The Power of Family to Shape Faith

20130430-231747.jpgHeather Caliri wrote a great post the other day about the power of family culture. Heather and her family live in Argentina. So powerful is their family culture, that her children, who are homeschooled, have been slow to learn Spanish (the local language).

She says she is not surprised, but she learned something else too:

The real lesson for me is the power of family to insulate you from the culture surrounding you. It’s almost complete. And that is both frustrating (for someone who was trying to immerse) and heartening (as a parent who loves being in a family).

She goes on to call family culutre a “super power”! Reading this got me thinking about the responsibility to use a “super power” for good.

One of the ways in which we can use the power of family culture is in passing on the Christian faith to our children. Many families may not realize the impact that their day-to-day family culture has on their children’s faith.

Church and Sunday school are only a couple of hours a week. If you think about it, that’s not that much exposure to the faith. But when the family culture is infused with faith-talk, praying for one another, and reading the Bible together, the potential impact is much greater.

A lot of my thinking on this has been influenced by Faith Inkubators. The church where I did my Deaconess internship used a lot of Faith Inkubators materials. One of the pastors there taught me a lot about the importance of equipping parents to “incubate” faith in the home.

On his blog, Faith Inkubators founder, Rich Melheim wrote a Top 40 Principles of Faith Inkubation. I’d like to highlight one of those principles:

19. 3/4 of your youth ministry must be committed to helping parents DO and BE who and what God once called them to do and be when they first held their child in their arms.

This is important because it calls the whole church to responsibility for helping families use their “super power” to pass on the faith to the next generation.

Some families naturally weave faith into the fabric of their family culture and that is wonderful. But in my experience as a church worker and being married to a pastor, a lot of families don’t know where to begin. Either way though, it is counter-cultural to raise children in the Christian faith and families need the support of their church to do it well. After all, every super hero needs a trusty side-kick.

What do you think helps families weave faith into their family culture? What best practices can churches do to support faith formation in the home?

8 responses to this post.

  1. Since we’ve kind of departed from the spiritual growth/formation themes in favor of children and spiritual development, and you linked here, I’m going to continue the conversation here.

    The family/culture post doesn’t surprise me a bit. As a former foreign language teacher, the linguistic aquisition piece is a no-brainer. Have you ever seen this: http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18 ? Educators, religious leaders, and others have used this for a number of years. Really interesting stuff, and gives you a good idea how much must come from inside the home v. how much an outsider (such as a teacher) can do.

    Reading over the Melheim pages, I feel torn two ways. First, I can see how this would revolutionize children’s ministry and home life. It offers a simple framework for uncertain parents who want to help their kids and feel clueless. Most important of all, it validates the child and his/her life experiences and spiritual development. This is great.

    On the other hand, I am a bit skeptical. With what age(s) has he experienced success with this program? I can see this working well with younger children, but I have a harder time imagining it working as well with older adolescents. Also, if a church adopts this type of worship experience, do they typically do so universally? I can envision a lot of resistance to a program like this among singles, couples without children, older adults, etc. What has been your experience?

    • Yes, Search Institute, assets stuff has also informed my thoughts about this stuff.

      In my mind, the strength of Melheim’s work is the “framework” for talking about the faith, and the idea of empowering parents to lead in that area. A child raised with that as a habit is likely to continue to see that as normal even into adolescence and adulthood. This would be raising up a different “flavor” of Lutherans than what you and I were discussing in the comments on the Spiritual Growth post.

      With respect to programming, I can’t speak authoritatively about how universally a typical church goes with the worship experience. But from what I have observed, most churches tend to *add* this or Melheim’s programs to their existing schedule.

      • On the one hand, this kind of work is revolutionary to youth ministry, because it’s a complete departure from “we’ve always done it this way.” On the other hand, it seems kind of no-brainer-ish: talk to your kids. A framework like his shouldn’t be so earth-shattering, yet it is. I definitely agree that if a child experiences the framework reguarly, it will be his/her “normal” and s/he won’t question it as s/he matures; I was wondering more about the age ranges to which he introduces it.

        Speaking purely theoretically (and not empirically/practically), are you really integrating children into the life of the church if the program is an add-on to all the existing worship/education that a church is already doing? Thoughts?

      • It shouldn’t, really, really, in so many ways, shouldn’t be earth-shattering. I lament how earth-shattering it is.

        The Faith Inkubators programs (and the worship stuff is just one), have materials for families to use with infants through high-schoolers.

        Is the goal integration of children into an institution or is it integrating a living faith into the lives of children? What might our institution of church look like when these faith-filled children are our leaders?

      • I would be really interested in seeing the high school materials. Speaking both for myself and also for the high schoolers I have known and worked with, what’s visible on the site alone seems, well, a bit cheesy and contrived for that age group. I feel that students would sense the corniness factor a mile away, no matter how well intentioned the adults implementing the program. If, on the other hand, it really is just “talking to teens” and valuing them as people, then I can imagine great success. Maybe it’s because working with teens is my job, but it simply baffles me that many adults find them “difficult.” (This may have a lot to do with your post about one’s spiritual gifts seeming easy, like anyone could do them.) But to me, no special programs are required, just treating them with attention and respect.

        Your words in your final paragraph really struck me, about whether our goal is “integration of children into an institution or . . . integrating a living faith into the lives of our children.” To my mind, it is neither. I don’t feel comfortable thinking of the church an institution, even if it is, because I feel that term carries a lot of baggage with it. The baggage I perceive around that word makes me feel like we’re indoctrinating children into a social/civic responsibility. I also don’t feel comfortable talking about integrating a living faith into the lives of our children, not because I don’t want it to happen, but because it doesn’t say enough. It’s like adding one more (albeit spiritual) dimension to their lives. Only faith shouldn’t be an add-on, or even an integration, any more than I can think of the church as merely an institution.

        To my mind, I would prefer to consider the church the living body of Christ (not an institution), of which each of us are members. I prefer to think about faith not merely as integrated into my life (or anyone else’s), but more like Christ is my pole star, around which I orient my entire being, and faith is my compass. From that standpoint, children will never be “our leaders,” if Christ is truly the head of the church. Instead, they will be more faithful, healthy, functioning members of the same body, working always towards the kingdom of God.

      • I love it when you come over. Thank you for sharing so passionately here. I would need a program if I were in youth ministry. Which is why it is I who need to learn from you.

        I listened to an interview of Melheim last night and both he and the interviewer talked about doing these things intuitively on their own just like you said further up in the comments! (Yet, Melheim sees the need to teach others for whom it is not as intuitive.)

        Thank you for critiquing my question at the end. I wasn’t altogether comfortable with it either. Your explanation of the Body of Christ is more near to my own sense of church. In fact, to bring this full circle, the idea of being members of the body is exactly the image used in the Bible to talk about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12). Did you know you were exposing my folly with my own deepest passion?

        You are a gift to me. I cannot tell you how much. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Jen! I love your link here to sharing faith with your kids. I’m amazed at how “just talking” with my kids was hard when I first started–even now, sometimes it feels awkward. I think sharing my faith with them is sort of a spiritual discipline, that in doing, my faith grows. That in talking it over together, _I_ figure out what I believe. And my kids are _always_ teaching me about authenticity, about true joy, about not doing something just because it’s expected or “good”. ALl of which has profoundly changed the way I look at my faith.
    Thanks for initiating this conversation!

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