The outsourcing of faith formation

Jen Bradbury
Dec 14 · 5 min read

I am extraordinarily thankful for the work I get to do with young people.

Even so, I wholeheartedly believe that the primary spiritual influencer in a young person’s life is their parents. As Kenda Creasy Dean says in Almost Christian, “When it comes to faith, you get what you are.”

That's why, for years, I, like other youth workers, have lamented parents’ willingness to “outsource” the faith formation of their teens to the “professionals” – those hired by churches to “do youth ministry”. It’s also why I try hard to partner with parents in the faith formation of their teens.

Sadly, a lot of time, this partnership has felt one-sided (with me doing the bulk of the work.) I’ve often wondered why parents won’t (or don’t) take more responsibility for their child’s faith formation.


Prior to this year, had you asked me if I partnered with my child’s school, I would have said, “Absolutely!”

• I NEVER ghosted my child’s school when they called me.
• I faithfully read every e-mail communication the school sent me.  
• Both my husband, Doug, and I ALWAYS attended Hope’s parent teacher conference.
• Doug and I went to ALL the learning opportunities Hope’s school provided for parents.

Clearly, we're model parents, the kind that any teacher would be lucky to have. We even supplement Hope’s in-school learning with things at home: An abundance of books as well as an assortment of educational family games that Hope likes to call “learnative” (We don't have the heart to correct her... She's so dang cute).

But then, recently, I've found myself

• Singing along with Hope's good morning songs because I know the lyrics since I hear them every morning during distance learning.
• Realizing I know exactly what Hope's referring to when she talks about "the hundred board”, “exchanges”, “rhyming pink words”, and “life cycle of a frog”.
• Accurately predicting which math facts Hope will get wrong. Since I'm the one who checks them everyday, I know she ALWAYS misses a math fact when the pattern changes.
• Unsurprised when Hope stumbles over "where" whenever she reads to her teacher (Silly sight words. Why is the English language so non-sensical?)

I know these things because for the first time, I’ve had to be 100% present in my daughter’s education. I’m here EVERY DAY as she does her distance learning.

That’s when it occurred to me that even though I’ve been TRYING TO PARTNER with my daughter’s school for the past three years, in actuality, I’ve been outsourcing my child’s education.

I wonder if the same is true for youth group families.

Have parents thought they’ve been partnering with me the whole time I’ve been wondering why they're outsourcing their kid’s faith formation?

I mean, many of my teens’ parents

• Read every word of my e-mails
• Know WHAT we’re talking about on Wednesday nights
• Get their kid to church on Sundays
• Prioritize church activities the rest of the week
• Talk about church activities after the fact
• Have multiple Bibles in their house and sometimes even encourage their kids to read them
• Pay big bucks to send their kid on the summer mission trip.


What if they, like me, thought they had this whole partnership thing nailed?

What if our “lack of partnership” is really a miscommunication as to what partnership means to begin with?


Clearly, I don’t have this partnership thing nailed… As a parent or a youth worker.

What I do have is a newfound empathy for parents who are doing the best they can in all facets of their kid’s life, including their kid’s faith formation.

What I want to do now is figure out how to redefine partnership so that we’re ALL on the same page regarding what it looks like.

Because if true partnership between a school and families can result in kindergarteners learning how to read and do addition and subtraction during a global pandemic, then imagine what real partnerships between families and churches could do.