Guest Post: Mission as Family

Shannon Cooper is the youth and family minister with the Central Church in Little Rock, AR — one of two sending churches for the Daggetts.

Working with teens in the urban context of downtown Little Rock for many years now, I have seen various paths that young people take, specifically in going from not following Christ, to following Christ. Just as Jesus taught in the parable of the sower, the gospel (seed) has varying success rates in terms of yielding fruit. The task seems to be, from the parable, cultivating soil. 

One thing toxic to soil that has no antidote is the role of the family (and church community) in faith development. Too often our teens learn, instead of faithfulness and the discipline of God, outsourcing of the sacred rites of faith passage from one generation to the next. Faith specialists are brought in, not in a supplemental role, but to serve in the stead of parents in handing down faith. Faith trips are encouraged, not in a supplemental role, but to serve in the stead of daily submitting to the mission of God. Faith experiences are lifted up, not in a supplemental role, but in the stead of doing the daily task of theological reflection. Without continual attention to working the soil, the harvest suffers.

In our ministry context we are trying to intentionally make some shifts. One shift is that our teen ministry works with a local inner city work on a weekly basis, not in a provider/receiver relationship, but in a partnership. This, compared to trips to an inner-city context hours away helps us think in better ways about what it means to serve in an incarnational way. This helps guard us from thinking we are spiritual super-heroes who drop in and out of a situation, and helps us learn that the mission of God continues through relationship building instead of event planning. A second shift is that we want our teens to be connected to the adults in our congregation in meaningful ways (especially their parents), instead of constantly being separated from them. This shift helps our teens be less consumer oriented in their approach to the local congregation. A few examples of what this looks like for us is that we try and regularly meet with parents to do spiritual “map making”, charting the spiritual goals and hurdles for each school year, and we also actively recruit and train adult volunteers to coach, mentor and befriend our teens. We also have family Bible classes (teens and parents) and plan intergenerational events.

We have gained specific insight from one initiative we have tried. We offer to help train our teens to share their faith in one of the settings that they are currently in. STypically this is a school lunch. I believe that the biggest hurdle we face in this effort is that very few of our teens have seen their parents share their faith. As a result, we are trying to take a step back, and work with parents to share their faith in a setting they are currently in. I believe that this is an uphill battle, but it is exactly the place we need to be fighting. I have hope that God will work through us in these uncharted waters.

In these shifts we hope and pray that our families will join in the mission of God, day by day, moment by moment, and in so doing cultivate soil and see fruitful harvest for generations to come.  May God’s will be done on earth as in heaven!