Will my child leave the faith?
Many Christian parents have asked themselves this question. Their anxiety is understandable. They've heard the stories of kids who've left home and announced that they would no longer follow the family's faith. In our work with young adults, we've witnessed such stories too often. Despite the historical footprint of Christianity in America, its mark on today's young people is not as visible as it has been with previous generations.
But there is hope. While church attendance may be down, it's surprising how many of today's young people pray and hunger for real answers. Many desire to live a meaningful life, one that helps mend a broken world. But they're not sure how to do it. They haven't recognized how the faith they were taught fuels an authentic life.
As parents, we can trust that God will continue to pursue the hearts of those who are wandering. And we can partner with Him to help our kids see His love, truth and wisdom as a relevant, authentic source of strength. Here are some principles to remember as you help your children develop a faith that is worth holding on to:
Authentic faith is an integral part of life
Apologist Sean McDowell hears a number of explanations for why young people leave the church. "It can be for moral reasons. … It can be relational, spiritual or intellectual," Sean says. Still, he sees a common thread through the different stories: Young people don't see a connection between what the adults in their lives believe spiritually and how these adults actually live. "They've seen how spiritual things help on Sunday morning and Wednesday night," he says, "but don't see how it translates into their everyday lives."
As parents, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help our children see Christianity in a holistic and meaningful way, to recognize how God's loving wisdom applies to how they compete on the field, how they behave at school and how they interact with others.
In other words, we should discuss everyday activities with our kids through the lens of God's Word. Make it a lively, normal part of life. Be open to questions, especially ones that keep the conversation going. Sometimes it's hard to believe, but teens really do crave spiritual conversations with the adults in their lives. Not lectures, but real conversations. God instructs us to talk about His truth every day with our kids (Deuteronomy 6).
We must also provide space in our kids' schedules for growing their faith. If children invest most of their time in sports, music, gaming or anything else that overshadows developing their faith, then essentially that activity is more important to your family than spiritual growth.
If our kids' faith is to last, they need to see the Gospel as the center of the home. It can't be just a part of the family routine twice a week; it must be an essential foundation for all of life.
Relevant faith helps us navigate the dark
A mother of three recently talked to us about her parenting journey. Mrs. Lee told us that she wishes she'd done better at helping her boys engage the culture, with all its pitfalls, risks and misguided worldviews. "I was more concerned with trying to protect them," she told us. "My husband and I would freak out if the boys were around things we were trying so hard to protect them from. By the time they went off to college, it was a real culture shock."
We've heard many moms and dads express similar thoughts. As parents, we can become so overly protective that we don't lean into God's protection for our children. We try to shield them from the consequences of their choices and from the challenges and obstacles of the world. But constant protection from a world that they will soon live in isn't healthy for a child and his faith. Indeed, young adults from overprotective homes often end up rebelling, abandoning church or hanging out with the wrong crowd.
We must consistently show our kids that faith is compatible with the harsh realities of the real world. And not just compatible, but also essential for facing those challenges. When your child recognizes faith as a true source of strength — when it helps her overcome temptation, persecution, relationship problems or bad decisions — she is far more likely to rely on that source in the future.
True faith reaches out
Dr. Ed Stetzer is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and the author of numerous books on the spiritual shifts in our culture. We talked to Dr. Stetzer about the generational differences evident in today's churches. One interesting difference is in the spiritual questions young people are asking.
Previous generations asked about the Bible's trustworthiness, such as if Jesus truly rose from the dead. Today's young people start with more foundational questions, such as "Does God really exist?" They have a "prove it to me" mindset. And since Christianity is not provable in the sense of hard scientific data, they look for consistency and authenticity. They want to see a faith that fuels real change, one that reaches out to love and serve others.
As you live the Christian faith with your family, remember that your kids are of a generation earnestly seeking to fulfill the words of 1 Peter 2:15: "This is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." If we are to help our kids see a faith worth holding on to, we must show them how that faith is lived out through our actions. Be a family that reaches out, a family that engages a hurting world. When we show concern and compassion for the needs of others, our kids are able to better recognize the love behind our actions. But they do need to see those actions.
God is on the march. As culture increasingly shifts toward an anti-Christian environment, God is calling our young people to a more authentic faith. He is calling them to rise from their slumber, to shed their self-entitled attitudes and reflect His love and truth. We must join this movement. We must help our children focus on more meaningful pursuits than their extracurricular activities, their circle of friends or the latest internet trend.
If we show young people the joy of reaching out — helping a group of less fortunate people or partnering with an organization bringing clean water to a village — their lives can change forever.Adapted from Abandoned Faith: Why millennials are walking away and how you can lead them home, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House. © 2017 by Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez.