Taking a Step
By Sarah Anderson
Spiritual leader—two words people use a lot at church, and ones that they often direct right at you as a parent. Those words can be pretty intimidating. Leading our kids spiritually is one of those things we know we should do, maybe even want to do, but we’re just not sure how.
But when it comes to the influence you have on your kids spiritually, it is something we rarely learn how to do until we simply make the decision to do it. We can read books. We can listen to guidance. We can observe the pros. But we can’t really make any strides until we simply take the plunge and make the first move.
For a lot of us, there is nothing more scary than endeavoring to navigate our own spirituality, let alone talk with our kids about their spirituality. But we can’t be non-participants in this. We can’t watch from the sidelines and allow the youth pastor, the small group leader or the church as a whole take over a role designed and purposed for you as parents—as tempting, appealing and easy as that might be.
Your kids need you—more than they need a coolly dressed youth pastor. Your kids need you—more than they need a culturally relevant small group leader. Your kids need you—more than they need a spiritually impressive church. All of those can play an important role, but they don’t lessen your role. Your kids need you, because your kids are watching you, observing you, taking note of you and the value you place on what is going on with them spiritually. So fading into the background isn’t really an option.
So how do you even begin to engage your kids when it comes to their spiritual well being? For one, you start by asking questions. I remember hearing years ago that people can easily determine what I value and what matters to me by the questions I ask them. When I first got married, my dad would ask me if my new husband and I were “doing okay financially.” He asked this one question often enough that I knew, to him, it mattered that we were managing our money wisely. In the same way, the questions we ask our kids reveal what means the most to us. Are we only concerned with their grades, their whereabouts and their messy rooms? Or do we take the time to ask about their time at church? What did they most enjoy about their time there? Was there something that stuck out that they heard or talked about? Was there anything that challenged them or confused them? Begin a conversation, a dialogue, an ongoing connection that happens because you made the effort to care about what is happening at church.
Make yourself available. Don’t allow yourself to become invisible in your own teenager’s life. Kids notice your willingness to simply be there —whether they acknowledge it now or years later. Your presence alone is communicating a valuable message: “I care about you. You matter to me. So, I am going to make sure you have my attention. You have my time. You have me.” This could mean you make the effort to drop off or pick up your student from the student program or it could mean you are simply tuned into what is happening in the student ministry. Doing this communicates to both the youth pastor and to your student that what they are doing has validity, is important and matters enough to you for you to know what is going on.
Sometimes, leading your child spiritually takes time. Sometimes it is more comfortable to stay uninvolved in something that doesn’t come so easily and feels so odd. But even though it’s easier, if you don’t make the effort, you’ll miss out on some incredible experiences. With most things, when you give it time, things start to improve. The outlook isn’t so bad. It doesn’t feel so foreign. In fact, it may actually start to feel right.
No, it doesn’t happen overnight. And no, it doesn’t mean that it’s always going to go well. There will be some awkward silences. There will be times when you’ll wish you would have said something differently. But continued effort, renewed care and concern can go a long way. And the glimpses of payoff—though maybe brief—are enough to look past the awkward foibles that come with the learning process to see the potential.
When it comes to the spiritual lives of your kids, there is potential. So much potential. Nurture it in them, not by becoming a super parent, but by becoming their parent—a parent who cares too much to fade into the background and let someone else steer the reigns of their spiritual lives.