Archived Sections, National Lutheran News

Lutherans have help when passing on the faith

The staff of the Youth and Family Institute make it a key priority

Neither the congregation nor the family can do the job of passing on the Christian faith to the next generation alone. Both are essential partners in that task.
Passing on the faith requires a partnership going well beyond the Christian nuclear family. That’s the message from leaders of the Bloomington, Minnesota, based Youth & Family Institute. They em-phasize this conviction as they crisscross the United States and several foreign countries, presenting “Pas-sing On Faith” conferences. They’ve been doing it for the past 10 years.
What’s needed is nothing short of congregational renewal, according to Dr. David W. Anderson, director of home and congregational renewal for the institute.
“A ‘Passing On Faith’ conference helps congregational leaders and members grasp a vision of being the church, [one] that is more than just attending a Sunday worship service and being part of some programs,” Anderson said.
“It presents a vision of the church that sees a fundamental partnership between a ministry that takes place in the congregation — worship, Christian education, fellowship, service, and more — and partners that with the ministry of the home. The home is the basic building block for character and faith-and-life formation.”
The two-day Passing On Faith conferences are quite intensive affairs. Each focuses on four keynote presentations and four workshops. The keynote sessions present the big picture — basic principles for passing on the faith — while the workshops stress practical ways of living out four key practices in the home:
* caring conversations;
* devotions;
* works of service; and
* rituals and traditions.
The basic principles for passing on the faith include these:
* Faith is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal, trusted relationships — often in our own homes.
* The church is a living partnership between the ministry of the congregation and the ministry of the home.
* Where Christ is present in faith, the home is church too.
* Faith is caught more than it is taught.
* If we want Christian children and youth, we need Christian adults and parents.
One workshop will likely deal with “Milestone Mini-stry” as one way the new vision can be lived out in the life of the congregation. This involves taking meaningful, memorable moments in life and “marking them to Christ as part of the Christian journey,” Anderson said.
He added, “Baptism is the fundamental milestone for the Christian. All other milestones are ways to live out and remember our baptism.”
Besides the keynote presentations and workshops, a Passing On Faith conference provides participants with two catalogs of resources — one for congregation leaders and one for families in the home — and shows how to use them.
For the FaithLife in the Home resource guide, the Youth & Family Institute researched resources from 100 different publishing houses and then made selections from about 50 of them, Anderson said.
The FaithLife in the Home resource guide “is not just a catalog, it’s an educational tool,” he said.
For example, someone wanting to give a grandchild age 9-12 a gift that will be helpful in nurturing their faith life will find information on what the child is experiencing developmentally at that stage. Publications geared to those needs will be suggested.
Anderson acknowledged that many church staff members are frustrated by parents who send their children to Sunday school and confirmation classes, expecting the church to do the entire job of faith formation.
But, he said, “The church needs to be cautious about our frustrations with our parents because 20th century America had some pretty anti-family dynamics going on.”
There was an era of the “expert-ridden society,” during which the message to parents was that they weren’t qualified as voices of authority in children’s development — because they weren’t “experts,” Anderson said.
And, there was the “self-actualization” or “self-realization” movement. It maintained that it was up to children to discover and express their own selves, and left no real room for outside authority or external voices to tell a child what’s real and true.
As the pendulum swings back from these excesses, Anderson indicated, it won’t do to reduce Christian faith formation solely to Sunday school class lessons. Those are helpful when they’re part of a larger faith environment, he said, “but we need to recognize that Christianity is a way of life, not just a cognitive exercise.”