CONNECTING FAMILIES TO CHRIST
I love being a youth minister. One of the most amazing things that I am privileged to do as a youth minister is to watch as young men and women give their lives totally over to the Lord. To see that "lightbulb" go off over their heads when they realize that Jesus really is real, that He really does have a purpose for their lives, and that they really can know Him personally. That is an incredible event to be a part of. But, do you know what is even better than that? When it happens to WHOLE FAMILIES!
Do you know why?
Because when a teen comes to know Christ on their own, it may be real and permanent, or it may be the "thing" to do this week. I hate to be pessimistic, but the unconnected teenager is a plant grown in very shallow soil. It is very hard to keep that plant alive, because they do not have enough support. They do not have roots. But when a whole family is devoted to the Lord, then I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young person will have roots they can grow on. It doesn't matter if I stink as a youth minister, or walk on water: statistics tell me that those youth that are disconnected from faithful families and disconnected from the Church have a drastically lower chance of staying faithful to Christ as they grow up.
Let me run through the statistics with you real quick: Most studies tell us that between 90-98% of people who accept Christ do so before the age of 21. If they don't accept the Gospel before they leave high school, chances aren't good they will ever accept the Gospel. Now, here's a surprising statistic: Who do you think would have a better chance of staying a devoted Christian when they become adults, teens who attended youth group regularly or teens who attended regular old Sunday services with their parents? You would think it was those teens who had the super-cool youth minister who could present the faith in ultra-hip totally relevant ways, right? Wrong.
Actually, teens who are brought to Sunday services regularly by their parents (even if they are dragged kicking and screaming) are statistically about twice as likely to be committed Church members when they grow up. Now, teens involved regularly in Sunday services AND regularly in youth group are EVEN more likely to be committed Christians when they grow up. But, if you are given the choice between either dropping your kids off at youth group or actually attending Church WITH them, attending Church as a whole family, regularly, is the best option. Now, speaking as a youth minister, I want you to hedge your bets and drop your kids off at youth group too!
I say all of this because there is a perennial idea out there among some that youth group is like a "spiritual dry cleaner". Some folks want to drop their kids off for a couple of hours and have them returned stain-treated, pressed, and morally clean. But it just don't work like that! The Barna polling agency (www.barna.org) tells us that adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as are their peers who avoided the church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively).
A 1994 survey in Switzerland showed that if both father and mother attended church regularly then 33% of their children became regular churchgoers, 41% irregular churchgoers, and 25% non-practicing. But, if the mother was a regular church attender, but the father irregular, then ONLY 3% of their children became regular churchgoers, and 59% irregular attenders, and 38% non-practicing. This is a strong call to parents to be active in the spiritual formation of their kids. The priest can't do it for you, and neither can the youth minister, no matter how "cool" they are. It is an especially strong wakeup call to FATHERS. Spiritual headship of the family does not begin with a man's "authority" as a husband, but in being a servant-leader and being involved with the spiritual growth of your children, especially by being involved regularly in the worship and service of the Church. There is simply NO SUBSTITUTE for parental involvement in spiritual development, and that goes double for the involvement of fathers.
So, what can we do about it? Here are some common sense ideas for connecting your family spiritually to Christ on a regular basis. Try them out and see which ideas work for your family:
1. Attend Sunday Worship together regularly as a family. Nothing is a better predictor of Christian commitment later in life than this, and nowhere else can we participate in the Sacrament of Eucharist for the strengthening of our souls.
2. Make sure every family member is involved with a growth group outside of Sunday worship. These groups are important because they provide support, encouragement, prayer, and Bible teaching on age-appropriate levels. Sunday school is one type of growth group, but there are others. For adults, growth groups may be "small groups", "care groups", or in home Bible studies. For teens, there is youth group or youth Bible studies aimed at their age level. If your Church does not have a youth group, you might pray and seriously ask God if He is calling you to start one.
3. Make Sabbath times that are off-limits to other activities. This goes with 1 and 2 above. God gave the Israelites a Sabbath for a reason: for rest, for recuperation, but mostly as a lesson in priorities. If Sunday worship and growth groups are always put in last place so that every game, every practice, and every special event knocks them out of place, then you are sending a strong message to your kids about how unimportant Jesus Christ is to you, and you are inviting them to model that. But if you keep Sabbath times holy for God and His Church, you are sending an even stronger message.
4. Make a practice of blessing your kids whenever you can. When you say goodbye or drop them off, don't just say "Bye". Bless them. Say "May the Lord bless you and keep you and fill you with His Love", or "May the Lord bless you to be a blessing to others". Or, come up with your own blessings. But whatever you do: Bless them!
5. Say grace at meals. Take turns and have the kids say grace as well. Let them know that the gifts you are about to receive are from God and it is important to give Him thanks. My favorite blessing is "Lord Christ, bless this food to our nourishment and us to your service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen."
6. Whenever talking about decisions with your kids, do not be afraid to bring Christ and prayer into the discussion, especially if it deals with moral choices. You can ask: "What do you think Jesus would think about that?" or "Have you prayed about it?" Also, do not hesitate to pray with your kids. Prayer is a great way to end a discussion. Simply ask God to give both you, and your child, wisdom about what you have been discussing.
7. I know this might sound crazy, but watch TV or movies WITH your child. Choose one show or movie a week to watch together that you both enjoy. You probably should pick a drama, or something with a plot that is easy to discuss. Then ask questions like: "What scenes stuck out to you? Why?" "What was the message that this show was trying to get across?" "Is this message good or bad? Why?" "What do you think God thought of this show?" "Which character was most like Jesus? Which was least like Him? Why?"
8. Try and create a daily time of prayer as a family. It might be in the morning before school (I know, probably won't happen), or at dinner time, or before bed. Gather everyone together and follow this simple plan:
+ First, read a Psalm (or part of a Psalm if it is long).
+ Then, everyone pray at least one thanksgiving.
+ Then, everyone pray for their needs and concerns.
+ Finally, end with the Lord's prayer.
If you need more structure, grab a Book of Common Prayer and follow the "Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families" found on pages 136-140.
9. I know this might sound even crazier, but have you ever thought of studying the Bible together as a family? I know, sounds weird. But, if you want to try it, here is a quick and painless method. Start out by going through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Choose small readings that are marked off by section headings, such as "Jesus feeds the 5000" or "Jesus tempted in the wilderness". Stick to the parts where Jesus talks, which are interesting to discuss. Reading genealogies can kill a Bible study! Now, when you gather, follow this pattern:
+ Pray and ask Christ to speak through the reading.
+ Read the passage and ask: What word or phrase stuck out to you? Why?
+ Read the passage again and ask: What does your word or phrase mean to you? Why is it important?
+ Read the passage a final time and ask: What is God calling you to do or change based on this passage?
+ Pray together and ask God to help you do what He has shown.
You do not have to be a Bible scholar or know ancient history to do this type of Bible study. You only have to be willing to explore with your kids.
10. Pray and ask God for other ways to become invested in the spiritual growth of your kids. The possibilities are endless!