Pastor/parent disconnect. Picture of father and son looking out to sea.

Pastor/Parent Disconnect

There’s a disturbing dysfunction in the body of Christ – a pastor/parent disconnect. Research identifies that “congregations and families are not collaborating adequately in children’s faith formation,” that “many churches are not explicit in their support of parents as children’s faith formers,” and that “many churches are uncertain about how to support family faith … and thus have a lack of purpose in this regard.” In other words, pastors and parents have different perceptions about how to advance and enhance family faith.

There's a substantial divide in pastors' and parents' perceptions about what's required to advance and enhance family faith. Share on X

Does this state of ambiguity and uncertainty concern you?

The apostle Paul said, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8.

King Solomon warns: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” Proverbs 29:18.

And Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” Matthew 12:25.

What we know about pastors and parents

Before we figure out how to address the pastor/parent disconnect, here are some pertinent research findings:

Most pastors …

  • Want children and parents to grow spiritually.
  • Believe family ministry should be part of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Wrongly assume the main reason most parents attend their church is the children’s/youth programs for their children.
  • Lack the expertise, skills, or in some cases, the inclination to champion family ministry.
  • Don’t usually meet or work with their family ministry teams (staff/volunteers).
  • View parental involvement with children’s church programs and activities as erratic or sporadic.
  • Think they’re resourcing parents more successfully than parents report.
  • Are concerned about the commitment or capacity of parents to nurture their children’s faith.

Many parents …

  • Want churches to adapt or improve how they welcome and accommodate families.
  • Don’t feel supported or equipped by their local church.
  • Don’t value their church’s children’s and youth programs highly.
  • Have some concerns about what their church teaches their children.
  • Feel optimistic about their ability to nurture their child’s faith.
  • Say pastors don’t understand the realities of their lives and don’t value them as parents.
  • Are more positive about how their church influences their children than how their church influences their parenting.
  • Indicate that their spouses, family/friends, and podcasts are more helpful than their church.
Many parents don't feel supported or equipped by their local church. Share on X

Most congregations …

  • Rely heavily on passive engagement to strengthen family faith formation (e.g., providing resources).
  • Don’t significantly train parents to nurture their children’s faith.
  • Don’t have a coherent strategy for family faith formation.

[Note: These findings are sourced from the Multi-National Children’s and Family Ministry Report (2022), a UK Report (November 2022), the American Orange and Parent Cue Report (2020), and the Canadian Parenting Faith Report (2023)]

Bridging the divide

Behavioural scientist Francesco Gino says, “When we stay curious, with humility about the possibility that we haven’t figured it out, then there is more that can be discovered.”

Pastors and parents, generally speaking, are not in sync. To more adequately cultivate children’s faith formation, churches and families must learn to work well together. So how can pastors and parents bridge the divide and build thriving ministry partnerships? Here are some suggestions:

Listen deeply

To listen deeply, we must sideline our agendas and overcome our need for invulnerability. Deep listening requires listening from a receptive and empathic place in oneself. It’s listening for subtler levels of meaning and is generous, caring, and supportive. Family ministry specialist Phil Bell says, “By leaning in and listening to parents, we also begin to gain vital insights into their most pressing concerns, And those insights are what enable us to create meetings and seminars parents will want to give their time to because they know they’ll receive content they need to hear.”

Identify obstacles

We won’t bridge the pastor/parent disconnect if we don’t acknowledge and talk about obvious problems or difficult situations that exist @ church and @ home. Honest evaluations that lead to an awareness of the challenges and concerns must occur if pastors and parents are going to work together successfully to connect children with Jesus and His Word.

We won't bridge the pastor/parent disconnect if we don't acknowledge and talk about obvious problems or difficult situations that exist @ church and @ home. Share on X

Find shared values

The unifying factor is agreeing on shared values. Take an inventory of the existing faith formation practices and assumptions in your church. If pastors and parents are going to successfully collaborate in nurturing children’s faith, they should discuss and agree on mutual priorities, deeply held beliefs, and the fundamental driving forces at the heart of family faith formation.

Encourage and support each other

Pastors and parents must more intentionally affirm and care for each other. Lindsay Callaway, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Church and Faith, says, “Parents need to know that churches are with them and for them.” Equally, pastors need to know that parents are committed to the church’s mission.

Pray and plan a new approach

Working prayerfully with representation from every type of family in the congregation, discuss and design a unique family ministry strategy for implementation in the church and home. As professor and author Timothy Paul Jones suggests, one way to frame your plan and reach your goals is to theologically and practically determine how to be “family integrated, family-based, and family equipping.”

Stay connected

Relationships need sustaining. To stay in sync, pastors and parents must remain accountable to each other. Children’s ministry specialist and consultant Julie Kurz says, “There must be parental accountability to make sure that parents really are involved in their kid’s spiritual lives along with a constant evaluation to verify that our parent/church partnership is really working.”

Pastor/parent relationships take a lot of hard work. But, there’s an enormous payoff when family faith flourishes. So step out in faith, act on what you know, and prayerfully trust the Lord with the outcome.

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© Scripture Union, 2023

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