WELS congregations are helping adults build strong foundations for their families—which ultimately impacts youth.
Alicia A. Neumann
“I asked the youth leaders who attended the pilot for my marriage-building session, ‘Are you wondering why we’re spending an hour on marriage building? Your youth members aren’t married,’ ” says Randy Hunter, pastor at St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis. “Everyone there understood that when the parents have a strong marriage, the kids will do better. And that’s the way God designed it.”
Hunter says this topic has also come up in conversations with community leaders. “I met with the police chief, the principal of the public high school, and the director of a local food pantry. I asked them, ‘What can we, as a church, do to help?’ Their answers were the same: Fix the family.”
Building strong marriages
Hunter says one way to do this is by improving marriages—something St. Andrew is actively working on. The congregation has committed itself to becoming a marriage-building church by helping Christian couples live the strong connection between the gospel and their marriage.
“Everyone wants a strong marriage, and there’s no shortage of marriage materials out there,” Hunter says. “But so many of those materials lack the gospel of who Jesus is and what he’s done for you. We want to connect the gospel to your marriage. That’s really what makes this distinct.”
Jason Teteak, member at St. Andrew, appreciates his congregation’s emphasis on strong marriages. “Before my wife, Jess, and I got married, we went through a pre-marriage workshop with Pastor Hunter,” says Teteak. “It was just fantastic because it helped us understand how to put Christ at the center of our relationship and how to grow together as husband and wife.”
The Teteaks also have attended several marriage retreats. “We love to go to them,” he says. “You’ve got to get into the Bible to grow your faith, and you’ve got to work on your marriage to grow your marriage. God didn’t design us to have marriage without him. When you put him at the center and have your entire marriage founded on that central core—it’s helped us in so many ways.”
For example, he’s seen how his marriage impacts his five-year-old son. “When my son sees me give my wife a hug, he comes over and gets a hug too,” says Teteak. “When your children see the love you and your spouse have, they feel so much love because of that.”
Teteak likens it to when you’re on a plane. If the oxygen masks drop down, “you’re supposed to put the mask on yourself first, then help the others,” he says. “If a marriage is not connected to Christ and it isn’t spiritually healthy, the kids suffer. But when the parents are connected to Christ, the kids get to experience that too.”
Faith habits for families
Kristi Sebald, member at Crosswalk, Phoenix, Ariz., agrees that families need a strong foundation—“a strong marriage and a strong spiritual base,” she says. But for many families, that strong spiritual base is lacking.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research, and statistics say that in Protestant America regular church attendance is once a month,” says Sebald. “Of those people who say that they belong to church and regularly attend, only 10 percent practice spiritual disciplines at home. So if you think about parents who go to church, only 10 percent are reading their Bibles, or praying with their families, or doing these things that we know affects family culture and transforms faith.”
Sebald used to serve as the director of children’s ministry at Crosswalk. In that role, she was looking for ways to connect to parents. “We wanted to help them be spiritual leaders at home,” she says. So she developed a curriculum that cultivates and nurtures faith habits like praying with your child, reading Bible studies, and having family devotions. “They are basically spiritual disciplines that we would do as adults, but implementing them with children,” she says.
The idea is to have parents focus on instilling one faith habit in their children per year, from infancy to fifth grade. The parents are invited to attend Sunday school with their kids once each year. They spend about half the time observing the children’s lesson, then they learn about the faith habit to do with their child at home.
“It’s amazing to see parents getting involved in their children’s faith lives,” says Sebald. “Some parents don’t know where to start, so we started introducing these habits in small, easy ways that they can absorb into their family culture. They are relieved when they find out that something like family devotions don’t have to be a huge production—you can take ten minutes to read a story, discuss two or three questions, and then pray together. These are foundational habits that really will affect a child’s faith throughout their lives.”
Stacia Weinstein, member at Crosswalk, agrees. “If the kids don’t see their parents reading the Bible, they think, Why should I do it? If kids don’t see it happening, they’re probably not going to do it.”
Weinstein, who volunteers for Crosswalk’s children’s ministry, says she’s witnessed a lot of blessings over the past year. “At one of the preschool sessions I attended, the teacher went around the circle and asked each child to say a prayer. When it was time for my friend’s daughter to pray, she didn’t say a word. So my friend went home and worked on praying with her daughter. A few weeks later in class, the teacher asked the kids to say another prayer. When it was my friend’s daughter’s turn, she had the courage to say the prayer she had practiced.”
Weinstein says this ministry helps the entire family—parents included. “Parents have best intentions, but other things get pushed into their minds and life gets busy,” she says. “This is a great reminder about what’s really important; this is eternity. I’m doing this because I want to have my kids with me in heaven. And I want to help other parents achieve the same thing.”
Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.
This is the last article in a four-part series on the importance of youth ministry.
Hunter and Sebald are both presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family called Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders. For more information about this eight-part video series, or to order, visit www.nph.net and search for “Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders.”
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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016
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