So much talk these days is about millennials leaving the church. I know of one individual raised in a Christian home who went off to high-profile university and came back after four years disavowing Christianity. I know of a number of others who went to Christian schools through high school only to choose a lifestyle in contradiction of what they’d been taught. One such person living with her boyfriend says she still loves Jesus. She just doesn’t have time for church. Or apparently the things of the Bible.
But is this kind of attrition inevitable? Are Christian parents raising kids with little more than a flip-of-the-coin certainty that what they’re teaching will stick?
I watched literally hundreds of kids march through the Christian schools where I taught, and I have to say, parents have much better odds that their kids will follow the faith they’ve been taught if two things can be avoided and two things established.
First, parents should NOT try to shelter their kids from the world. First, it’s nearly a futile effort. I grew up in a Christian home but attended public schools. I shied away from talking with my parents about a number of things because I didn’t want to shock THEM. Because of their standards, and the fact that they didn’t raise hard issues, I was naive enough to think they were naive.
I just saw a posting on Facebook about one of these movie rating sites, a spoof actually. But the reality is, there are sites that count the number of “questionable words,” detail every taste of alcohol, every puff of cigarette smoke, or whatever “unsafe” thing might be in the movie.
What a mistake! Kids know people drink, do drugs, have illicit sex, and much more. Or if they don’t, they will as soon as they go away to college. Then what? They’ll be on their own trying to make sense of the unsafe world they’ve been shielded from.
Far better if parents would sit down with their kids and say, I know this movie shows a hero taking vengeance by killing the person he was supposed to arrest. What do you think about that? What do you think God’s word says about that? How would God want us to handle evil people?
Parents simply miss teaching moments because they’re too busy focusing on the peripherals and not addressing the why’s and wherefore’s.
In contrast, other parents take a hands-off approach, a “I’ll let them make up their own mind” attitude. It’s the spiritual equivalent of teaching kids to swim by throwing them into the pool.
There are some parents who don’t go quite that far. Rather, they turn their child’s spiritual education over to a church or Christian school. The truth is, however, kids learn a lot more from example than they do from didactic instruction.
They learn best where there is example with didactic instruction supporting it, from church and home and school.
So one of the things that parents can establish is a lifestyle they want their children to emulate. If they want them to read the Bible regularly, go to church on Sunday, be involved in a ministry, love their neighbors, forgive people who offend them, and more, then the first thing parents need to do is to model every single one of those.
Impossible, I know. But there’s an important part of this modeling: when parents blow it, they can teach as much to their children by admitting their sin and asking forgiveness. That speaks volumes about how seriously they take living what they profess.
The second thing parents can establish is regular pray with and for their children. Nothing is more powerful. Nothing. When we pray, we are not dropping our quarters into the God machine to get whatever we want. We’re not buying into the God-lotto either—sometimes with our numbers coming up and sometimes not.
No. Prayer is our admission that we are dependent people who need God. Not just as an add-on. We need Him like we need oxygen or functioning brainwaves or a heart that pumps blood. We actually need Him more, because when this life is over, He will still be there. And who else are we going to depend on then?
How critical that we learn to depend on Him completely now! How critical that we teach our children that we are not self-sufficient except for the few big things that seem out of our control, like a hurricane or cancer.
We’ve gotten away from asking God—really asking Him and meaning it—for our daily bread. We don’t need God for our daily bread, we think. We can always buy it from the grocery store.
Except there’s the matter of money, which we get from a job, which we get from the skills and abilities we have and perhaps the people we know and the openings we hear about and the interviews we successfully navigate, and . . . well, I hope you see the point. We think it’s all up to us, but there are so many more factors that God, in His great mercy engineers for us. And, walla! We have food on the table.
How important that kids see parents dependent upon God.
So, did I ever do the rebellion thing? I did not. I think my parents tried to shield me, so you might think I should have rebelled. But they did the other three pretty well.
Let’s face it. Kids still have to accept Christ and decide to follow Him with their whole hearts, no matter what parents do. But I am pretty confident that shielding kids and trying to create “safe” without the other three will probably push them into the rebellion the parents want to spare them.
If you think about the people that Jesus reached with the gospel, there weren’t a lot of people who’d been raised in a safe environment protected from the evils of the world. There were prostitutes, at least one thief, corrupt tax collectors, sick people considered unclean by society and the religious establishment, a militant terrorist, people who’d been demon-possessed. Christ Himself said He came to save the lost, so any safe, “found people” weren’t really in need of Him.
But that’s what we ought to be helping our kids realize: no matter what our outward circumstances, we are in need of a Savior. If, instead, we teach them they can control their own environment and make the world a better place, at least for themselves and their own, we will be pushing them out of the church.
The church is not a safe place. It’s a place where broken people congregate to swap stories of how they got rescued and patched up. It’s a place they can gush about the One who got them out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Light.
Time, I think, for parents to put to bed the notion that they can keep their kids safe. They can’t for one thing. But God can. So asking Him to do so seems like the first step, not the last recourse.
Blessings on those movie reviewers, but I also think it’s time to put them to bed and let parents engage their kids rather than outsourcing their application of Scripture to pop culture. Parents need to think through why they believe what they believe and articulate that to their children. Saying, “It got a 2 on moral values at XXX review site,” doesn’t train a child in the way he should go. Rather, it delays his engagement with the culture. And that state, like being freed from demon possession only to have seven other demons take up residence, is worse than before.