Authored by Fr. Erik Arnold (Ablaze Content Advisory Team)
Years ago, a shift took place in many of our parish religious education and faith formation programs. It started with a good intention as priests and parish staff began saying things like, “What can we do to help take the burden off of our parents?” Seeing how busy families had become – with the rise of over-scheduled kids and maxed out parents – many parish leaders with generous hearts wanted to help.
The help often took the form of parishes telling parents, “Just drop your kids off for religious ed, and we’ll take it from there…” So parents would often use religious education class time to get shopping done or to sit in the parking lot catching up on emails or reading. At the same time, the parish took on a more significant role in the spiritual formation of the children.
Fast-forward a couple of decades later. Parishes continued to tell parents, “We’ll do it for you!” as they expanded their religious education programs and often hired more religious education staff. The intention was good, but the results have been disastrous.
Far from helping, the sad reality is that we’ve contributed to the growing consumer culture in our parishes. Our misguided help has led parents to demand more and more from our faith formation programs and staff, while simultaneously contributing less and less to the formation of their kids.
All of this hit home for me a few years ago during a testy meeting with parents to discuss our parish’s First Reconciliation program. One irate mom shook her child’s at-home workbook in the air (which parents were expected to complete with their kids) as she screamed out: “Do you mean to tell me that I’m expected to do this whole book at home with my child? Why are we paying a fee if we’re doing the work for you?”
It was hard to contain my anger at that moment. How could a parent get it so wrong? How could her view (of whose job it is to form her own kid’s faith) have gotten so completely, utterly backward? Sadly, part of the answer is because we taught parents to think that way. Decades of well-intentioned but flawed practice led her, and many parents just like her, to expect the parish to do everything and get angry when it didn’t. And lost in the middle of it all were the children themselves, who were no closer to Jesus.
So now we’re at a point where so much seems broken that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. How do we help our parents take up the role God has given them so that they can lead their children to the Lord? Here are a few thoughts to start:
- This is hard for those of us who work in parishes, who tend to be generous and have helping personalities. But we have to discipline ourselves away from the enabling.
- Also hard. Because this is the whole work of evangelization, but what are we doing to reach our parent’s hearts with the message of the Gospel? Only when parents fall in love with Jesus will they really want to do the work of bringing their kids into a relationship with Christ.
- Also super hard. We live in a consumer-driven culture shaped by Amazon. It’s hard not to see successful secular businesses and think our parishes need to operate the same way. But they can’t without failing in the mission.
- Guess what. This is also hard. And it requires all the steps above to be in play for it to work. But it is possible.
I’m so excited about the work Ablaze Family Ministries is doing to turn the tide and help restore our families to the central place they are meant to have in God’s plan. I’m excited to see the shift from “We’ll do it for you!” to “We’ll do it with you!” and see parents fall in love with Lord and bring their kids along with them into a new relationship with Christ. This is what the family is meant to be! And as this happens, I bet we will see our parishes renewed as we let families live out the role God gave them, and then spend our energies serving them, rather than taking their place.