What pastors should know about parents.
The 2022 Orange Report produced with Parent Cue reveals that more than fifty percent of Christian parents feel that their church could be more supportive of their parenting. About fifty percent of parents also say that pastors/clergy don’t understand the realities of their lives or value them as parents.
Out of an intimate relationship with Jesus and in communion with Him, a pastor’s role is to preach the Gospel, make disciples, meet the needs of the people, and live a life of service and sacrifice. To do this well, pastors must exegete the Word and exegete culture. When interpreting culture, many pastors don’t know what makes parents distinct, how they think, what they need, and what they feel. So, to help address this limitation, here’s what pastors should know about parents:
What parents value.
When I was a child, most families had a Bible in the home, sent their children to Sunday School even if they only went to church a few times a year, and accessed an educational system favouring Christianity. The main concern of Christian parents was that their children would abstain from sex, alcohol and drugs.
Parents’ values have changed.Parents' main concern today is their children’s mental health, access to opportunities, and character development. Click To Tweet
According to the Arbor Research Group, parents’ main concern today is their children’s mental health, access to opportunities, and character development. Children’s sexual integrity is ranked among their lowest concerns. Significantly, both secular and Christian parents prioritize the same parenting values. Faith is the exception. It’s the fourth-highest value for Christian parents, ranking marginally above the value they ascribe to healthy friendships and balanced nutrition. More than forty percent of secular parents say that children’s faith is “unimportant or not applicable.”
Where parents get help.
More than eighty percent of parents consult their spouse/partner most often for help. Many parents, especially younger ones, are more likely to seek help online than elsewhere. According to the Parenting Faith Report, friends and podcasts are really important. The Parenting Faith Report also notes that grandparents don’t feature highly. As EFC researcher Lindsay Callaway says, “It seems that parents are getting help from those beside them but aren’t accessing help from those who walked before them.”
Parents generally have an elevated view of their ability to perform their parenting role effectively, so in some cases, they’re not looking for help. Most parents score themselves highly on the Parenting Self-Efficacy scale (PSE). Yet many parents also say that caring for the needs of their children feels overwhelming.While parents feel more positive about how their church helps their children, they don’t feel their church adequately helps them. Click To Tweet
Christian parents are looking for more empathy and understanding from pastors/clergy. While they feel more positive about how their church helps their children, they don’t feel their church adequately helps them. Despite this shortcoming, most Christian parents feel confident and competent in nurturing the faith formation of their children.
What parents expect.
Christian parents’ expectations of their pastors/clergy are equally split between negative and positive views. In most churches, there are unspoken parental expectations. A study by the Barna Research Group reveals that while eighty-five percent of parents believe they have the primary responsibility for their children’s spiritual development, sixty-six percent expect their churches to fulfill this responsibility.Parents want more communication about what their children are taught in church. Click To Tweet
On another note, children’s ministry author Jennifer Hooks says, “Christian parents quietly wonder whether their kids are learning anything of value in Sunday school.” This observation correlates with research indicating that parents want more communication about what their children are taught in church.
Before developing support systems for parents, clergy/pastors must comprehend what parents value. Parents need to be needed, acknowledged and loved. Pastors/clergy should discover what parents can do and invite them to do it. This requires cultivating pastor/parent relationships within which dialogue can be fomented, and trust developed.
Research reveals that grandparents have the largest influence on the faith formation of children after their parents. With many parents not seeking their parent’s help, despite this being a God-ordained role, the spiritual impact of grandparents is minimalized. The silence of most churches on this matter is adversely impacting the spiritual well-being of families and contributing to parent/grandparent role confusion.Parents need to be needed, acknowledged and loved. Click To Tweet
The fourth-place ranking of the value of faith indicates that Christian parents are not convinced it should be a priority. Yet the Scriptures indicate that faith formation should be the preeminent parenting value. This value discrepancy must be addressed through persuasive teaching supplemented with practical examples highlighting key biblical passages like Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 78:1-8.
Parents should take primary responsibility for the faith formation of their children. While parents have expectations, they may not align with God’s expectations. Looking to the church as the main influence in their children’s faith formation is wrong. When parents’ expectations are off base, pastors should “be prepared in season and out of season; (to) correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” 2 Timothy 4:2.
Ultimately both clergy/pastors and parents should work collaboratively to nurture life-long faith in children. Doing this effectively requires defining of roles, creating support for parents, and encouraging partnerships. I’ve written about this in How to Partner With Parents.
Listening and learning.Knowing what parents value, where they get help, and what they expect, can stimulate church health and growth. Click To Tweet
Hopefully, you’ve read this article with empathy and understanding. It won’t help your congregation, and it won’t help parents if you’re frustrated with their attitudes, impatient, or dismiss them out of hand. Knowing what parents value, where they get help, and what they expect, can stimulate church health and growth. If you care about the faith and future of parents, this knowledge should realign how you minister to them. So, listen, learn, and reimagine how you can partner with parents to foster family faith formation. And as you do, prepare yourself to abandon your agenda for God’s greater plan.
Do you have some thoughts about what pastors should know about parents? Please share in the comments.
© Scripture Union, 2023