A few weeks ago I began a conversation with six families in my church for a ten week period. We call it VIP, or Very Intentional Parenting. The idea is based on a process of mutually negotiated contracts between church and home. It was originally conceived and developed by Karl Bastian and is offered as a learning lab at Kidology.org. Yet the version offered at my church is quite different, and for good reason. We have made it relevant for our situation at this time. Thus it is off the beaten path in comparison to many other churches which are farther down the family ministry road, but I am finding that the pastures are green. What follows are my reflections on my early experience with VIP.
When I decided to focus my doctoral dissertation research on the ways that parents and churches work together to disciple children I quickly learned that there is a wealth of information, books, ideas, processes, and ministries available to help parents and churches. Indeed the quantity continues to grow. I am thankful for that. But I also realized it was not doing my church any good. Why? Because we continued to flounder in the dark, doing ministry the way we had done it for many years, until recently. We simply had not made it a priority to discover and access the available resources.
Due to changes which our pastor has initiated regarding connecting people to each other intentionally through sermon-based small groups which meet in homes throughout the city, we are seeing an increased level of conversations between friends and families concerning faith and life. We also are seeing grassroots missional initiatives as people are unleashed to do what God is laying on their hearts right where they live, work. and play. Further, we are seeing the early beginnings of a more intentional form of partnership take place between the church and parents. And this is where VIP comes in.
In my church, VIP is not a program, an event, or a church-controlled initiative. It is a conversation. Yes, there is accountability. But the church is not asking parents to add one single extra minute to their schedule. We are asking for the privilege of walking alongside parents for ten weeks as conversation partners. We only ask that they bring the agenda, one area or concern which they want to focus on during that ten week period. They choose the area, big or small. Secondly, we ask that they attempt to disciple their children intentionally. Where needed, we offer or suggest resources to make this happen. Some might point out this is asking them to add to their schedule, but my reply is this: Isn’t discipling their children something which parents should own as a daily responsibility? Most parents would agree. Most also are not sure how to go about it day-after-day, sustaining that habit in the long-term.
The posture I have taken in the VIP relationship is one of a coach. Not a coach as expert or sage. Rather, a coach who asks questions, encouraging parents to think through their own challenges. Where I may have some level of understanding, I will offer encouragement and wisdom. At other times I simply listen and pray, and continue to ask questions. I remind parents that they get out of VIP what they put into it. The burden is on them, in one sense, to experience the full benefit. On the other hand, the burden is on me to be available, responsive, thoughtful, resourceful, and encouraging to them in a timely way.
This entire venture is off the beaten path for me in more ways than one. As most of my readers are aware, I am not married, nor am I a parent. I have no aspirations of being the family ministry guy. I simply saw a need and I am attempting to suggest one part of the solution. Family ministry in my church is in its infancy. As I look ahead, I see us integrating some of the other very helpful ideas which Karl offers, as well as those from people like Brian Haynes, Reggie Joiner, Kal Otis, and others. I do not advocate or practice adopting programs developed by others without first contextualizing them. For now, in my church, being a conversation starter and resource person seems to be the best way I know to initiate a movement of very intentional parenting. Truth is, we are all very intentional with our time and resources. Adjusting our intentionality to fit that which God is directing us to do is a bit more challenging.
Already in our third week of VIP, I am impressed with the depth to which parents are willing to soul search concerning the issues which they and their children face. They love their children dearly, that much is clear. They want to do what is right for them. I am proud to be their conversation partner. I have learned more in the last few weeks about the challenges they face, than in the collective hallways conversations from the past year. Why? Because we are making it a priority to communicate. More important, I am making it a priority to listen actively. And it helps me see the larger patterns of need and strength. I get to help them network with each other, and offer content which is beneficial to the larger group.
If you are looking for ways to connect with parents in your church, you should consider some form of VIP. Use the link above to find the product. It is reasonably priced and packed with helpful information and resources.