First Third Conversations

A Future I Trust in: Identity and Vocation as the Parent-Leader


Here’s the next installment in the FirstThird summer reading series.  Our second CYF Prize winning thesis for 2012 was written by Karen Gieseke.  Karen is currently serving as a Children Youth and Ministry Coordinator for the Southeast Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. 

We’ve all been in conversations about the power of parents in faith formation, but Karen pushes us further by introducing us to idea of the Christian Parent-Leader as VOCATION in her CYF award-winning thesis. 

Karen has also been invited to present her thesis at the Religious Educators Association National Conference in Atlanta in November. For more information, visit

A Future I Trust in: Identity and Vocation as the Parent-Leader

By Karen Gieseke, MA CYF graduate from Luther Seminary

 “We’ll get what we are.”

 The hopes and dreams a parent feels for one’s child is like no other experience in life. A parent desires for the child to know happiness, security, purpose, comfort, joy, love, and peace as the world is explored and discovered through people and experiences throughout each stage of life. This daily life becomes the place where self and one’s call for the sake of the world unfolds. As a Christian parent, the hope exists that these experiences are transforming when rooted in understanding one’s identity as a Child of God. Sharing God’s story and seeing oneself in the midst of the hope and promise in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection becomes fundamental to a parent’s journey with one’s child.

But what if articulating God’s story to one’s child is overwhelming for the parent due to feeling unprepared and ill-equipped to share the Christian faith story? What if a parent hasn’t developed one’s own understanding of Christian identity, of God’s story, and of each person’s place in the story? What if the parent doesn’t feel competent to lead one’s child to know God’s unconditional love, evidenced in and through the obedient life of Jesus Christ? Who then should lead this child on the lifelong journey of Christian faith?

Research from curious, caring, and concerned authorities such as Christian Smith, Kenda Creasy Dean, George Barna, and David Anderson tell us that children and youth need to experience several caring adults in their lives so the child may witness faith in action. But these same authorities name that in these caring relationships there is no relationship which holds as great an impact and influence as the role of parent. It is the parent who in the majority of cases, willingly or not, will lead the child to know-or not know-God. So what do we do with this awareness and knowledge of the parent’s influential role in a time when culture often directs one to seek out the named expert to teach and lead one’s child in daily living?

I was glad to further this conversation in A Future I Trust in: Identity and Vocation as the Parent-Leader. In the research and writing, I explored the history of the North American family and the role of the parent through lenses of both culture and faith. Cultural changes in education, science, technology and information have affected the parent’s role in the family, specifically citing the weakened responsibility as the one who shares wisdom and knowledge in the family’s daily life experiences-including Christian faith.  I introduced the concept that equipping parents to assume the role of Christian Parent-Leader becomes primary to the faith formation of children and youth. As a partner with parents, the congregation seeks to equip the parent to know and understand oneself vocationally as a leader through an awareness of the parent’s unique talents and strengths as a leader in the child’s faith journey and creating sustainable leadership qualities and practices. The congregation also offers apprenticeship relationships which begin at Baptism and support and model family faith formation practices and choices.

In the National Study on Youth and Religion, Christian Smith wrote, “We’ll get what we are” in response to the faith formation of the child-parent relationship. God’s desire is for us to know our identity as God’s child and to live fully into this identity, including when called to the vocation of parent. Hope for the Christian family rests in understanding one’s vocation as a Parent-Leader in Christian faith formation, and utilizing God’s unique design of each parent to lead one’s child to know God’s story-and God.   

Read Karen's full paper:

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