Young people are leaving the church. We see it every day; we talk about it in general; we recognize that it is a factor in the decline of the church and our congregations. Yet, we still have a difficult time revealing to others when we experience having a prodigal firsthand. Why are we so uncomfortable with prodigals? Why are we afraid to do anything? This is a white elephant in the room that has lived in the fabric our church culture for decades. Yet it remains hidden. Why? Is it because of guilt, shame, or fear of consequences?
Address the subject head on
How can we start the conversation? We can learn a lot when the subject is brought out of hiding and openly discussed in a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment. You will quickly find out what causes parents to keep quiet when it comes to their prodigals and some of the struggles they have. Their answers may surprise you. Once a platform for them to talk about their struggles has been made available, you begin to set the stage for conversation. They are hungry to talk and to share, but need a safe place to do so.
Create a safe place to share
The environment for opening up the conversation needs to be protected and be made known as a safe place to share. Only when parents know that they can speak without fear of judgment or being exposed will they feel comfortable in sharing. Creating a safe environment and allowing people to share if and when they feel ready to share sets the stage for conversation to naturally arise between the members in a group setting.
Stay in touch
Staying in touch and maintaining a regular time to meet and get together is critical. This initial meeting should not be a one-time deal but should rather serve as the beginning of a long-term commitment. Communicating with parents on a regular basis provides a constant reminder that they are not alone. To reinforce the support, add a regular small group meeting where you meet with the parents face-to-face. This simple act of meeting together gives the parents the support they need and reminds them that they have someone they can turn to when it seems as though their world is crashing down. This community provides a network and resource, and demonstrates how much the congregation and church leadership really cares.
The three steps
- Introduce the subject – address the subject head on
- Create safe environment for sharing – create a safe place to share
- Don’t just have one initial meeting but – communicate and meet on a regular basis
Why bother? Why not?
What will happen to parents if they continue to keep this sorrow to themselves? What will happen to them? Could they benefit by sharing? What would happen if we all started talking about it?
It will be tough but worth it
This is a subject that people do not seem willing to talk about, even though it is tearing families apart and impacting our congregations. It is important to find an advocate who is passionate about parents that have prodigals. This advocate (or advocates) will support you as you start the group and get behind you. Starting slowly is the key, opening up conversation and asking questions can get the process started. Let the parents know that you are not there to judge them or tell them what they should have done but that you are there with them and want to come alongside them.
Imagine a future where we talked about it
Can you imagine what would happen if we all started talking about it? If we lost the fear and shame and did not judge and condemn, but rather broached the subject head on? What would we learn from the parents? What would we learn from those who walked away encouraged because we cared to let them share and listened?
The Michigan District is partnering with Faith Family Reunion to offer two retreats on “Being a Parent of a Prodigal.” The first retreat will take place on October 21, 2017 at St. Matthew, Grand Rapids, and the other will be at Good Shepherd, Lansing on November 18, 2017. For more information and to register, click here. For more information on Faith Family Reunion and what they can do for church leaders, click here.
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