Pizza Hut, Guardian of the Family

The last time I had pizza, traffic was so complicated I couldn't eat it while I was driving between the store and my home. This gave me the whole ride back to look at the box and notice one very interesting thing about it.

(Note to Mom and anyone else who needs to know how safe a person I really am: I don't eat pizza straight from the box in my car while I'm driving. I wait until I'm back and then roll up each slice and eat it over the sink. There's just more suspense the other way.)

Printed on the pizza box were a set of questions and the instructions for parents to ask their kids, and kids ask their parents, to find out more about each other. They were things like "What kind of homework did you have when you were growing up?" and "If you could play a professional sport, what would it be?" The questions were friendly, open-ended and could easily lead into longer discussion about all the things that connect to homework and careers and such.

It caught my eye because Pizza Hut's real responsibility for my happiness ends when I take the pizza and give them my money. But some bright-eyed advertising rep at the company end has taken one giant leap into family dynamics. Pizza Hut, or at least Pizza Hut's box, understands that dinnertime together is more than fueling up. When you stop for gas, it's rare to have meaningful conversations around the gas pump. Gas stations are meant to be efficient delivery systems. Pizza Hut is set up that way as well.

Family dinnertime, apparently, is more than that. Eating a meal together offers time to talk about the day, coordinate schedules, ask questions, affirm each other, and pass on the faith.

Sharing a meal with the family is one of the few times when all the family members are in the same room focusing on the same task. It's a common ground that can be a key to finding other common ground.

Youth ministers should do two things to support families in putting family dinnertime back together. First, whenever possible, we should avoid scheduling over dinnertime. Leaving the space clear is the first step toward encouraging families to use it.

Second, take a day or two per year to host family dinners at the church, or at members' houses. Bring along a resource like "Faith Talk" cards, published by the Youth and Family Institute. Each card has a question printed on it for the people at the table to talk about. Introduce table prayers, both traditional and new forms. I suggest the book "Graces." In these "training meals" you can model what you want families to practice.

Related to this, we need to be always telling parents how important they are in building their children's faith. We're backed up by research here-- in the late '90s, Search Institute in Minneapolis did a study that showed mom and dad are the top two influences in the faith lives of students in 7th-12th grades. Grandparents were right behind them, in spots #3 and #4. Martin Luther wrote that parents were "bishops, priests and deacons" to their children. Paul Hill and David Anderson in "Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear" remind parents, and pastors, and youth ministers, that "Our children are watching and learning from us every day. All Christian adults are youth ministers, whether we want to be or not. The choice is to decide whether we are going to be good at this work or not."

Parents matter. The example the family sets with prioritizing its time matters. And, even if we have to learn it from Pizza Hut, dinnertime matters. As youth ministers, let's make sure these powerful tools are being used.

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