Every day is a school day
On 23 March I got a new job. I remained PCI Youth Development Officer, but overnight also became home-schooling teacher for my P5 and P6 children. This was not a job I asked for or expected and I felt unqualified and unskilled for it. But it was my job and I knew I had to commit to it, trusting God to help me not mess them up too much. During a very steep learning curve we found a routine and learned together. Some days saw screaming, crying and refusal to open the books - and the children sometimes got upset too! By the end of June, however, we three were grateful for a bonding experience which hopefully didn’t ruin their educational prospects.
Church is out
Parents who relate to this may have felt they got another new job around the same time, the spiritual education of their kids. They may have felt similarly ill-equipped for this. Suddenly there was no church service, no Sunday school or children’s organisations. Youth organisations stopped and there were no helpful youth leaders to solve their teenager’s latest crisis. As parents, many of us realised afresh how much we rely on the wonderful input from church to our children and young people. Even congregations who managed some online children’s and youth input in the following months undoubtedly understood anew the importance of family in children’s faith.
Supporting primary disciplers
Yet, this is nothing new. Christian parents have always been in the best position to disciple their children. Mark DeVries, prolific writer on youth ministry, puts it like this, “parents play a role second only to that of the Holy Spirit in building the spiritual foundation of their children’s lives”.
Right now we cannot underestimate the importance of the role families play in developing the faith of children and young people. Rather than seeing present circumstances as a challenge, perhaps they are a wonderful, God-given, opportunity to invest in making a difference in homes in our congregations. Even families who already actively developed faith at home will have found it challenging this year. Many embraced the opportunities of lockdown to spend more intentional devotional time, but like all new resolutions, this got harder over time, especially since the return to school. The reality is that families need support and encouragement to feel able to effectively build faith in their children. Like home-schooling, even the committed need confidence and tools.
Every family has experienced challenges from this pandemic. Maybe the stress of home-schooling and home-working, or being key-worker parents in vulnerable situations. Perhaps sickness in the wider family, whether from Covid or another cause. Many families have experienced the pain of separation from loved ones, possibly vulnerable elderly relatives. Some have experienced bereavement, unable to fully mourn. Throughout, ministers and others in our congregations have worked hard to provide care for wounded families, and pastoral needs will get no easier in a winter which will hold many challenges, but this provides opportunities for the whole church family to love one another in Christ.
So how can we embrace current challenges for families pastorally and in faith development, translating them into opportunities for family ministry? Like all we do these days, it is important to make our responses simple, achievable, practical and targeted on what matters most.
There are lots of things that can help families develop faith at home, encouraging them to believe this role is achievable, not trying to replicate church activities, but rather weaving faith into daily routines. We can’t do everything, but we can pick one or two things that seem right for our situation. For example:
- Recommend or buy families a good book: Like Raising Faith by Care for the Family, or the All Together Now devotional booklet by Awesome Cutlery. Putting a simple, useable resource in people’s hands can make a big difference.
- Promote a seminar or website: Care for the Family have several online events like Primary Parenting and Mum’s the Word which will be held this November. They are easy to book, empowering and free!
- Email out a resource or web link: Like the Splink family devotional resource from D6 or the CPYU Parent Page providing practical advice to parents of teenagers (links at the bottom of this page).
- Encourage: Simple positive encouragement from the pulpit, church Facebook page or elder’s contact can give the gentle nudge that empowers parents to take a small step.
Caring for families
Many kirk sessions will be considering how best to provide pastoral care as we face an uncertain winter, and each congregation will again have its own unique approach, but a few simple things can help:
- Practical support: Young people who previously provided babysitting for a single parent might now sweep up their leaves; families with new-borns may appreciate a “ministry of lasagne” more than ever.
- Linking families: Often the best support for parents can be provided by another family and a simple opportunity to share on the phone, or after church, may give enough reassurance to keep both sets of parents sane.
- Financial help: Supporting the local foodbank has probably never been more important, but discrete targeted help may be provided to specific families you know.
- Thoughtfulness: Keep the needs of families in mind when planning worship services, or any new youth and children’s ventures, bearing in mind the importance of good communication. The PCI Family Friendly Youth Ministry resource provides some useful tips.
Challenges into opportunities
God is still at work in people’s lives today, bringing his gospel love and grace into the most challenging situations through ordinary people in his church who ask God to make them a blessing. We must not over-complicate things or be too ambitious, but seek to resource Christian parents to walk daily in faith with their children and teens and provide the care and support that every family needs at this time.
If any of us feels daunted by our ‘new job’, we are never alone, but face it together as the body of Christ – this is the church.
Links to helpful resources
PCI resource for parents of teenagers Faith in Your Teens
Like and follow PCI's Family Ministry Facebook page
PCI Family Ministry Resources page
PCI Family Friendly Youth Ministry resource
PCI Family Worship blog
Care for the Family provide a range of supports including their online events, a helpful Family Life Blog, and many other methods of parent support
Awesome Cutlery provide fun and gospel-centred teaching through songs, sketches and livesteams, with two easy to use family devotional books which go alongside their videos
Center for Parent Youth Understanding provide articles and resources to help parents understand young people and their culture; you can sign up to receive a free copy of their monthly Parent Page by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
D6 is a movement intentional about empowering parents, homes, marriages, leaders, and churches to live out the story of Deuteronomy 6, including their weekly family devotional page Splink.
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.
Visit the Refined hub here.