None of the ways we can evangelize children come close to how effective it is to reach them through their parents. How, then, do we do that?
By Jared Dees
In all the months leading up to becoming a father for the first time, I kept thinking about how I would possibly be able to do it. I had no idea how to be a dad. It was such an enormous responsibility, and they do not exactly provide you with extensive training leading up to delivery.
The day our first child was born, though, it made a whole lot more sense. All my fears and worries about being a good dad didn’t go away, but they didn’t stop me from taking care of our little newborn girl.
That is the thing about being a new parent: no one else is going to take care of that child but you. When that baby is hungry or needs a diaper change, you are all she’s got. Babies are utterly at the mercy of their parents to take care of them. It is no wonder that children grow up at early ages loving unconditionally.
There are a lot of different ways we can attempt to evangelize children, but none of them come near the effectiveness of reaching the children though their parents. Or, more accurately, reaching the parents through the children. Parents have been given the responsibility to raise and educate their children.
Very often it is children who draw parents back into the Church again. After some years of being away and not seeing the value in going to church, they start to come back with their kids. They enroll their children in religious education programs or Catholic schools. They come back to Mass on Sundays even though they were not going before they had kids.
Without doing a single thing, children evangelize their parents.
That call to unconditional love leads them to bring their children to the Church. These parents may not be fully committed disciples yet, but at least they are getting in the door. For those of us who lead evangelizing ministries with children, we have an incredible opportunity to reach adults. In fact, our ministry might be the only one that even has the possibility of reaching and evangelizing these adults.
Oddly enough, though, parents are often cited as the most difficult challenge by many of the catechists and teachers I know. The most common challenge I read about through e-mails to the Religion Teacher website is getting parents to support catechesis at home or, to put it bluntly, just to get the parents to bring the kids to Mass on Sundays.
I can definitely relate to this kind of experience when teaching and evangelizing children. Here is the thing, though: while we may see the kids’ names on the attendance sheet and spend most of our time with them in classes and meetings as catechists and teachers, our responsibility is always to the whole family and never just to the kids.
We can look to the gospels for a little insight into how we can reach parents through their children. There are two examples of stories of individuals coming to Jesus for help with their children. In one story, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus and says to him, “Have pity on me” (Matthew 15:22). Then she does him homage and says, “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25). She seeks his help for her daughter, but she calls on him to help her and to have pity on her first.
In the very same way, the parents who bring their children to religious-education programs want something similar. They might want us to help their kids, but they probably want us to help them help their kids more.
In another story, Jairus, a synagogue official, comes to seek Jesus to heal his daughter before she dies (see Mark 5:21–43). Jesus, who healed another woman on the way to help him, arrived too late. Jairus’s daughter was already dead. Jesus turned to the people there who were greatly upset and weeping and told them, “The child is not dead but asleep” (Mark 5:39).
How did the people respond? They “ridiculed him” (Mark 5:40). Of course, to their astonishment, Jesus healed the young girl.
Sometimes children can be going through difficult times and parents may not know what to do. While we may not be able to work miracles, we can certainly do our best to be there for the child when they need it the most. Sometimes children need someone other than their parents to confide in for support.
Ultimately, the secret to evangelizing parents is to reach them through their kids.
These two people from the gospels turned to Jesus for help just as parents turn to the Church and our ministries today. If we can show them that we are welcoming their children into a community and selflessly showing their kids the kind of love they deserve, then we have the opportunity to touch the lives of the parents as well.
The more we can focus on sharing our loving service to help the parents, the more the parents will respond and support the work that we are trying to accomplish within their children.
This excerpt from To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach by Jared Dees, M.Ed., MA, is reprinted with permission of Ave Maria Press. Find this book at AveMariaPress.com.