I [Kara] used to be afraid of parents of students in my ministry. I was never quite sure what they thought of me or how our ministry was doing with their kids. So I avoided them, and when I did come face to face with a parent, I often had trouble coming up with much to say.
Then I became one of those parents of teenagers. I could see the fear and uncertainty in youth leaders’ eyes when I walked up.
On both sides of this experience, we wish we had better language to use. Maybe you can relate.
When the Fuller Youth Institute wrote Growing Young, we studied over 250 churches doing amazing work with teenagers and young adults. One of the insights we discovered in every one of those churches is that they prioritize families by equipping and caring for parents of teenagers and young adults. Because of that discovery, we turned our attention toward crafting a new parent resource releasing this month, called Growing With. In this new book, we help parents (and youth leaders like you!) find better answers to their toughest questions about parenting their teenagers and young adults.
As we meet with churches and interview parents and step-parents nationwide, one of the deep impressions we’re left with is that parents feel overwhelmed and undersupported. They worry that as their kids are growing up, their family might be growing apart. As parents of young adults ourselves, we resonate with their anxiety. Often, we feel that way too.
We’re convinced that for a church to grow young, its families need to grow with one another. Growing With encompasses multiple aspects of family relationships, but parents are especially eager for your help in growing with their teenagers’ and young adults’ faith journeys. Here are three Growing With tips to help you support the parents in your ministry:
Tip #1: Give faith room to grow.
Often in church we speak of “faith” as something that we hold, or possess, or lose. But faith is not a product, it’s a process—something that’s constantly developing and growing and changing. When we help parents and students think of the word as an action, “faithing,” we empower parents to nurture their young person’s spiritual growth more naturally and organically.
As parents understand this faithing dynamic, they are better prepared to respond to some of their kids’ questions. When a parent comes to you and says, “My kid is asking these tough questions about God,” instead of thinking that they have to answer or somehow squelch the question, help them to see it as an opportunity to ask their young person, “Well, what do you think about that?” When we make space for faith to grow, we actively encourage faithing.
Teach parents this practice:
Make a regular habit of asking open-ended questions. At ages 24, 22, and 19, my [Steve’s] daughters are having a lot of experiences and conversations without my wife and me. To help us catch up on all we’re missing, one of the things we do regularly in our family is ask this simple question: “What’s something you believe now that you think I don’t believe?” As well as the converse: “What’s something you don’t believe now that you think I still believe?” We’re trying to acknowledge with our maturing kids that our faith journeys are maturing also.
Tip #2: Faith and doubt are friends, not enemies.
This is one of the big surprises we’ve found in FYI’s research over the years. In our Sticky Faith research, we found that 70% of youth group seniors admitted to having significant doubts about their faith. But we also observed that in settings where students were given the chance to express and explore their doubts, this practice was correlated with greater faith maturity.
Perhaps it isn’t doubt that’s toxic to faith, but silence. In order for families to grow with one another, they need to create an atmosphere where faith is something that can be discussed—and where doubts can be shared without fear.
Teach parents this practice:
If students or parents are nervous about discussing questions openly, encourage families to keep a notebook or a question box—something simple that paves the way for a time and space where those topics can be talked about.
Tip #3: Treat faithing as part of your everyday language, not just for Sunday.
The families we met during our research for Growing With made faithing something they talked about at dinner, at bedtime, and as they were driving to and from school. God was a part of the conversation everywhere they went.
It’s helpful to think or talk about faith as we do a language. We have to develop fluency, and the only way we get better is to keep trying. Help parents and step-parents achieve small wins by letting them know that they don’t have to be theologians with their kids. And faith is something we can discuss any day and at any time, not just on Sundays after church. Parents can begin with simple steps like praying before a meal, talking about the challenges and victories in the day, or sharing their faith story with their kids.
Teach parents this practice:
One morning while driving my [Steve’s] kids to school, I was moody and quiet, making our typical fun morning drive not very fun. My daughter sensed it. She grabbed my hand, and started to pray for me, ending the prayer with, “And may we follow you to live in ways that make the world a better place today.” For years we had made it a ritual to pray these same words together each morning, and now she was leading me in the practice. Those are the beautiful moments that we can grab hold of as parents. Invite families to find a simple ritual in their daily or weekly routine that connects them with one another, and points them all to God at work in their lives.
Often parents’ apprehensions to faith conversations are not rooted in their resistance to try, but more likely in their inability to know where to begin. These tips can give them the first steps they need. In Growing With, we’ve sifted through the best new research on families and faith, putting those findings alongside stories from real parents across the country. What resulted is the book we wish we’d had as parents—and as ministry leaders working with parents.
Help parents close the family gap, and give them courage to take the next faithful step on a mutual journey of intentional growth that trusts God to transform them all. Growing With will show you how families can keep their roots, even as kids spread their wings.
Find out more at GrowingWithBook.com.
Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women to Watch,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.
Steven Argue, PhD [Michigan State University] is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church [Grand Rapids, MI]; coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers; and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years.