I stumbled back across some notes from a small discussion group I shared in at Glorieta last October. Ivy Beckwith, who recently released Postmodern Children’s Ministry, made reference to some research suggesting about 1% of all children are getting spiritual formation from their parents. Yet, 90% of paretns believe they are the primary source of spiritual formation for their children.
Dallas Willard offers a simple understanding of the activity of spiritual formation. We will be spiritually formed by something – actively or passively we are being spiritually formed.
If parents really believe they are the primary source of spiritual formation for their children and yet only 1% of all children are getting their spiritual formation from their parents, then it stands to reason “Christian” parents have largely determined their children should be spiritually formed by other influencers. Parental passivity is indeed active spiritual formation. Their hopes must rest upon the community to which they attach themsleves and their families with the hope that particular community is a faith community that is diligent to teach.
The rub comes when these same parents discover their children have been poorly formed. Thinking they have offered their children to a community of faith – who only enjoys life-sharing at most three-four hours a week – they become enraged the community of faith is not doing a better job.
The problem – the community of faith cannot overcome a passive parental spiritual formation for the key ingredient according to the pattern in Scripture is to talk about life and faith all the time – eating, traveling, playing – all the time. If there is no talk then the child can only assume spiritual things only matter a few hours a week during the course of life. And when that discovery is made unwittingly the child has become spiritually formed in a way different than their parents say they would like but consistent with the living of their lives.
We then fall back on the proof-texting of a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures – “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” My mentor offers a take on this verse that ruins the idea that the parent who plants the seed will eventually see that seed blossom. If the seed is a three-four hour spiritual exercise given by someone other than the parent, then when the child is old he/she will only give the time to spriitual things they learned as a child. They will not depart.
Spiritual formation is more than taking/dragging children to a spiritual gathering a couple of times a week. If it is assumed that is all it is then parents reap what has been sown.
I pray for our parents – and their children.