Currently, The Index is meeting periodically with student ministers from around Georgia, hearing from them on the challenges of reaching today’s youth. This article focuses on the observation when parents, fathers in particular, can check out emotionally even if present physically.
“We’re competing with the dad’s absence.”
“Many of their fathers work all the time.”
“It’s a bigger problem than people think.”
Talk to student ministers about the biggest challenges of their jobs and you’ll get some expected answers. Kids are over-committed with sports and activities. Social media has totally altered the communications landscape. Apathy – even in Bible study – can be profound and even disheartening.
And something connecting all those finds its way into the mix as well; fathers who aren’t involved.
And this isn’t solely the case of dads no longer in the picture, though that also factors. Families, student ministers told The Index, seem to constantly be under stress despite the Instagram-worthy lives presented online. Marriage problems can cause it. So can addiction issues. So can any number of things.
But a father unwilling to give mom a hand exacerbates the situation, they added.
Fathers feeling they don’t spend enough time
“There’s a guy in the discipleship group I lead who’s father is hooked on drugs and comes from a broken home,” said one student pastor. “It’s given him issues in dealing with forgiveness. His dad wasn’t a part of his life for five years, and now he’s wondering how to forgive that.”
The student pastor, given no heads-up on that conversation, pointed the teen to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. “The only way Joseph could forgive his brothers was through the Lord,” he explained. “The Lord has to give us that ability to forgive. We can’t do that ourselves.”
A Pew Research Study indicated that even though more fathers in the U.S. are spending more time with their kids than 50 years ago, those fathers also still feel they’re not spending enough.
Among those dads feeling this way, 62 percent cited work obligations. That disconnect echoes in the observations of the student pastors who spoke with The Index.
“I can think of four of my kids off the bat who don’t have a relationship with their father due to work,” said a youth minister. “Because of that, they turn to to other things seeking an identity, a belonging. That could be social media or the latest show to binge watch on Netflix.”
“He could be home, but preoccupied with his career,” noted another student minister. “My observation is moms are hanging around [church and student ministry activities] more. I’ve noticed that girls don’t know what it’s like to receive fatherly love from their dad, so they look for it elsewhere. They think they have to give part of themselves to get that acceptance.
“On the other hand, boys don’t know how to be a man. They have a mother figure who’s done the best she can, but that’s not supposed to be her role. You don’t see many dads taking their sons on camping trip and spending time on the mountain. We think for our kids to be accepted they have to be on a travel ball team.”
Both parents needed for leadership
The growing acceptance of divorce also factors. More and more students, say ministry leaders, come from blended families. That also, according to the Pew study, plays into how often fathers spend time with their children. In fact, 20 percent of fathers say they don’t spend enough time with their children because they don’t live with them.
Furthermore, education links strongly with that probability occurring. Fathers who lack a four-year degree, for example, are 28 percent likely to fall in this group, compared with 8 percent of fathers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Working status revealed the likelihood moms felt they weren’t spending enough time with their kids, as 43 percent of respondents indicated.
It goes without saying that both parents are crucial for teens to grow in their faith. But the role of fathers is the one more student leaders see being abdicated.
“Some dads are emotionally checked out,” one youth pastor testified. “They feel they’re providing for their family and doing enough, but we see moms dragging the kids to church. The average student in my ministry has neither parent active in church.”
“It’s very uncomfortable to approach a dad and tell him he’s not doing his job,” admitted another pastor. “I’ve had some come to me with his son and say, ‘Fix him, please.’
“I tell him that I’ll help, but that’s your job.”