Parents, your faith is important

Christianity Today reports on a new study about parent, children and the resiliency of faith. The study was released in a book by University of Southern California researcher, Vern Bengtson. The book is called Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations.

Key take aways:

  1. Parents who consistently model the faith have more faithful children.
  2. Parents with positive relationships with the children, especially when the father is warm and affirming, are more likely to have faithful children.

The article also says that the hard-nosed approach of making children follow the parent’s religion did not pay off. Children need to experiment and ask questions so that they faith can become their own. This is a scary proposition for parents, but I’ve seen this point worked out in life. Too many demanding parents don’t understand why their children walk away. It’s because they never really felt called to Christ. They just learned to obey mom and dad while mom and dad were close.

Finally, the study shows a positive relationship with the older generation (i.e, grandparents) is helpful in drawing children to life long faith.

I haven’t read this book yet, but the article makes me want to move it up my list. This is way Etchea exists, because if we want to pass our faith on to the next generation, we need to do it by building positive relationship between the younger generation and older the others in the church.  We need healthy families and we need the church to act as a healthy family.

Moving toward MLK’s dream: 5 ways to give your children a rich cultural experience

Today is the 50th celebration of Martin Luther King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. Most of the readers of this blog are white and middle class. As such, we will notice the rally happening there again today, but its significance will be distant.

I can remember my children singing the old song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” “Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight.” God created all people, and all people carry the image of God. That’s why, today, I propose that a rich cultural experience in childhood is important for the spiritual development of children.

I was fortunate to be raised in a world with many Hispanic and African American friends. Each one added to my understanding of the reality of the world that others live. Not everyone is so blessed. About 95% of my community is white (source), and nearly all are middle to upper middle class. Because of this, my family has had to find other ways to introduce our children to a diversity of God’s people. Here are 5 ways that you can help your children to experience other cultures:

  • Be friends with the minorities in your community. Invite them to share their culture with you. We’ve had Haitian-Italian-Mexican fusion night in our house. The food was wonderful.
  • Spend time in the city nearest to you. You can go as a tourist, or you can serve in a soup kitchen. Make it normal to be in the city.
  • Teach your children another language. Travel to where that language is spoken.
  • Take a short term trip to another country. Leave the tourist areas while you’re there. Is that unsafe? Maybe. You be the judge of how unsafe you will go, but living a life of safety isn’t likely to help your children develop well either. See my post Why safe is not always better.
  • For those with education in their plans, live on campus, if you can. Educational institutions tend to draw people from varied communities and other countries.
  • Move. If you’ve been in your community your whole family life, find a job somewhere else. Make a plan and move. If your company has overseas operations, this may be a great chance to do a couple of years in a completely different culture.

2 point 62: Moderating life to be a better parent

This morning I went for a run. (Actually, I used to run. Now I trot and breathe really hard.) As I took off on this run, I set my running app for 2.62 miles. That may seem like a random distance, but it isn’t. It’s a goal that I’ve set for myself regularly-  not to let exercise be my driving goal, as much as a way to maintain some health and enjoy some personal time.

2.62 is 1/10th of a marathon. These days you may often see cars with 26.2 or 13.1 stickers on their bumpers and trunks. Those signify that the driver has completed a half or full marathon. These mark noble goals, I’m sure. They signify that the person has achieved a high level of fitness–one that I have never reached. My only concern with this goal is that it is a sign of something that I think can begin to infect families and can become a barrier to good parenting.

Back when I was young, few people ran marathons. Now, judging the number of cars with stickers, and Facebook posts and Tweets from many of my connections, it has become a trendy activity to show this achievement and personal drive.

Drive is good in some ways, but it can get in the way of good parenting. When parents train for marathons, they run from 2 to 4 hours per day. On top of their running goals, many add other health goals, subsequently adding gym memberships that require more time and hundreds of dollars in fees.

If parent drive isn’t in health areas, many more parents are driven toward personal success. Their careers become more than ways to support their family, and can go beyond a normal source of fulfillment. Careers can become the parent’s identity. Most people have to put in overtime on occasions. When a career  becomes an identity, these people will work 60 or more hours a week most of the time. Personal time is frequently interrupted to deal with work situations, or these people are lost in their work mentally, even when involved in non work activities.

Drive in itself isn’t a bad thing, but many families are lost in this drive when it becomes a way of life. Driven parents lose important opportunities to demonstrate love to their children. Driven parents can pass along a number one value of being driven. Other values like loving one another, caring for your community, faith, and moderation can be lost in a driven parent’s lifestyle.

Now that my kids are grown, I have time to dedicate to new personal activities. I guess I could make the time to prepare for a marathon, but I don’t need to. For now, I’m happy with the 2.62 concept. Exercising 30 minutes per day is enough.

Relocation Stress Syndrome and the first days at college

I have a couple of personal events taking precedent in my life this week, so rather than just shutting down the blog for a few days, please indulge me with this opportunity to share what I’m learning through these events. I think you’ll find them relevant to the mission of Etchea.

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I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary yesterday. Today we are packing up our youngest daughter to take her to college. Celebrations are all fun, but taking a child to college comes with a cocktail of emotional situations.

We all sat in Elie’s room earlier this week while she  sorted things for packing. In my curiosity I picked up a nursing book from her huge pile of textbooks.. I thumbed open a page to an article titled, “Relocation Stress Syndrome.” This syndrome has little to do with going to college, but that didn’t keep me from applying it to our situation.

Going to college is stressful. Here are some things about the first days of college that I think we can learn from the patient transfers.

  1. Relocation affects the whole person: physical, mental and emotional.
  2. Relocation makes financial issues more acute.
  3. Support systems are important for the person being relocated. Maintain contact and communication. At a time when a person needs the most support and counsel, that support is more difficult to get.
  4. Relocation leads to feelings of powerlessness.
  5. Many who are relocated become very passive.
  6. Past and current losses become more acute.
  7. The relocated person can feel that all experiences are unpredictable.

According to this text book, here are some ideas that will help alleviate relocation stress. I mention the ones that will also help a college student with their adjustment.

  1. Provide more information about the new environment.
  2. Get the person to make their own decisions about relocation. (Mom and dad, you aren’t going to college. Your child is. They can pick their own bedding, school supplies, and recreational items.)
  3. Make clear the purpose for relocation. (Some people feel obligated to go to college. Help your children understand how it fits their mid- and long-term goals.)
  4. Give the person a way to express their satisfaction with their new environment. (Parents can see their role as listening, not always fixing.)
  5. Keep connection to the family. (Thankfully, we have modern tools that can help college students be connected to their family and friends. Churches, too, need to maintain connection to their college students, especially when they’ve moved away.)

My family is working through the stress of sending our two children to college. I found these suggestions to be helpful for me to understand the issues that my girls and other young people face with this new step in their lives.

What is marriage? Reflections of 25 years

I have a couple of personal events taking precedent in my life this week, so rather than just shutting down the blog for a few days, please indulge me with this opportunity to share what I’m learning through these events. I think you’ll find them relevant to the mission of Etchea.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of marriage. There is so much going on in the news these days that precipitate questions. Since this is the day that marks 25 years of my marriage with Stefanie, allow me to run through these thoughts.

The purpose of marriage isn’t completely clear in the Bible. In Genesis we see that the first marriage was about companionship. It’s also about procreation. Later, in the Old Testament, we see marriages made as financial arrangements and for marking business and political partnerships. In the New Testament we see marriage as a symbol of the covenant between God and his people.

Of course, many today would think marriage is about personal fulfillment. I don’t see a lot in scripture to back that up, but we are inclined to think that marriage is about achieving a status in this world, thus proving our adulthood, our acceptance, and our character.

Whether fulfillment is a proper purpose for marriage or not, in 25-years I can say that I have found my marriage with Stefanie fulfilling. I believe that is because of the grace of God. By all normal measures our marriage had no more chance to succeed than any others, and I know many do not succeed.

Now, if marriage is about procreation and developing a family, I’m thankful because my wife has given and raised two wonderful daughters. Moriah and Elie are another fruit of God’s work, and a joy made possible because of Stefanie.

If marriage is about companionship, Stefanie is a wonderful companion. Creative and willing to listen, even to a man who talks too much.

If marriage is about partnership and sharing of life’s burden, then I can tell you that my wife has done that well. Even now, she carries much of the financial burden of this family, trusting that God will make something out of Etchea.

If marriage is about the symbol of God and his church, I am blessed because my wife is faithful- more faithful than I deserve sometimes. She’s more faithful than any church I have known. That’s good, because I am much less capable of unconditional love than God.

Thank you, Stefanie, for 25-years of marriage. Thank you, God, for Stefanie.

Note: If you’re reading this and feeling like your marriage isn’t always rosy, don’t worry. Our marriage isn’t either. Marriage takes work and care. Etchea is available to help coach you in your marriage.

How to raise kids to change the world

Yesterday, the last 3 seconds  of an advertisement caught my eye. It was a boy about 11 or 12 talking about doing well in school and ended with the line, “then I can be a scientist, and I can change the world.”

I saw this ad at the same time that I’m preparing for a class that I’ll be teaching at the College of New Jersey. The class is called Society, Ethics, and Technology. I’m reading Neil Postman’s Technopoly in preparation for teaching the class. I don’t think Postman is so keen on children wanting to be scientists so they can change the world. I think he’s agreed that scientists and engineers are changing the world, but not necessarily in a good way. I’ll reserve judgment of both the book and the philosophy for now.

This series of things did get me to thinking about what parents should be doing as they lead their children into their future. Should parents teach their children to want to change the world? 

Maybe there’s a better goal for parents than telling their children they have to be scientists, politicians, lawyers, rock stars, or megachurch pastors to change the world. Maybe your child will become one of these things, but the people who really change the world are the people who live life in Christ as people of character.

How do you guide your children to live lives of good character? Try these three things.

  1. Live a life of faith and character before them. Make your faith central in your life.
  2. Work to surround your children with people of character.
  3. Move the target. If you teach that worldly success (being a great scientist or whatever) is the goal in life, their character will always be competitive. If you teach them to be loving and faithful, their character will be more loving and faithful.

People best change the world when Christ lives through their lives, humbly serving him wherever they are. I hope many children have great careers as scientists and other notable jobs, but I hope that in those careers they are focused being men and women of character, more than on dominating the field, their company leadership structure, or the world. Your children will be successful when they are comfortable with what Christ is doing in their life.

Parent’s goals of success can trip their kids on the way to their callings

photo credit: jake vance via photopin cc

One afternoon I had an opportunity to talk with a parent of one of the young men who had graduated from my ministry.

“I hear Billy (not his real name) wants to go into a ministry with disabled people.” I said with excitement.

Linda, Billy’s mom, responded, “Yeah, but we’re not going to let him change his major.”

“Why not?” I asked, having figured that the family, who was very involved in our church, would be thrilled that their now young adult child was finding a clear calling.

“We told Billy that if he wants us to pay for his college he will have to finish his career path. Ministry won’t pay him enough to live a comfortable lifestyle.”

Confused, I asked, “So you don’t think his ministry plan is valuable?”

“We do,” she responded. “But we think he should work as a professional for a few years until he’s financially set to live a comfortable life. We told him at that time he could follow his ministry call.”

As a parent, I understand the concern one might have over seeing a child struggle financially, but I am uneasy when parents put planning for a child’s financial future over their child’s calling.

Anyone can find their calling. That is the point at which they use their gifts and strengths for a greater good. It is in serving a calling that people begin to find fulfillment in their work. It is by fulfilling a calling that a person benefits society. It’s a person’s calling that leads them to a point of serving God in all walks of life.

The missional family works to help their children identify their calling.

A calling is different than a career path. To manage a career path, most people set goals (e.g., to be a managing engineer, to be a doctor, to be president of the United States, or CEO of a large corporation). A calling is an attitude of purpose and satisfaction (e.g., I care for people; I give people direction; I help people understand bigger things).

Career paths often demand that people compromise. The young executive may break a few rules to his path to becoming CEO. The doctor my give up her family to build a booming practice. An engineer may fudged some of my financial numbers to underbid the competition knowing that that it will demand additional charges later.

A person can find meaning in their calling even when their jobs are menial, low paying, threatened by economic crisis, or led by a lousy boss. The odd thing about this is that people who have a firm understanding of their calling are often better employees, so their bosses respond better to them. They will succeed because they stick with their job despite frustration when others might have quit and switch jobs prematurely.

Colorado State recently held a webinar offered to alumni on the topic of calling. Psychology professor Dr. Bryan Dik presented a great picture of calling. Parents can help their children find their calling by following the four suggestions that Dik makes.

  1. Use strengths.
  2. Link activity to outcomes that matter.
  3. Focus on the greater good.
  4. Actively craft work—Its tasks, relationship climate, and purpose.

Dik writes about these things in Make your job a calling: How the psychology of vocation can change your life at work (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2012). This might be a good book to help you with your calling, too.

Parents have the opportunity to set a goal for their children. It’s my experience most children learn to hit the goal that their parents set. If parents teach kids to make money, they’ll make money. If their goal is to have a successful career path, their kids will have a priority of developing a career path. If it is to do something greater with their lives, then parents need to focus on teaching their kids to find their calling.

Don’t trip children as they seek their calling. Focus on teaching a attitude of doing God’s work whether the job is big or small.

Guiding your children can be difficult. Complete the form below to schedule a coaching session. The first 30-minute phone session is free.

For Nurturing Children and Churches: Why Safe is Not Always Better

Parents are tasked with protecting their children. Church leaders, likewise, are responsible for protecting their church.

In both of these cases, protecting does not mean taking the safe way all the time.

Parents should put their kids in child seats. That’s safe and that’s protecting them.

Parents should not jump into every situation that can get their children into trouble. That seems safe in the short run, but in the long run, children parented in such a way will never learn to be creative or innovative. They won’t learn to fight to get themselves out of difficult places. They won’t learn to stand on their own feet.

Children need to experience unsafe challenges.

Church leaders need to allow conflict to rise in their churches. They need to learn to allow the people to work out their difficult situations. They even need to allow their people to consider heretical ideas. By allowing these things rather than taking the safe way, church leaders will have stronger churches who are more convinced of their purpose and beliefs.

If church leaders jump into every issue, their church members will be weak and reliant on leaders. This is dangerous for the church.

Church leadership is a lot like parenting. Parenting is a lot like leading.

3 things you can do with kids that might serve them better than Sunday school

In many people’s minds, Sunday school or the Sunday morning children’s program is the standard for the spiritual development of children. When a child doesn’t like their class, parents are often greatly concerned. I’ve had many ask me to help persuade their child to give into the parent’s pleading and go to the class.

My response to the parent is that if your child is comfortable in the service with you, let them come. Children’s ministry is a good option for many children, but it isn’t the supreme way of discipling them. Here are 3 things that parents and churches can do to help children grow in their faith that are just as good, or better, than sending children to an age-graded church alternative program.

1. Take them with you to the worship service.

Children’s church and youth worship alternatives were started in the 1970s and 1980s, as developmental theory became the guiding rational for our spiritual development programs. Developmental theory comes from the world of education. Education (gaining knowledge of a subject matter) is a part of spiritual development, but it isn’t the whole, or even the main, aspect of spiritual formation. Along with understanding the Bible better, people grow as disciples when they (1) experience God’s hand moving through the church in action, (2) pray in a community, (3) see mature believers in action, and (4) when they humble themselves by giving up something special to them in order to benefit another person.

Many churches write these sorts of things into their children and youth curriculum, but they don’t have to come through those avenues. These things are happening already in the church, in worship service gatherings, and through opportunities to interact with different people within the church body.

2. Teach them to serve.

Faith is not a spectator event. Children learn a lot from watching their parents and others involved in spiritual exercise, but children will learn more by participation. Churches and parents should be looking for ways to get children involved – collecting offering, handing out bulletins, helping disabled people participate, pouring coffee, reading prayers, cleaning the building, or whatever other opportunities people can dream up. When children are an active part of the worship services, and they aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Older people will be blessed by their energy and involvement.

I do not encourage junior preachers. Children and youth many want to give testimonies from time to time, but preaching is a complicated art that come with excellent knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. There are many other places where a child can find their calling.

3. Allow them to participate in spiritual exercises with other spiritually mature adults.

If parents don’t think they can sit with their children for a worship service, there are others who can. Perhaps parents don’t feel that they are emotionally strong enough to sit next to a squirming child. Perhaps parents are active in the service and cannot keep a close eye on their child. These parents need not expect that they have to send their child to a separate class; these children can sit with someone else through the service. Many teens like sitting with younger children. Senior adults might like an opportunity to be close to youth too. There is no special training necessary, and the children will learn how broad the family of God can be.

One equation proven to make you a better parent

Parents often ask, what do I do when…?

Those are good questions, but the answer is seldom simple. Many “parenting experts” have sold books based on trying to make it simple. The problem is that their one-size-fits-all solutions don’t fit all situations.

I’ve studied parenting for years. I’ve mined the scriptures for what I can find to help me with the what do I do when questions. Sadly, I seldom find a simple, clear answer in the scriptures. The colicky infants, terrible twos, mouthy pre-teens, and angsty teens don’t come up in much biblical discussion.

Sure, the Proverbs provide some guidance for parenting children. There are some general concepts that should be taken seriously, but it’s hard to say there are any clean formulas to follow for how to discipline, or how to teach your faith to your children.

But there is one formula that will always help you in your parenting.

The quality of your parenting is directly related to your personal development.

The more you pray, the better parent you are able to be.

The more you engage in personal reflection, the better you can address your child’s issues.

The more you allow God to work in your life and to build your faith, the more your child will see a positive example of God’s work, and the more likely they are to allow God’s hand to work in their life.

In many ways, parenting is about you.