It seems we hear more and more about how today’s young adults are walking away from the faith. Studies seem to indicate that this is true, at least to some degree. As a father of teenage sons, this is a rather unnerving thought – I don’t want my boys to walk away from the faith! But I realize that, as they walk into adulthood, it becomes their choice as to whether they will hold on to what we’ve taught them, or not.
So what is it that makes the difference? I don’t believe that their are any guarantees that children will hold on to their faith into adulthood. But I do believe that there are several ways that we can all but guarantee that they won’t hold on to their faith. Of course, these things are things that happen throughout their childhood, not just at the time they are ready to leave the nest.
Here are 5 things I think parents do (or don’t do) that pushes kids away from their faith:
1. Fail to model a love for God & the priority of His Word
Church leaders often point to Deuteronomy 6:5-9 as the model for parents passing along their faith to their children. However, we tend to quickly go to verses 7 – 9 (the part about passing on our faith) when verses 5 – 6 provide the foundation. In these two verses we are told we must do two things:
- Love God with all our heart, soul and strength. In other words, we’ve got to be sold out for God in every part of our lives. Going to church a couple of times a month and not speaking about God the rest of the time doesn’t really qualify as “sold out”, yet that is the pattern of too many families today.
- Take the Word of God seriously. Again, most “Christian” parents say that God’s Word is important, but studies show that over 80% of us don’t even read the Bible every day! How can we obey God’s directive that “these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (verse 6) if we don’t even read God’s Word?
We are a society that likes to say the right things and put forward a life that looks good. In our social media world, that has become easier than ever. But when we consistently live a life of saying one thing and living another in front of our kids, they quickly discern what’s really important to us – and what’s not. We might say we love God and we might say His Word is important, but if we aren’t sold out and only touch our Bibles as we run out the door on Sunday, then they are going to understand that, in reality, our faith is more for show than for life.
Why would they want to hang on to a faith like that when they can make their own choice?
2. Fail to proactively engage your faith in real life everyday
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 lay the foundation for passing on our faith to our children. But verses 7 – 9 give us a practical example of how to do it:
- Teach God’s Word diligently.
- Make faith and God’s Word part of your everyday interaction.
- Keep God’s Word before you always as the guiding force behind all you do.
In other words, engage with your faith – by loving God, obeying His word & living out your faith everyday with your kids. What happens when we do that? Children grow up seeing faith in action and understanding how to live it out in their own lives. And what happens when we talk about faith but don’t act on it in our everyday lives? Children come to believe that it’s not that important, not that real, and not something they need to invest a lot of time and energy into.
3. Fail to engage children in a faith of their own.
It’s one thing to take your child to church every Sunday, to teach them the stories of the Bible, and to make sure they “follow the rules”. It’s quite another to help them to actively engage with their own faith.
- Do you have conversations about faith and ask them hard questions, allowing them to think through what they believe? Do you help them search the scriptures to find the answers or guiding principles for those questions?
- Do you let them see you trust God and respond in godly ways to the challenges of your own life, engaging them in understanding how you are processing the struggle?
- Do you encourage, allow and create opportunities for them to serve others in the church or in your community?
- Do you expose them to “real life” and (age appropriately) allow them to see and engage the reality of sin and pain in the world, have conversations about faith with others, and let them wrestle with their own questions about their own faith?
All of these, with proper guidance, challenge a child about what they believe, forcing them to confront questions of faith and weigh it for themselves.
4. Fail to prepare children for the battle ahead.
We are all in a spiritual battle. As children grow in to adulthood, there is no doubt that the battle for their hearts intensifies. Have we prepared them?
Perhaps now, more than ever, our kids are bombarded with ideas and information which directly questions, challenges and undermines their faith. Have we taught them how to manage the battle? How to respond to the naysayers? Not with superficial superlatives, but with real reasons why scripture is true (in spite of so many saying otherwise), why God can be trusted (in spite of so much pain in the world), and why the narrow road with Christ is better than the broad road with anything else (and there are so many broad roads available now!)?
We must equip them for the reality of the spiritual battle ahead, or we are dooming them to spiritual defeat. And don’t expect the Children’s, Youth or Family Pastor to assume that responsibility. While the church has been great at taking that on, it was never intended for them to take – ultimately the parent is responsible for ensuring the child can stand firm in the battle.
5. Fail to protect them from the world.
To this point we’ve talked a lot about letting children experience, question and even struggle with their faith. We must equip them to fight the spiritual battle that is part of growing in our faith.
But we also need to protect them.
Too many parents fail to monitor what’s coming in to the mind of their child, perhaps too distracted themselves. Music and media are the primary culprits, but public education, friends, and so much more, are all influencing our children away from the faith. Talking about how to protect them is a topic for another article, but we’ve first got to decide that we need to protect them.
Parents, God’s design is for you to be the primary spiritual influence in the life of your child. One way or the other, they form their spiritual ideas, beliefs and practices primarily because of your influence – or lack of it. If we fail to protect them, we are giving away that influence. Along with the personal example, the on-going engagement, the ability to exercise their own faith and preparing them for the battle ahead, we’ve also got to protect them. Proper boundaries, vigilant attention, and godly discipline are all ways we can do this.
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As a Children’s & Family Pastor for much of my adult life, I’ve always believed that if I failed in spiritually investing in my own kids, I’ve failed. It wouldn’t matter how well I led my ministry in the church. It wouldn’t matter how many teachers I equipped. It wouldn’t matter how many children I shared Christ with or baptized.
If my own children didn’t grow up to walk with God, I’ve failed.
I believe with all my heart that the most important responsibility of each and every parent (aside from their own relationship with God) is to raise godly kids.
When we release them from our family, we want them to walk toward the faith, not away from it.
What have you learned about ensuring kids walk toward, and not away, from the faith?