Youth Pastors and Parents Cross Wires on the Core Purpose of Church

Sociologist Christian Smith says most American moms and dads see the Body as nothing more than a resource center for their kids.

Faithful parents everywhere aspire to “Train up a child in the way he should go,” (Prov. 22:6, ESV throughout) but are sometimes torn between “do not provoke your children to anger” (Eph. 6:4) and “whoever spares the rod hates his son” (Prov. 13:24). Threading the needle of Christian parenting is tough, any way you cut it.

How religious mothers and fathers balance their children’s growing autonomy with robust discipleship is the topic of a new book, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation, by Christian Smith, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and Amy Adamczyk, professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York (CUNY).

Lyman Stone, a demographer specializing in fertility and family, spoke with Smith about where their research connects with the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), why young adult faith is more consumeristic than ever, and how parents and youth pastors often talk past in each other in their efforts to disciple the next generation of believers.

(Click here for a companion interview with Melinda Lundquist Denton, NSYR researcher and coauthor of Back Pocket God.)

At a personal level, what was your reaction to the research findings?

I would say we started getting a handle on the importance of parents way back when we were studying teenagers in the National Study of Youth and Religion, which started in 2000. But there are two things that did surprise us a lot.

The first surprise in talking to religious parents in the United States is how similarly they talk about why they want to raise their children religiously, what the value of being …

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