The research has been at the forefront of my mind since the day it was published. Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers focus in on a unique variable that suggests that there is a correlation between the faith importance of parents and the faith importance of young adults.
Circled around a conference table, Christian, myself, and a handful of incredible junior high youth ministry leaders across the United States, gathered to wrestle with data that overwhelmingly suggests that the strongest variable in a teenagers spirituality was a parent or parents who had a high faith importance throughout their adolescence.
Our conversations shifted back and forth.
Should we be focusing more on parent ministry?
Is what we're currently doing enough?
In those moments when we have shifted to parent focused youth ministry, did it make a difference?
Do parents want to be ministered to?
We'd follow the rich rabbit trail of discussion with Christian interjecting his thoughts.
It ranks for me, one of the top five most stimulating and practical conversations on youth ministry I've experienced.
At the same time, I walked away wondering how this sorts itself out in my ministry.
I think we all did.
I think we're all still sorting it out.
In an ideal situation, we'd be the "vitamin" and the parents would be
the "meal" in spiritual and life formation/ development.
But this isn't
always the case. We stand in the gap in many cases where this isn't possible.
What I'm learning is that prayer is the infrastructure
of that bridge.
Not every teenager we journey with has a home, a parent, a functional living environment. And even some of those that are present, participatory, and prepared for raising teenagers may still lack spiritual depth and leadership that a child needs during his or her most formative years. Parents need help.
I know, because I need help.
There are many levels of ministering to parents.
Both spontaneous and planned.
I used to think that the more I planned to minister to parents, the more parents would be ministered to. Now I know that God does the ministering and I'm the catalyst for ministry.
On being a catalyst...well, one has to be open and ready to be used in all sorts of ways. We find ourselves yielding to God's leading because God knows what each parent needs in each of their unique situations. We don't know what they need in the intimate ways God does.
That's why we pray.
In prayer, we wait.
In the stillness, we receive.
Maybe a thought that lingers longer than most.
An ability to understand or to put pieces together.
A next step...
We love parents who are doing their best, and some who seem to be doing their worst.
We find a way through prayer.
We ask, God what do I need to be today as your catalyst?
The reaction you are looking for--that's what I want--so mold me and shape me so that I might be able to connect teenagers and their families with the grace of Jesus Christ.
I know my youth pastor prayed for our family.
There's no way he didn't.
I also know that he never knew how crazy things really were sometimes.
He was aware and intuitive, knowing some things about us.
But because our family life was mostly private--he could never know what I knew or what my parents knew or what we were going through, completely.
He did know how to serve us, love us, and be the catalyst--a bridge--where high faith importance wasn't quite getting me to the other side, and when he did that, I walked across and said hello to Jesus.
Don't feel so pressured to get it all right. You'll be all right when you get on your knees, listen, and then lay down your life.