Seven years ago, my life changed forever with the birth of our first child—our son, Banks.
The reality that I was the primary spiritual leader of my new child’s life hit while in the hospital. What was I supposed to do? Was I equipped to raise this other human, another sinner, in a way that would point him to the Savior? I am a youth minister. I get paid to point other sinners to the Savior. But, all of a sudden, I was facing a new situation and I needed help. Being part of a church, how many times had I heard, or even said myself, that parents (especially fathers) are the primary spiritual leaders of their children?
It’s a statement that I still hold to be true; however, over the years I have come to realize that becoming my child’s spiritual leader takes work. I am a sinner. A selfish sinner. And honestly, my children can often be an inconvenience. Pointing them toward Christ is difficult, and parents like me need help learning to become the kind of spiritual leaders God desires of us.
In her book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell discussed some of her research, which found that 80% of high school seniors who were committed to and engaged in the life of their churches during high school walk away from their faith once they leave their parents’ home. She also found that parents had the most influential role in their children’s lives.
These two pieces of information are vital for parents to understand if they want to raise children who love Jesus. Statistically speaking, my children are more likely to walk away from their faith when they are no longer directly under my influence living in my house. This is terrifying, and it’s the reason that in 2018, St. Paul’s Conway started The Village, a ministry that exists for three main purposes: to equip parents to be the spiritual leaders of their families; to connect parents with other parents who are also learning to become spiritual leaders in their families; and to encourage these parents to share Christ’s love in their homes and communities. During the fall and spring, The Village meets monthly to share a meal and a teaching. Here are some of the topics we have discussed in previous meetings:
• What is Truth?
• Praying for your Child(ren)
• Your Child’s Love Language
• Godly Conversations with Your Child
• Capturing God’s Word
• Relationships that Matter
• Intentional Parenting Series by Doug Fields
While the parents meet together, our children also meet together. We have an amazing group of volunteers who help with the children. On any given night, there might be 30 kids, infant through high school, and these adults love each child individually. They send the kids mail to let them know how special they are. They play with the kids on the playground and in the wood chips. They help to calm the bad tempers and the tears, and they encourage kindness and love. And our kids love them back. It’s an amazing thing when your children want to invite these volunteers to their birthday parties. It’s these kinds of relationships that help to build a child’s sense of belonging within their church.
During the summer we spend less time focused on teaching and more time on fellowship and connecting with one another. This is an important aspect for both the children and the adults, especially since COVID’s interruption. All of us have missed lots of opportunity for normal interaction with others in the last year and a half, and The Village was intentional about trying to get families together to share a bit of normalcy. From beach days to berry picking to bowling, we come together to connect with each other and grow in our friendship with each other, all with the goal of aiding and encouraging one another in parenting our children toward the only one who can save them.
The Village is not a failproof way to raise children who love the Lord. We can plant seeds and we can water those seeds, but God must give the growth. The Village is simply a ministry that helps parents plant seeds together and water seeds together so that we can be encouraged during these important and formative years in our children’s lives.
By Sean Richardson, Youth Pastor, St Paul’s, Conway