I have spent a good deal of time over the past eight months researching this this question. When I began my work, I envisioned educational offerings that would remind parents of the importance of intentional faith formation and spiritual development in childhood and suggest tangible ways they could reintroduce these concepts into their homes and family lives. What I have come to find, mainly through sitting down with parents in the church one-on-one, is that most do not need reminding. They know how important these things are. But the majority of them are overwhelmed, and not just with the busyness of their lives. Many told me that they find intentional faith formation in the home overwhelming as well, and several reasons for these feelings surfaced as our conversations continued.
First, many parents bemoaned what they describe as their “biblical illiteracy.” One, for example, mentioned that although she understands she does not need to quote Scripture to her child in order to provide opportunities for faith development in the home, she is really not comfortable even talking with him about basic Bible stories without having the text in front of her. She does not feel like she remembers the details of these stories well enough, is not confident in her ability to apply them to specific situations, and is fearful of imparting “bad theology” to her child.
If parents are not comfortable with the stories of their faith, it would appear, the conversations may just not happen at all.
Second, when I asked parents what they did in their homes in terms of spiritual development and faith formation (for themselves as well as their children), the answers I most frequently received were prayers at bedtime and grace before each meal. Several parents also mentioned modeling good behavior and taking advantage of “teachable moments.” None, however, mentioned things like discipline, showing their children the importance of hard work and giving them chores to do. Activities that are not obviously “church- or faith-related” get dropped into another category — going to a child’s soccer game is sports-related and has little or nothing to do with church. Unfortunately, this leads many parents to feel guilty about all they believe they are not doing.
Rather than assuming parents have the tools they feel are necessary to attend to faith formation in the home, perhaps we need to take a step back, start having conversations with the parents in our congregation, and just ask them. If we are to honor our baptismal covenant to assist parents in the Christian nurture of their children, we must attend diligently to the fundamental education of both.
As Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 6:20-25, parents are not simply responsible for teaching their children the rules of the faith. They must teach them the story behind the rules. In order to do so, they must feel comfortable with the story themselves.
Erin Mills is youth director at Selwyn Avenue Church, Charlotte, N.C.