Christian Smith had a provocative conclusion to his Soul Searching book about adolescence…he stated that parents still have a significantly high impact on the religious/spiritual journey of their teens despite the talk about the apparent waning of parental influence. That was good news for some…bad news for others. If you have a student ministry that is NOT taking parents and the "home" seriously, it might be that "your" ministry is short-sighted and, in the long-term, non-effective.
Interestingly enough…in his NEW book on "emerging young adults" (Smith uses that language due to the fact that he defines young adulthood as those individuals who are emerging into responsible/independent adulthood) he states essentially the SAME THING!
"What the best empirical evidence shows about the matter…is that even as the formation of faith and life play out in the lives of 'young adults', when it comes to religion, parents are in fact hugely important…furthermore, it is not only parents who matter in forming the religion of emerging adults…other nonparental adults in the lives of youth are often also important and, in certain circumstances, can actually 'substitute' for parents as formative influences in the lives of youth."
Older adults have to have targeted and intentional life exposure to young people…that's a given. Mentoring, spiritual guidance and modeling take place within relationships in community as all ages "rub shoulders" in life's journey. I know in our family, this is often the most difficult thing to do but also the most necessary. Parents have a tendency to "wash their hands" of the spiritual lives of their kids once they are old enough to "make their own decisions" or move away from the home. Often, because these conversations at times get heated, there emerges an awkward silence regarding the faith journey in the midst of family. To say it succinctly…that should not be. Parents need to keep engaged in the faith journey of their kids even and especially as they move into older adolescence and young adulthood. Be as it may, many parents are cowards…I say that because it is difficult to wrestle with a young adults confusion, life issues, and "necessary" struggle in owning their own spiritual journey. Yet, nothing could be needed more…even though there are no easy answers, there are relationships that are essential for our uncompromising and deliberate action as parents/older adults.
I'm going to post more on the book over the next few days…again, Christian Smith is demonstrating why he and his passion for clarity when looking at the lives of those who are "younger" in our culture is doing the community of faith a huge service!