With numerous blogs, articles, and testimonials of teens or young adults leaving the church for various reasons, parents have begun to doubt that they no longer hold any power or lasting influence in the faith of their adolescent and young adult children. The media has told us, and we have believed them, that friends, social media, entertainers, and pop culture have the greatest influence in our teen’s lives. Therefore, many parents have given up even trying to guide and direct their teen’s faith, or religious beliefs, out of a growing sense of futility.
Yet this longitudinal study has proven otherwise! In a Huffington Post Blog,The No. 1 Reason Teens Keep The Faith As Young Adults writer David Briggs explains encouraging and surprising results: the connection between children and teens who were raised by parents who “talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs, and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults.”
In fact, Briggs reports that the connection, according to Dr. Smith, the lead researcher, is “nearly deterministic.”
Wow! That’s encouraging to me!
“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov 22:6 (KJV)
In my last blog post, I discussed the critical, yet simple elements of faith for salvation such that one as young as preschool could receive Christ as Savior. However, our work does not end there. In fact, it is just beginning! What we must seriously consider, is our role AFTER a child makes a profession of faith. That rests on us as parents, grandparents, teachers, or mentors in their life.
As children grow and mature, these early beliefs and confessions will be challenged and criticized by friends, professors, colleagues and those whom they may respect. Life will present adversity and pain that cast doubt on the elementary truths they were taught about their loving Heavenly Father. And we must not forget that we ALL have an enemy that roams around like a lion searching for someone to outright devour.
This is where OUR duty in helping protect and nurture their salvation comes in to play! I am not suggesting that our children’s salvation can be lost or that God is not capable of protecting His children. Philippians 1:6 reminds us “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (NIV). Therefore, God is able and will finish the work He begins in each of us and our children!
However, it is not easy, will not be without challenge to the young believer. And as the goal with any seed planted in soil is in the production of a strong crop, the goal with Spiritual Seeds sown in the hearts of our children, is to see a harvest in their lives!
Here are 3 Essentials to Safeguarding Our Children’s Faith:
- Nurture: Teach /Impress truth upon them any chance you get!
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 gives us the Biblical description of this constant nurturing of our young one’s faith. His commands were to be on the hearts of the parent at all times. They were told to teach (impress upon) children the truth as they were at home sitting, as they might walk along the road going about their day, before going to bed, and as they would rise each morning. The contrast between times of activity and inactivity, as well as the beginning of the day and the end of the day, suggests that our faith is to permeate our conversations throughout the day- like a filter, or lens by which we see, experience, and interpret the world around us.
Tying symbols on our hands and foreheads and writing them on our door frames and gates are not to be taken literally, but figuratively. These instruction were included to emphasize that our faith was to be central to every part of who we are and carried with us as we go out into the world or invite people to our home. Our faith should be “written” all over our lives- obvious to everyone we encounter!
2. Demonstrate: Model a life of faith!
I Cor 4:16-17 describes the relationship between a mentor and mentee. At its heart, the leader (in our case as parents, grandparents, mentors) we are saying to our young, “See how I follow Christ, this is how you do it. This is what it looks like. This is what it feels like. This is what it sounds and smells like.”
Paul confidently told the church in Corinth they could follow him (and Timothy whom he had sent in his stead) because they were following Christ. The crux of it was this: “Follow me as I follow Christ“…As you see my life obedient to Christ, a reflection of Him, a testament to His love and faithfulness, you can imitate me and do the same. This was not arrogant or boastful, it was demonstration— a tutorial. And one that benefitted the church immensely!
3. Cultivate: Community is Key!
Heb 10:24-25 urgently calls us to develop and maintain a strong community of faith as we spur one another on toward love and good deeds. This is regular, prioritized church attendance. This is building a community around which you do life with others of the same faith like small groups, life groups, study groups, or discipleship / mentoring relationships.
The cultivation done in community is like that of the seedling growing in soil- we watch for growth, feed and water it, protect it from weeds, pests, or animals that would damage the young plant. We must do the same for our children. Spiritual cultivation also watches for growth, seeks to nourish and protect it. This cannot be done by sporadic church attendance, occasionally dropping youth off at events and meetings, or allowing extracurriculars and social events to take priority over gathering with our community in faith. Remember, one of the identified keys to retention of faith according to the study above is activity within the congregation of other believers!
These may sound too easy for some. They may sound too daunting for others.
And of course, as with all studies, there are outliers. There are some who, in spite of growing up in godly homes or under the influence of faithful, godly leaders will doubt, question, and possibly leave their faith behind. This is frightening and discouraging to say the least, but our prayer can be that like the prodigal son came to his own end and returned to the father, these will also eventually return to the arms of their Heavenly Father. And then, the party begins!
So much of leading our children in faith will be influenced by how WE were raised. Which begs the question: What did your family or spiritual leaders do right? Work to incorporate those elements into your own leadership of a child!
What did they do that felt wrong or ineffective for you? Consider that as well so that you do not repeat the same mistakes or misuse precious time and energy.
I cannot stress this enough: the work we do, the seeds we sow, the cultivation of this heart for Christ DOES matter, it DOES make a difference! They are watching and they will remember what we have demonstrated and will imitate our faith!
What are WE going to give them to imitate?