Jim Bianculli was more than my wife’s grandfather to me . . . he was a wise counselor, an incredible man of faith who inspired me every time we talked, and a dear human being who will always hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of anyone who had a chance to spend even just five minutes in his company.
Unfortunately, Jim passed away last year around Thanksgiving. I can remember the feeling of sadness mixed with peace and joy as we celebrated and remembered an incredible husband, an amazing father of six, and a friend to all. Afterward, my wife and I spent time at his home with Jim’s equally amazing wife, Marilyn . . . looking through old pictures, very complicated jigsaw puzzles he put together, and old notes and letters he had written. I’ll never forget when this particular note that Jim had written to God was brought to my attention:
In that moment I was reminded of how important a partnership between church and parents is in the lives of so many families in churches across America, churches that seek to partner with parents in order to make a greater impact in the lives of children.
Jim Bianculli is the product of parents who partnered with the local church. Together, a combined influence pointed his young life to God and instilled wisdom during Jim’s childhood, which then echoed throughout the rest of his days on Earth . . .
Partnering with parents is much harder than simply taking in children and telling mom and dad that we, the church, will “take it from here”. “We’ll be the one to teach your child how to live for God . . . you don’t have to worry about that.” But the truth is . . . the church is not the most important spiritual leader in a child’s life . . . that’s the job of a parent. In reality the church is LUCKY if we have 40 hours within a year to invest in a child’s life, but parents, on the other hand, have thousands of unplanned hours.
It’s easy to fall into the mode of not fighting for that partnership . . . but when we stop and think about each child that we’re blessed to have in our ministries and dream about what life will be like for them 50, 60, 70 years from now . . . don’t we want each one of our kids to be able to ask the same kind of question as Jim asked? Because his parents carried out their role as Jim’s most important spiritual leader, this allowed Jim the chance not to think about what it would have been like if his parents would have fought for his heart and partnered with the church, but instead to think about what it might have been like if they hadn’t done so . . . would he have still found his way to God . . . Jim was lucky to have such amazing parents.
Yes . . . partnering with parents can be tough . . . it’s tough because a partnership goes beyond a program . . . at the heart of a partnership is a relationship. Here are some of the ways we partner with parents at Grace:
1. We encourage all of our Small Group leaders to get to know their kids personally, and to always look for moments to interact with parents.
2. We encourage Small Group leaders to come to family events that Grace hosts throughout the year in order to hang out with parents and kids.
3. Grace looks at a Sunday as a chance to introduce a biblical truth . . . but from there we give parents take-home tools to use with their kids so that they can continue to talk about what was learned on Sunday. What happens at home is more important than what happens at church.
4. Grace puts on Family Productions where mom and dad can have fun along with their child, and we host Family Venture events where parents and kids can go on an adventure together to a Water Park, a Skating Rink, or whatever else we can think of where parents and kids can have a blast together.
5. Grace sends out links to parents where they can learn more about parenting and how to be a child’s most important spiritual leader.
6. Grace hosts Baby Dedications where we present the idea of parents being the most important spiritual leaders and we ask parents to process the kind of person they want their little baby to be when he or she grows up. And we ask parents to partner with us along this amazing journey called parenthood.
7. We as a church staff always remain available to connect with parents in order to talk through issues and to help problem solve together . . . we want parents to know that they are not alone.
These are just some of the ways that we as a church, along with MANY other churches across America, are partnering with parents. Yes, it’s harder. And yes, it’s messier. But when I think of Jim Bianculli as a child being taught about Jesus by his parents and his church and then I reflect on the man he became and the life he lived . . . well, it’s all worth it.