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17Jan, 2013

Radicalizing Parents

We are crowd-sourcing a new direction in youth ministry. Start here and play along. Previous post: Restoring Our Children

cover.pngAs a standard, parents want the best for their kids, and will go through great measures to help ensure it happens. They hope that they will be better educated, more successful professionally, achieve more socially and/or athletically, make less risky choices regarding drugs or sex, and be happier than they are in the long term. Ideally, each step in a parent’s journey is geared toward sending their children on their way to becoming something better, and it is up to youth ministries to give parents the information that shows how important their role is.

Despite the best efforts and intentions one area that often challenges parents in that of passing along their faith. “When it comes to kids’ faith,’ suggests Dr. Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, “parents get what they are.” Parents must take active measures to recognize that they are the role models, and teachers of religious principles in their home lives. What they teach there is the most important lessons that will impact how their children think and react in social situations, and from the peer pressure. Do they have the courage to stand up and do what is right, even if it is not going along with the flow? This is a message that many parents bring home to their children, but often do not demonstrate in their own lives. It is also very likely the reason that many youth ministries have challenges. The solution is to gear a significant chunk of youth ministry programming toward parents. They’ve proven that they’ll go through great measures to help their children, and if they are made aware of the importance of youth ministry and become advocates for it, the chances the child gets involved increases. And you know what that means—they are one step closer to home.

If we want to make a difference in the spiritual and religious lives of our young people, we must find ways to partner with parents, to equip them in their “most important influence” status. According to the Search Institute, one out of eight kids have a regular dialog with their mother on faith/life issues. That percentage falls even lower for fathers, coming in at only 5%. That equates to one out of twenty children having regular faith/life conversations with their dad. This is disconcerting, and the point is well made in a video by Think Orange which calls attention to disparity in our Church efforts with young people, especially within our time constraints, in contrast to the abundance of opportunities that parents have to make a difference, or at least present the idea of faith in a motivational manner.

One area that Church has somewhat fallen short on is informing parents that if they want the very best for their children when it comes to their developing their faith lives is that they are likely the best solution to make that happen. Parents who share their journeys of faith with their children, or other young people, are able to open up doors to ask questions, have conversations, and develop a faith based foundation. This is benefits us spiritually, and also challenges us to keep our faith strong. Remember, kids see everything and if you are going to talk the spiritual talk, you’d best be walking it too.

Youth ministry leader Kenda Dean suggests that it needs to go even further than the discussion, and invites parents to consider getting “radical” about faith. By definition for our case, radical is claiming it, and taking great joy in doing something that is driven by faith. Dean also believes that parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips. They are paying attention, and she contends that it is not enough to only get radical; we need to explain that the actions are how a Christian lives.

“If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith,” Dean says, “kids are going to say ‘my parents are really nice people.’ It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently, unless parents help their kids connect the dots.” Whatever a parent might do in this regard becomes radical just by the effort of connecting their own faith to the act. That is the start of making a positive difference that will last a lifetime.

As a teenager, I remember my father mobilizing our Church, his workplace, and the general community to support a co-worker’s wife who needed expensive kidney machinery in the home to assist with her quality of life and health. He proceeded to organize a charity benefit in the form of a show from a touring one-ring circus troupe.

Two memories stand out from that experience, and they are forever imprinted in my mind. The first one is how I was fascinated watching the roustabouts collaborating together with the elephants in raising the tent poles and tent. The other was learning from my father the responsibilities involved in the answer to the Gospel question of, “Who is my neighbor?”

Parents, especially Grace Elizabeth’s dad, are already heroic. Let’s encourage them to be heroic in faith as well. How might we better serve them so they are inspired to be Church for youth ministry? How can we help then connect the dots of faith with their young people? These are questions that must be addressed, and the words and ways to inspire need to be discovered.

For Discussion: In what ways do we already support parents to share their journeys of faith with their children and where might we improve?  Please comment below with your critique clarifications, and responses. <image source>

Next: Creating Homes of Faith

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