As an adult, though, there is a level of nurture and spiritual development that you yourself can benefit from. Without taking that next step in building their own faith, adults can very easily find their lives void of a mature faith life once their children are grown. read more here

4.Your children sitting near me in the pew and making noise are NOT bothering me.While I am a big fan of teaching children to respect the time and space of worship, the normal noises that children make in worship are not distracting. They are signs of a church that is alive. While I can totally relate to being distracted by one’s own child in worship, I would remind you that they will only be children for a season. If you want a teenager who will sit next to you in worship and an adult child who will sit next to you in worship, for a few years you will need to have a child sitting next to you in worship. read more here.

5.Share the story of your family’s faith with your children.Talk to your children about the church in which you were raised. If you and your spouse came from different traditions, talk with them about that. If their grandparents are part of a different kind of church or religion, help your child understand the differences so that they can value the differences. If you have adult siblings who practice faith differently, don’t pretend that you are all the same. Certainly don’t belittle or criticize other traditions in your family, but help your children learn how we can value traditions that are not our own. read more here.

6.Think very carefully and intentionally about the decisions you make for your children and family that may keep them from regular religious practice.It is too simple to try to blame the trend of extracurricular activities held on Sundays on athletics. There are a myriad of decisions that families today have to make that did not face us even a generation ago, because the Christian community no longer dictates the way the rest of the culture operates. Today, to identify and live as a practicing Christian often means that we have to go against the tide of the culture in which we are raising our children. Consider how having that conversation with your child will help them understand the importance of faith to your life as a family, even though it may mean that they have to give up some other opportunities. read more here.

7.Don’t be so afraid of the elements within the Christian tradition that you disagree with that you neglect to teach them how to value the rest of the tradition.If you as a parent are concerned about the way the church treats women, excludes groups of people, aligns itself too closely with certain political parties… then raise children to understand Christian faith in a different way. Find a Christian tradition that values the things that you value, knowing that the Church is always changing and growing. Help raise children who can be a part of that change and growth. read more here.

8.All religious resources (books, videos, curriculum, radio, etc.) are not made equally.Just because something is religious and is illustrated for a child does not mean that it is going to teach your child the things that you would teach them. This is true no matter what end of the religious spectrum you are on. You would never intentionally give your child a math, science or history book that had mistakes or misrepresentations in it. Be as mindful of the religious resources you give them as well. read more here.

9.Being a part of a Christian (or any faith community) is about more than providing religious education for your children – it is how we teach them to value community.For a while, my son was concerned that classmates of his did not go to church, and I could tell that it upset him. Knowing that he was most likely not worried about their immortal souls I asked him what he thought they were missing by not going to church. He summed it up pretty well – the family. Community is really the first and most sustaining thing that children identify with church, and it shapes their faith in ways that simply taking a class or reading a book cannot. read more here.

10.Statistically you get what you are.I have written about this before as well, but it bears repeating. While we all have anecdotal evidence of people discovering or deepening faith significantly in adulthood, sociological studies of youth have shown that children rarely surpass the faith life and spirituality of their parents. They will come to value what you have taught them to value through not just your words but your actions. They will read the Bible if you are reading it with them. They will give of their talents and gifts to the church if they have seen you do that as well. You, as their parent, are in the position of greatest influence to raise a child who will become a faithful and spiritually mature adult. read more here.

It has been a wonderful year of discovery for me. I am looking forward to continuing this conversation together in this second year.




Update – 5/19/2012
I have received quite a positive response to this post over the past few days. Thanks to all who have shared it in the ether. Much of the response has been from fellow pastors who want to convey these same sentiments to families within their congregations.

I have also gotten several requests to share this list in print form with families and congregations. Please feel free to print and share. My only request is that you also make sure to point them back to the blog as an ongoing resource for parents who are trying to work out and work through all of these suggestions.

Blessings to all who share in this important ministry!

Thanks,
Rebecca

30 comments:

  1. Loved your advice to parents. While I have not lived in St. Joseph in many years, my husband and I were married there more than 40 years ago. Blessings to you and that church.

    Joan Drickey Clingman

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    1. Thanks so much. I is a lovely congregation. I am very blessed to have been able to be here so long and see so many children turn into adults.

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  2. Thank you Rebecca! I will be sharing this.

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  3. This is fantastic! I hope its okay if I share this widely.

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  4. This was shared on the GLAPCE Facebook page. Wonderful advice. Thanks for sharing.
    Cathy Slider Hahn

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    1. Thanks so much and for helping me make the connection1

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  5. Enjoyed this and shared it with many. Thank-you.

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  6. I have thought many of these thoughts before, as a pastor and a parent - but I'm so thankful that you're articulating them clearly and succinctly! I will share this will all the parents in my church.

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    1. Thank you. These have been rolling around in my head for quite some time as well. Hope it is useful with your congregation!

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  7. Thank you for such wise words. I particularly like the first one. That's why it's important to work with parents and help them feel comfortable in sharing their faith. That's why I wrote the book HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? Couldn't find a book that helped them share their own faith.

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    1. Delia, Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I have your book "Teaching Prayer in the Classroom" right next to me on the shelf. I am always amazed at how reluctant parents are to share their faith with their children. Thanks for all you have done to lead this work!

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  8. As a parent of adult children I wish I'd read this 30 years ago. Thanks!!

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  9. As a parent who raised children outside of the Christian tradition (in a Unitarian Fellowship), I can say that i find this guidance relevant in many ways to the spiritual education of my grandchildren and I'll forward this to parents. Thanks

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  10. This is fantastic. I'd love to print copies for parents in my congregation. Would that be okay with you?

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    1. That is just fine with me. I think especially that these are sometimes hard things to say directly, so passing on as a resource seems like a great way to start a conversation with parents.

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  11. I would love to reprint this in my next church newsletter (with credit given, and urls for all your suggested read-mores). Would that be alright? I know that this is a different request than just sharing links online. I would be happy to send you a pdf of the newsletter so you know how you are being represented.

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    1. Please feel free to share. Connecting folks back to the blog would be great. Alot of the things on this list are pretty common sense, but hopefully my regular posts help to flesh these out and show what they actually mean in daily life with a child and witing a community of faith. Hope it is a helpful resource.

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    2. LOL & FYI:
      streetpastor & suchkindways are married. We came across this post completely independently of each other. Ah, the surprises and ironies of life.

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  12. I really needed this as a grandparent of thee very busy grandchildren! Sometimes I worry about what the congregation is thinking! Thanx for your words of insight!

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  13. I am currently serving as a pastor in a small rural church. Would it be ok if I included a portion of your article in our monthly newsletter of course citing the source? Thanks. -Adam

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  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    And could I link to this (someday) from our church website?

    Sue Van Stelle
    Director of Child/Youth Faith Development
    First Presbyterian Church
    Portland, OR

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    1. Sue! Please feel free to link to this. I am glad it is helpful. Blessings in your work with children and youth.

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  15. This is so perfect I won't even attempt to do it myself. Is it OK to link this to our synod's website?

    Laurie Carson
    LYO Advisor
    Upstate NY Synod ELCA

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    1. Laurie, please feel free to link to this post. I am glad it is helpful.

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  16. This is wonderful. I'll be glad to pass this along, linking back to your blog. That's how I found it, as someone put this on their FB timeline.

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