This series is adapted from a paper that I wrote for a youth ministry class in Fall 2010. Posts in this series will appear on Tuesdays for as long as it takes to get through the content in manageable pieces. Enjoy!
Knowing the brokenness of the traditional family unit that overwhelmingly affects the lives of America’s youth, it is becoming more and more necessary to engage parents and families in practicing effective youth ministry. In The Godbearing Life, Kenda Creasy Dean points out that “research overwhelmingly identifies the family as the most important faith field in a young person’s life.” In his groundbreaking book titled Think Orange, Reggie Joiner identifies the critical role of the family “to love and demonstrate God’s character through an unconditional relationship” (Joiner, Think Orange, 44). The foundational concept unleashed in Think Orange is the impact that could be achieved were the church and family to collide in influencing the lives of the next generation:
As long as churches do only what churches are doing, they will get only the results they are presently getting. And as long as families do only what families are doing, they will produce only the outcomes they are presently producing. To experience a different outcome, we have to embrace a different strategy (Joiner, 24).
Joiner suggests that the primary purpose of the church leader “is not to equip parents to have exceptional parenting skills” (Joiner, 48). Rather, church leaders ought to help parents understand that “their role is to impress on their children the love and character of God,” and to “help them parent from the perspective of a bigger story, one that allows room for our missteps but still encourages us to participate” (Joiner, 48). The church can only be the church to young people if parents and families are encouraged to understand their role as “little congregations” (Dean and Foster, The Godbearing Life, 77).
Incarnational youth ministry must focus on the important faith shaping that takes place in the context of the family unit, no matter how broken and messy that unit may be. Kenda Dean points out that “regardless of our family configuration, most of us ‘go barefoot’ at home: We are more likely to expose our psyches in the protected space of families than anywhere else, a fact that opens us both to the good and the bad that families have to offer” (Dean and Foster, 78). The question then becomes, what can the church do to allow authentic youth ministry to take place in the holy space of family time and how can the church engage parents in the faith formation of their children?
[For this week, I will leave this question open for discussion. More to come next week.]