Having a Faith of Their Own
About the Guest
Can parents be proactive in developing lasting faith in their kids? Certainly! Professor and youth minister Kara Powell shares some proven ideas for churches and parents that will help kids develop their own faith. Powell elaborates on the power of warmth, modeling faith to our kids, and building a team of adults to mentor your teen.
www.fulleryouthinstitute.org). Kara also serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue church in Pasadena, CA. She is the author of many books including Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas t...more
Professor and youth minister Kara Powell shares some proven ideas for churches and parents that will help kids develop their own faith.
Having a Faith of Their Own
Bob: It’s our responsibility, as parents, to pass on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation, especially to our own children. Author and speaker, Kara Powell, says our church communities have a significant role they play in the spiritual formation of children as well.
Kara: Of everything we looked at that a church provides, what was most directly correlated to mature faith in kids was intergenerational worship and relationships. You see, so often, we put the kids in their own room with their own teachers, with their own leaders, with their own events. In our well-intentioned effort to offer relevant and meaningful programming to young people, we have silo-ized them. According to our research, it’s toxic to their faith.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
How can you work together with your local church so that your children hear and understand the gospel more clearly? That’s one of the things we’ll explore today as we hear a message from Kara Powell. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We’ve heard from lots of moms and dads, who have said to us, “We need help in knowing how to imprint faith in the hearts and lives of our children.” Blended families—a lot of couples, who are in blended or stepfamilies, who have said, “We need help as well.”
And there are churches that, today, are saying: “You know what? We need to take some fresh looks at how we imprint the marks of faith in the lives of young people because there are a lot of young people, who are growing up, hearing about the faith and saying, ‘I don’t know if that’s for me.’”
Dennis: And I’ve got to tell you—if you are leading a church today, you need to take a good hard look at how you are pressing your youth back to their parents and how you are equipping the parents to be able to make the handoff of their faith in Jesus Christ and their trust in the Scriptures to their children.
That’s your assignment as a church—it is equipping the saints for the work of service—Ephesians, Chapter 4—and it begins at home.
Today, Bob, we’re going to have an expert from Fuller Youth Institute, there at Fuller Seminary, where she’s also a faculty member—Dr. Kara Powell, who is an educator, professor, youth minister, author and speaker—has written a book called Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. She’s going to practically share with our listeners some of the research that she’s done from a recent conference we did for stepfamilies in Southern California.
I hope folks—who are involved in any kind of blended ministry / stepfamily ministry—will think about joining us at The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™ that we’re going to be doing this fall in Colorado Springs with Focus on the Family®.
Bob: It’s the last week in September—it is in Colorado Springs. It is a couple of days where—even if you are not currently involved in doing stepfamily ministry / if you are in a church that has thought, “This is something we need to be giving more attention to,”—this is the perfect place to come and get some ideas on how you can effectively minister to blended and stepfamilies in your church.
Find out more about The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link that you see there—there is more information about it. You can register, online, if you’d like; or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Just ask for information on The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry.
And as we said—today, we’re going to hear from Dr. Kara Powell as she addressed this subject at our previous summit, back in November.
Kara: So, we’re going to talk today about sticky faith family ministry—putting the research that we’ve been doing at the Fuller Youth Institute into practice and how we train and equip parents and families in all different contexts—blended as well as non-blended.
One of my friends and colleagues at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Pam King—she used a great term in describing how a lot of families view the church. She said: “A lot of families view the church like a dry cleaner. They think they can bring their kids, all dirty, Sunday morning around nine o’clock, check them in, and let the paid and volunteer leaders do the spiritual cleaning. Then, 90 minutes later, after the worship service and Sunday school is over, they go back, pick them up; and they’ve been all spiritually cleaned.”
That’s dry cleaner parenting; and that, also, falls fall short of the kind of partnership that we’re talking about.
So, in the spirit of thinking about how we can truly partner with families, I want to redefine partnership. It’s not getting parents to help us with our ministry. It’s not us being dry cleaner leaders for parents. Instead, the vision is joint spiritual formation—the church, without the family, is incomplete when it comes to spiritual family / the family, without the church, is incomplete when it comes to spiritual formation—it’s got to be the two coming together.
So, we’re going to look at a handful of major ideas out of all the research we’ve done on all sorts of families and congregations, nationwide. The first is—we’re going to look at the power of warmth. One of the themes in our research related to warmth—is that kids know that their parents, their stepparents, their adoptive parents, not only love them, but truly like them—
—whether they’re in the highest high or in the lowest low.
There is a fascinating study done by Vern Bengtson—now, out of USC—where he studied over 300 families over 35 years. “More than anything else that families did,” he said, “it was the family warmth that was more correlated / more related to the children adopting the faith than anything else.” The kids feel like their parents want to be around them / they want to enjoy them.
Now, I love it when research brings kind of a twist / a new way of thinking about something. Here is the research twist—it’s not so much how close parents feel to children that matters. Guess what? It’s how close the child feels to the parent.
Now, Diana Garland, out of Baylor—she looked at families and faith and families in a variety of contexts. One of the fascinating aspects out of her research—when it comes to building family warmth—is that families serving together has special generative power. See, here is the problem with what we do in churches all too often—we offer service opportunities, but it’s hardly ever for family serving together. How else can families experience warmth? How else can kids know that the adults, who are taking care of them / biological or not—those adults really care about them?
One of the ideas, that I think is brilliant, to help parents get one-on-one time with that child / that stepchild that is in their family is birthday dates. What do I mean by this? One of the families that we interviewed—my daughter’s birthday is May 8. So, the 8th of every month, I, as a mom, would take her out for something one-on-one—
—go on a hike with her, or walk around our neighborhood, or play a little tennis. The 8th of every month, I get one-on-one time with her just to let her know: “Hey, I’m crazy about you. I, not only love you, but I like you.”
One of the ways our family has also done this is through monthly conversation journals. About once a month, Dave takes one of our kids, and I take the other two; or I take one, and Dave takes the other two. There are three kids and two of us—so we’re outnumbered—but we do one-on-one / one-on-two time. We do something fun with the kids; and then, we go out and grab something to eat. We get out these journals, and we have conversations with our kids / we ask them questions.
I ask them questions like, “What do you think your friends would say they love about you?” I ask our kids, “How do you feel about our family schedule?” I ask our kids, “How do you feel about some of the travelling I’ve been doing recently?” And our kids—they answer those, and we have this phenomenal conversation. Then, we let our kids ask us questions. We write down all these questions and all these answers in our journals.
I’ll tell you—if there was a fire in my house, I’d be going for those journals and my laptop because I love this one-on-one time I’ve had with my kids to communicate this warmth.
So, the first category of research—that we can inspire parents with, we can equip them, we can give them information—is the power of warmth in a family. More than any tip or trick—it’s simply: “Did kids feel good about themselves around their parents?”
Another significant aspect of our research—that’s mirror / mirror. And this is how our kids come to mirror us, as parents and stepparents. This became very clear to me with Jessica, our youngest, when she was about six. She had one of her best friends, Tori, over; and Tori’s mom, Robin, is one of my closest friends. The two of them, at age six, decided they were going to do a “play”—because if you’ve seen a six-year-old drama production, you know what I mean.
So, they were going to do this play.
Jessica was going to be Kara Powell, and Tori was going to be Jessica. So, they acted this out. Jessica had a blazer, scarf, blouse, boots, rolling briefcase—comes rolling into our living room. Tori is sitting on our navy blue couch, and Robin and I are sitting opposite them in chairs. Jessica starts lecturing Tori / Kara started lecturing Jessica. Jessica said: “Go to your room! You’re a bad girl!” My friend, Robin, is looking at me like, “This must be a little bit hard for you,” and it was.
Tori and Robin left. Jessica turned around, went running back into our house; and I just couldn’t follow. I sat on the red brick steps in front of our house, and I thought: “This is what Jessica is seeing in me. This is the anger, the stress, the tension.” I’m fine with my kids. It’s not usually the words that I say—it’s how I say it that is the problem.
It was a wakeup call for me of how Jessica is modeling what she sees in me.
The largest study, I know of, of young people and faith was done by Chris Smith—“The National Study of Youth and Religion.” He studied over 2,000 young people—all different types of family situations / all different faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, agnostic, and on and on. He looked at all the factors that influenced kids’ faith. Chris Smith said this: “When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.” In other words: “What a parent is / who a parent is ends up being mirrored in their kids.”
Now, I realize that there are some of us in this room who, perhaps, have older kids; and maybe, one of your kids is following Jesus, and the other kid wants nothing to do with Jesus.
I’m sharing this research about how important a parent’s faith is in the life of child. I do not want to be fatalistic. In fact, I want you to take this research about a parent’s faith with a lot of grains of salt because I’m guessing you know of kids that from the most dysfunctional, toxic home situations have decided to walk in the ways of Jesus and vice versa. So, there are no rules about this, but I just—I’ve got to say, in integrity as a researcher, one of the most important influences in a young person’s faith is the faith of their parents.
Now, again, Chris Smith said, “…parents get what they are.” I think, actually, more accurately, after looking at the research—is that parents get what their kids think they are. Parents get what kids see, hear about, and have modeled in front of them.
My mom, as a single mom—she was working, fulltime, as an attorney—she told my brother and me—
—this was before she got remarried—she told my brother and me, “Hey, don’t come downstairs until 6:30 in the morning.” Now, that wasn’t because she was watching the news or reading the newspaper.
My earliest memories, as a child, are of looking down from the second floor onto my mom on the first floor in our living room. She would be sitting there in her robe, a cup of coffee in one hand, Bible in the other. I’ve taken graduate classes on prayer; and I’ve got to say, “What’s affected me more than anything else, when it comes to how I pray, is the example of my mom.” My mom wisely did that example in front of me.
And then, lastly, when it comes to ideas related to mirror, let’s just be honest—family life involves a lot of ups and downs / a lot of mistakes. A lot of parents, stepparents, single parents—they are walking around with so much guilt: “What could I…?” “What should I…?” “Why did I…?”
This is where I hope that we can be people who lavish grace—as Paul writes about in Ephesians 1—that we can be people who lavish grace on parents and who help parents lavish grace on their kids.
Do I want parents to be intentional? You bet! Do I love giving parents ideas? You bet! But part of what I want to model so parents can mirror to me—and more importantly, so they can mirror so that their kids can mirror back to them—is this idea that we are a place where grace abounds / where we talk about mistakes.
So, warmth, mirror—and then, this last one builds on the importance of a team. We studied 13 different youth group participation variables / 13 things that kids tend to do in the context of youth group—things like studying Scripture / that was correlated to mature faith. Things like being involved in student leadership / that was correlated to mature faith.
But of everything we looked at—that a church provides—what was most directly correlated to mature faith in kids was intergenerational worship and relationships. You see, so often, we put the kids in their own room with their own teachers, with their own leaders, with their own events. The church ends up segregated—and that is not a verb I use lightly—but the church ends up segregated, by age, on Sunday mornings.
Now, is there a time and a place for six, and sixteen, and eighty-six-year-olds to be on their own, talking about life stage issues? You bet there is. But one of my life mantras is that: “Balance is something that we swing through on our way to the other extreme.” In our well-intentioned effort to offer relevant and meaningful programming to young people, we have silo-ized them. According to our research, it’s toxic to their faith.
Odds are good—if I were to come to your church / come to your ministry—
—you would say: “Well, we have small groups coming out. We’ve got a retreat coming up. We want an adult for every five young people.” Well, we’re saying, out of our research: “Let’s reverse that and have, not one adult for every five kids, but five adults for every one kid.”
Now, some of you are nodding at me, resonating with this. Others of you are looking at me like: “Kara, are you crazy?! I’m already having a hard enough time recruiting one adult for five kids. Now, you are asking me to recruit five adults for each kid?!” I’m not talking about five small group leaders / I’m not talking about five Sunday school teachers. I’m talking about five adults who surround a kid: “Five adults who”—as we say in the Powell family—“are on your team / five adults who care.”
How do we help families create this kind of relationship, where there is this team of adults? Well, a lot of times it involves mentoring.
It involves being intentional and inviting families to be intentional in the kind of mentoring they provide for their kids. And when it comes to blended / single-parent families—I think this is a message that is so important for them to hear.
A single mom came up to me after I was talking about Sticky Faith. She said: “Well, here’s what I’ve done with my teenage son—he has no contact with his biological father. So, when he was little, I bought these picture frames—you know—the kind of frames that have a lot of holes in them / like ten holes in the frame—I bought two of them. So, there are 20 different spots to put pictures, and I hung them up in the hallway outside my son’s bedroom door.
As God has brought amazing men into my son’s life, I’ve taken pictures of my son with those men—that third-grade Sunday school teacher / click—picture of my son with that teacher—that Boy Scout leader—click / that neighbor who took my son camping—click. I’ve put all of those pictures in those frames so that, every day, both my son and I are reminded of the amazing men God has already brought into his life.
But what she said next was even more awesome—she said, “You know, we haven’t filled all 20 of the holes; and I love that we haven’t filled all 20 of the holes because that reminds me of the amazing men God’s going to continue to bring into my son’s life.” She gets how important it is to have that team of adults.
And there are a lot of single parents—back in your ministries, your communities, your cities—who just need a little bit to know of the why and the how to build that kind of team. That’s where we, as leaders, can offer training about this. We can also be matchmakers because you might know adults who could have a special—maybe, I’ll say divine connection with a young person that you know too.
I met a youth pastor, who was really burdened by these four junior high boys in his junior high class—they were all swimmers and didn’t seem to have a lot of adults in their lives / didn’t have a lot of adult support.
There was a senior adult in the church, who also was a swimmer. In fact, this senior adult swam in the Olympics decades ago. This youth pastor thought: “You know what? I’m going to invite this senior adult out to lunch some Sunday after church with these four seventh graders.”
He invited this senior adult to come. The senior adult brought pictures from the Olympics, and the boys really enjoyed their time together. This youth pastor thought: “Well, that’s great. At least, there is going to be another adult. This swimmer can be one of the five in the boys’ lives—so, at least, say, ‘Hi,’ to them when we’re around church / know their names. That’s great.”
But God actually had a bigger plan because that senior adult started coming to swim practices, that senior adult started to come to swim meets and cheering on those boys. What I haven’t told you about this senior adult is that he’s actually a widower, and he used to sit alone in about the fourth row of his church every Sunday during worship. He doesn’t sit alone anymore because there are four seventh grade boys who walk into that fourth row and sit with him.
Senior adults have special, special connections with young people. I wish I had a more research-y word for it, but there is just tenderness between senior adults and young people. “I hope and I pray even now, Jesus, that God would be bringing to your mind adults who could somehow be part of that five-person team for the kids that are on your mind as you’re here.”
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to Dr. Kara Powell speaking to a group of people involved in ministry to blended and stepfamilies. In fact, we just heard a slice of what she had to share.
Dennis: About a third.
Bob: Her message went more than an hour. If you’d like to hear the entire message, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for the message from Dr. Kara Powell. We also have her book, which is called Sticky Faith in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
It’s available for any family—whether it’s a blended family, whether it’s an intact family, or whether you are a youth pastor, or a family minister in a local church—this is a book about how to do spiritual formation in the lives of young people.
Dennis: You know, the thing that I found interesting about her message was that she was really calling the church to work together to raise kids and to look out for the next generation. Parents need teachers, mentors, coaches, older adults connected to their kids looking out for them.
Bob: It really is a community project. I mean, parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual formation of their children; but it’s not meant to be done in isolation; is it?
Dennis: It isn’t; it isn’t. And what parent doesn’t need other parents looking out for their kids?
Dennis: I mean, I know that many times we’d get a phone call from a parent telling us that our kids had done such and such. It was like: “Yes, there you have it. [Laughter] There you have it. Another good excuse ruined by an eyewitness.” [Laughter]
Bob: We have got copies of Kara Powell’s book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is called The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Kara presented this material at last year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that we hosted in Southern California. We’re going to be hosting this year’s Summit the weekend of September 29 and 30. This time, we are partnering with our friends at Focus on the Family and hosting the event on their campus in Colorado Springs. You can find out more / you can register when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, I’ve got a couple I want to tell you about today. These are folks who have hosted Stepping Up® and Art of Marriage® in their local community.
They have attended two Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. And on this day, in 1986—30 years ago—they became husband and wife. We want to say, “Congratulations!” today / “Happy anniversary,” to Scott and Pam Haglund. They live in Owatonna, Minnesota; and we’re excited about their anniversary today.
We’re excited about anniversaries in general because every anniversary is a mile marker in a covenant that is being kept by a husband and by a wife. And I have to tell you—there are a lot of anniversaries that are happening in our country and in our world because of how God has used the ministry of FamilyLife in the lives of tens of thousands / hundreds of thousands of couples over the years.
And you have helped make that happen if you are someone who has helped support this ministry financially. Thanks for your financial support—a special thanks to our Legacy Partners.
And if you’d like to help with a donation today, go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear about some young women in our country today who are learning some time-tested truths about life and about womanhood. We’re going to hear about a new organization called American Heritage Girls and about all that they are doing. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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