What is your church doing to help parents? Are you doing enough? Do you occasionally offer a marriage enrichment course? Could you do more? Pastors know how to prepare sermons but usually have little or no training in family ministry. Rhetoric alone doesn’t build healthy families. Parents need pastors to spend time with them. Families need congregations alongside them.
Here’s how the church can support parents:
Acknowledge the parent’s faith nurturing role.
Pastors should be constantly thinking of the home first, and the church second. Tell parents they’re God’s first choice for fostering their children’s faith. Boost their confidence. Mitigate their fears. Affirm their role as their children’s primary teachers and disciplers. Teach biblical expectations (e.g., Deuteronomy 11:18-20). Apply sermons with families in mind. Champion families in public gatherings and settings. Focus on intergenerational events and activities. Embrace parents as ministry partners. Keep in mind the faith formation specialist John Westerhoff’s advice to stop doing things “to or for” families but engage in faith formation practices “with” families. And keep in mind that children’s faith formation is fundamentally something that’s homegrown.
Provide opportunities for the congregation to be involved.
We need each other. Mobilize all-age groups. Many parents feel tired or overwhelmed. Parents need to know they’re not alone. Check-in with them regularly to see how they’re doing. Pray with and for them. Harness grandparents to encourage and counsel them. Offer at-home child care. Make meals for families who are drained, struggling with ill health or are overextended. Encourage multi-generational friendships by connecting parents with empty nesters who have navigated Christian parenting. And don’t schedule church activities that clash with family time (e.g. a mid-week meeting when it’s a child’s bedtime).
Equip parents to engage with God’s Word.
The greatest resource for parents is Jesus and His Word. To engage parents with the Bible, we must make it achievable. Recommend or offer resources that will help parents succeed. Parenting requires a combination of learning, listening, watching, and doing. Train parents to facilitate family devotions that are experiential, interactive, Spirit-led, suitable for all learning styles, and fun. Ask families to share testimonies at church about faith formation at home. Teach parents how to interpret, contemplate, study, memorize, pray, and apply God’s Word.
Strengthen links between the church and home.
We need new wineskins for new wine. Adopt a more relational approach and process – one where the church and parents can dynamically and reciprocally journey together. Organize family outings, service projects and outreach. Share practical and spiritual parenting tips via podcasts, blogs or emails. Offer in-person parenting courses (provide babysitting if required). Create virtual small groups for parents to meet other parents. Host a children’s/youth/family ministry open house for parents to connect with teachers and leaders. Set an example and model godly parenting.
Parents shouldn’t take a passive role in their children’s faith formation, and local churches shouldn’t approach faith formation with a programmatic or production line mentality. When there’s an imbalance in parent/church expectations, parents and pastors must listen, dialogue and discern how to cooperatively (and biblically) allocate responsibilities so that the parents take the lead and the congregation supports them. As the academic researchers Sarah Holmes, Mimi Larson and Sue Price say, “The church and parents need to combine their efforts and create a partnership where both the church (and the intergenerational community within it) and the home become active in a child’s formation, leveraging each unique environment as a place of faith nurture.”
Love parents for who they are.
Many parents, even Christian parents, may feel insecure, uncertain, or lack intentionality. Sometimes they feel judged by the church. So, every parent needs to hear and know that they’re welcome and accepted just as they are. Give them a safe place to share stories and help them realize they’re no different from anyone else. Support them as their children’s principal spiritual influencers. Extend grace. Be patient. Most importantly, let them know God loves them unconditionally and never stops loving them even though He has expectations and requirements.
And a concluding comment from the World Evangelical Alliance Children’s Network: “No individual, group or institution – including the local church – can provide the same care, intimacy, inspiration and role model as the child’s parents. The Church, on the other hand, has a unique role to support, educate and empower parents, so they can serve as the mothers and fathers that God called them to be, amid all the spiritual, emotional and physical challenges they encounter in their parenthood. The local church also complements the parents by offering fellowship and a nurturing environment for children.”
Do you have additional suggestions for how the church can support parents? Please share in the comments.
Two-Minute Training Video
© Scripture Union, 2023