Reaching Prodigals Through Parents5 min read

It happens. You know this family. They raise their children in the faith, they make sure they know Jesus is the Savior, their family time is rich in God’s grace, they kneel together regularly at the Communion table, but somewhere along the line you see their teen push back, rebel, and eventually leave the faith.

You wonder why it seems that current education and youth ministries are not always successful in reaching these prodigals. It is here that I believe there is a common misconception that the prodigal should be our only point of contact.

What if there were a ministry to reach out first to their parents?

Let’s start talking about it

Perhaps one of the most amazing things is that parents already have an established relationship with the prodigal; after all, they brought them into the world and raised them up from infancy to young adulthood. Many of these parents faithfully brought up their children, sharing their faith with them, passing down the heritage of faith in Jesus Christ, and the tradition of what it means to be a Christian. Parents naturally have an “in” with their children, something that is quite unique and cannot be duplicated by the church. In a sense parents are, by default, strategic missionaries to these youth.

Yet, too often families are reluctant to talk about the circumstances they find themselves in with their prodigals.

My Story

During my teens, I left the faith for many years. When, enabled by the Holy Spirit, I first came back to faith, I remember looking at my parents and wondering how they had dealt both emotionally and spiritually with me walking away from faith in Jesus Christ. I had hurt them deeply, not only with my actions but also with my words. I made them ashamed and caused them shame. As a result, they had to carry this burden of guilt all alone with no one to speak to except one another. What does this to do a marriage or to a family? The act of my walking away made them question if they had done enough and if they had been good parents. What made it worse was that my father was in the ministry, not only serving as a pastor, but as a professor who taught students who would become pastors.

Coming to Terms

Parents of prodigals are often buried under the secrecy of guilt and shame for “letting” their children fall away from the church. This failure causes them to come to the false conclusion that they are no longer worthy to make an impact on their children, especially when it comes to faith. Often, broken relationships between parents and their children result out of these feelings of failure. But what would happen if they could speak about it without worry of judgment? Could connecting these parents to one another enable them to become more comfortable in sharing their situation, receive ongoing encouragement and support from others, gain more hope and confidence, and help them to better relate to their prodigal children?

What if …

  • Parents experienced the overwhelming power of our Triune God’s forgiveness through Word and Sacrament for their perceived failures as parents?
  • Parents received the strength to acknowledge and confess their perceived failures?
  • Parents began talking about their perceived failures?
  • Pastors/church leaders began talking more persistently about forgiveness for all our failures, especially parents’ perceived failures?
  • The subject matter was out in the open and no longer kept secret in the life of the whole congregation?
  • Congregations supported hurting parents all the way, so that they could become effective missionaries to their children?
  • Congregations would consider providing a ministry that is a safe-haven for parents and help them come to terms with what is going on in their lives and the lives of their prodigals?

Faith Family Reunion

Through a ministry my father and I started, I have witnessed that, as the parents come to this place of peace, they have the opportunity to acknowledge their frailties, receive the grace and forgiveness that the Holy Spirit offers them through Word and Sacrament, and become more comfortable as they reach out to their prodigal and re-establish their relationship. The parents, in essence, become a missionary to their prodigal. Through their actions and their words they are better able to share how their lives have been impacted by faith in Jesus Christ.

By providing a safe, non-judgmental environment, parents can bring their stories out into the open, find out that they are not alone, and come to the realization that others are going through the same feelings of heartache. Through this experience of the heavenly Father’s grace, the Holy Spirit can free parents from their shame of failure as they hear the words of forgiveness, receive His strength to come to terms with the past, and begin to reach out to their children with joy in their heart.

As the relationship is restored between parent and child, it may also be the very catalyst that leads the prodigal to restoration with their heavenly Father.

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

Photo (c) shironosov/iStock

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About the Author

Paula Isakson grew up in a wonderful Christian home, with loving and supportive parents who raised her in the faith. But life took Paula in a different direction. She abandoned the faith of her childhood to find her own spiritual way in the world. Paula’s family and friends never gave up on her. The Holy Spirit continued to work in Paula’s life. Now she brings Faith Family Reunion together to share the story of a God who never gives up on His people and encourage attendees never to give up on the lost people in their lives!

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