Why parents outsource their teen’s spiritual formation

School teacherI promise I’m not making a statement here, just thinking out loud.

Last week my wife and I were talking about what we want to do with our kids academically when they get a bit older. A couple thoughts came up during those discussions.

First, a little background:

Most of us aren’t fans of parents who view youth workers as the primary source of spiritual formation for their kids. While many parents probably know they are called to be the primary spiritual influence of their kids’ lives, many still outsource that to the “paid professional,” the youth pastor at church. And even though we say we don’t like it, we still enable it and accept that responsibility in various ways.

So here’s what my wife and I were thinking:

  1. Is the norm of sending kids to church and outsourcing their spiritual formation primarily to a group teacher at church influenced by parents’ perspective and expectations of the cultural norm of outsourcing their kids’ academic formation to a group teacher at school?
  2. If so, is it okay to outsource your kids’ academics to a “paid professional,” but not their spirituality?

An argument could be made that kids are formed much better spiritually when done by the parents in the home (that was true in my case growing up), but is this also true when it comes to their education?

I realize that the academic system is so ingrained into our culture, society, and way of life, that to question it will automatically bring criticism from many people, similarly to how many of those in our churches react if we push back too hard on who’s responsible for the spiritual formation of teenagers.

I also realize that a lot of parents are very supportive of what their kids do at school and reinforce it in the home, but it seems to me that parents are supporting the professionals and those teachers have ultimately accepted the role of being the primary academic teacher for the kids because they get paid to do it. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that on an education level, but is there on a spiritual/church level?

Thoughts? Is this a valid correlation?

Posted on August 23, 2011

  • Great topic! I agree that too often parents hand over the "keys" to youth leaders and to school teachers and expect that everything will turn out ok.
    On the other hand (and this is mostly seen in my role of working with local church children's ministry) when a church or family sees this as an issue, they often react by swinging to the far other side. They react by closing all youth ministries in the church. Young people sit with their parents during all services and receive the same instruction.
    My point is that we should stop viewing it as an "either/or" but instead as a "both/and." Just because your church has a dynamic youth ministry with great paid or volunteer staff, doesn't mean that the home shouldn't be the primary source of formation for a young person. Allow what the church teaches to be a reinforcement to what is going on in the home.

    • Yeah, both the family and the village are important in the formation of students, but sometimes I think we get the roles reversed when it comes to spiritual formation. Do you think that's because of the way roles are typically defined in an academic context? And, if so, is that appropriate for an academic context if it's not appropriate for a spiritual context?

      • I think the main problem is parents operating in "hands off" mode. We often don't realize there's a problem until it's too late. This applies to the education they're receiving in school, and in the instruction that they're receiving in church. Like other commenters have said, it all needs to be based in the home, but it is helpful to receive assistance from other sources.

    • xjm716


      That's exactly the model that we should be seeking. Equipping the family and then supporting them in their role.

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  • xjm716

    I posted some thoughts here:

    • Good thoughts there, John. I'm not sure I agree the primary solution is to educate parents about how to lead and teach their kids because I'm not convinced that most parents really want to do that even if they were trained to do it. Oure experiences and contexts probably lead to that differing view, but from what I've seen, it's more like parents don't take responsibility for their kids' spiritual formation because they haven't taken responsibility of their own, indicating that it's not the highest priority or value for them. Thus it's placed on a backburner or considered sufficient if the family attends church once a week.

      • xjm716


        It's funny, as I was crafting my original response, my default was to the adults not taking responsibility for their own faith, but the post looked like I was casting blame at the church leadership (which realistically, is where it falls). I simply wasn't ready for a blog post of that magnitude today! I need to spend some more time on that post before I write it!

        That said, I do believe parents want to, but we've not equipped them. Now, if we equip them and they still don't, then I would be in agreement with you. I believe that we should start by equipping. And that's tomorrow's post!

        • Maybe I'm a bit more cynical about the solution solely being one of equipping because I've done so many things to equip parents in my previous ministries and, honestly, none of it seemed to make a difference. We did seminars, workshops, parent newsletters, individual phone calls, discussion questions for the car ride home, etc. What I learned is that handing a parent a piece of paper with an overview of that morning's lesson and 3 simple discussion questions for the ride home doesn't change their value system. The sheets went unused or in the trash outside the church door. The parents who used the sheets, who came to seminars, read the newsletters, talked with us on the phone, etc, where the parents who had that conversation with their kids on the way home whether we handed them a paper or not because it was part of their value system.

      • xjm716

        Which means, go and post these thoughts about adults and their own responsibility as a respons to my post so I can blog about it myself!

  • Tim, it is a great question. I agree with Jordan on the both/and answer. Deuteronomy 6 points to the families having a primary role in educating their kids about faith. But later, throughout the Bible, you have schools set up to also help kids learn about God and faith. I don't think it's either/or on something this important.

    As for the school issue, my wife is a teacher, and our view is we send our kids to public school AND we home school them. We don't depend on the schools to teach everything our kids need. They can't, and its not fair to expect them to. But we do need them so our kids can learn to interact in our culture which is a social culture. So, again, it's both/and on this side.

    An easier example to think about is one of my girl's plays tennis. I want her on the team so she can learn from a passionate coach, and from the other girls. I want her to love tennis, and the people around her pass that passion on. I also go out with her one on one and play for fun, and let her practice on me as well. (She usually beats me.) Why would I do just one or the other, when both bring joy and learning to her?

    Just my thoughts.

    • Yeah, I agree, Jason. As I mentioned to Jordan, my question isn't if we should eliminate one or the other, but what roles they both play and, more importantly, if we've reversed the roles spiritually and if that has the same role implications for education.

  • Wonderful article Tim. I think that we are always thinking and researching about "youth ministry". We are paid to be the experts, so to a point, there is validity in this assumption. If we feel like there is a problem, the first question is, did we create it?

    I think that the first ministry comes with the parents and that is how God intended it to be. At the same time, friends, family, and others come along side to continue teaching Jesus and at the same time encourage the parents. It is my belief that we as professionals should be another piece to this framework, bringing what we know and being so intentional with the students and family.

    • Agreed. Should it be that way for a student's education, as well? Or is that a totally different thing because scripture doesn't speak directly about this?

      • We come from a unique home. I did very well in school and was actually bored after 1st grade and needed more, my wife did not do so well and now teaches special education, yet we would both say that school cannot stop with just the teachers. In fact, if any of our children take after myself and are not challenged, they will be receiving more homework from myself beyond schooling. And if they fall behind, we will both be parenting and teaching at the dinner table to help them achieve what they can.

        Long answer to say that we should do what we can for our children.

  • bdumais15

    Great thoughts, everyone.

    I think that many of today's parents outsource just about every aspect of parenting to someone else. And if they even bother to address spirituality, why not that as well? Most parent time with kids is spent ferrying them around to sub-contractors such as dance instructors, soccer coaches and piano teachers to name but a few. Schools used to only teach reading, writing and arithmetic, and now we have them teaching our kids the birds and the bees. And the list (and rant:) goes on. After all, the culture says that the more activities you have your kid in, the better, right? We are making human doings instead of human beings.

  • passionburnswithin

    Homeschooling parents would fall right in line with your criticism of the school system…..and the success of those students kinda supports it. Unfortunately the homeschooled kids (I was one) struggle to adjust to real world application sometimes but the evidence is there to support the reasoning that outsourcing leads to a lesser quality product

    • Would you say that both school and church are good and have their place, but the primary role of them both in the family should be to support the parent's training efforts at home? I know that's true for church, but should it be true for school, as well?

      • Michelle

        As a homeschooling parent, I do not hold criticism of the school system at all. I was a public school graduate, and it was a good education. I educate my children because it's the right decision for our family, and because God led me to that decision. My personal opinion is that it is the parent's responsibility to train their children–both for educational and spiritual facets. However, that is not always an option for all families. I know wonderful teachers in the school system…God bless the work they do!

  • Jerry Schmoyer

    God gave children to parents because He knows that is best for them and for the parents. Our children teach and mature us far more than we teach and mature them! Unfortunately our culture today communicates that parents aren't able to do best for their children, only the schools, church, sports leagues, etc. can do that. Add to that an entitlement mentality and a bit of laziness, and parents opt for outsourcing the raising of their children. Then they can actually brag about it – what their children are invovled in, where they go, etc. Deut 6:6-9 is still the key.

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