Monday, November 24, 2014

Family-Centered, Church-Supported, Christ-Founded (A Family Life Model for Congregations)

Family Life Ministry, as I learned it, is a ministry that is centered on the family, supported by the Church, and founded on Christ. I'd like to share with you why I've found this ministry to be so important.

First, we need to determine what we mean by "family". The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has 11 different definitions with six sub-definitions. I'll share the five most relevant of those. Merriam-Webster says a family is "a group of people who are related to each other," "a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head," "a group of persons of common ancestry," "the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also:  any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family," or "spouse and children."

The type of family I will be referring to throughout this post is best defined as a collection of people related legally or biologically that live in a fallen world and are called by God to love and support each other by the power of the Holy Spirit, living within the boundaries of God’s laws.

According to LifeWay research (as cited by Christianity Today), 70% of young adults stop attending church in their youth. Two-thirds of that 70% do return, but that still leaves almost a quarter of all young adults raised in churches leaving and staying away. This number is too high.

Before pointing any fingers, it should be said that 77% of Christian families are doing something right. 47% of young adults that stop attending church return, and 30% never leave. The parents in these families, I propose, are placing a high value on faith, as numerous surveys have shown that parental example and guidance is the best way to ensure youth remain in church throughout their life.

According to a Swiss survey of parental effects on faith formation: "If father and mother are both regular churchgoers: 33 per cent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers with a further 41 per cent attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practising at all.”

The Association of Religious Data Archives reports that only one percent of fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds whose parents considered religion of little import were “highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.” Contrarily, 82% of children that had parents “who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations” were active in their faith as young adults.

Clearly, the best way to instill faith in young people is to instill it at home. No matter what churches, no matter how many programs congregations run, there is no substitute for parents modeling faith both in church and at home. Pew Research says that mothers spend 13.5 hours per week with their children, and fathers spend 7.3 hours per week with them. Most churches have a church service that lasts one hour and a Sunday school program that also lasts an hour—two hours per week to teach faith to these young people (maybe slightly higher for the year or two preceding Confirmation). Parents are spending three to six times more time with their children than churches do—doesn’t it follow, then, that parents should be spending more time than churches teaching the faith to their children?

Luther’s Small Catechism opens the Ten Commandments with “as the head of the family should teach them to his household.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says of the Law, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 exhorts fathers, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Both Scripture and Church tradition set the example for family-centered faith formation. Churches can train parents to teach their children, but they simply do not have enough time to drastically influence the faith formation of children and young adults. The responsibility must inevitably fall to parents, or that 23% of youth that stop attending church for good will rise until we have an entire generation of un-churched adults.

*All Scripture passages referenced are from the ESV Bible.*

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