Launching Your Child's Faith: Too Hard or Too Scary?
Take a look at seven common faith-launching worries parents face.
Marilyn's parents seemed satisfied when they coached her to pray the "sinner's prayer" at age five. Her mother hugged her, calling it a "great moment" in the girl's life — and it certainly seemed like it was! She'd said the "right" words, after all.
But Marilyn's heart wasn't in this journey. Her interest in Christianity had begun and ended with that prayer. By the time she was a teenager, she hated her life. Today she's turned her back on the "fundamentalism" of her childhood, vowing to spend the rest of her days learning to "be herself."
As Marilyn's story demonstrates, the goal of faith-launching is to cultivate an eternal, personal relationship with God. It's not just to get our child to say words that make us relax or feel better.
That's not to say that "praying the prayer" or having a specific "launch day" isn't important. The act of believing in Jesus, wanting forgiveness for sins, and saying so is an indispensable beginning.
But ignoring the rest of the flight plan can lead to shortcuts that endanger your "astronaut." Parents who aim only to hear the "right words" from a very young child may be tempted to "get this out of the way" as if it were an awkward talk about the birds and the bees. They may fail to supply their kids with enough information as they grow up to make a real, lasting choice. To use a more biblical word picture, they may build a house on sand, not rock.
"Hey," you might say. "Aren't you supposed to be encouraging me? I'm already nervous about this faith-launching stuff, and you're just telling me all the things that can go wrong."
Sorry. If you're anxious about helping your child become a Christian, it's understandable. You may think it's all up to you. You may think that if you "fail," the launch window will slam shut and no one will ever be able to reach your child.
Or perhaps you're more worried about how this process might affect your relationship with your son or daughter. What if your child rejects you for acting "weird" when you try to bring up "spiritual things"? What if he or she won't "go along" when you ask for a decision about following Jesus? Will things get awkward — or worse?
Let's look at seven common faith-launching worries parents face — and why you don't have to feel overwhelmed by them.
- I'm not an expert on Christianity. Good! That means you'll be able to talk with your child in plain English, not theological jargon. If you don't quite grasp concepts like the Trinity and original sin, relax. Use a resource like FaithLaunch, which describes them as simply as possible so that you can do the same for your child.
- My own relationship with God isn't going too well. If you believe the basics — that we can receive forgiveness by placing our faith in Christ — you're qualified to address the subject with your child. It's important to deal with your doubts, disappointments, and temptations with the help of a pastor or other mature believer, but waiting for perfection isn't necessary. In fact, you might even find the process to be a faith-builder for you.
- My kid has the attention span of a Chihuahua on caffeine. Are you afraid of boring your child? Whether the cause is ADHD or just too many video games, a short attention span doesn't have to torpedo your takeoff. FaithLaunch is one program that features a wide variety of brief activities, not a bunch of lectures. You can take things at your child's pace, and in bite-sized pieces.
- I'm no teacher. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be a class. It can be a series of family times — kind of a cross between game night, a devotional, and baking cookies together. You're the leader, but there's no standing at a chalkboard and delivering a memorized lesson. It's as natural as spending time with your child to play with the cat, listen to a song on the radio, or work together on a model plane.
- I have to do this alone. If you're a single parent, or if you're married but your spouse is reluctant to help, you may need to lead as a team of one. No, make that two: God knows all about your situation. In the case of FaithLaunch, family times have been prepared with you in mind; you won't be required to do anything a mom or dad can't do. If you really need flesh-and-blood support, though, you might consider inviting a friend and his or her child to join you.
- My kid doesn't seem interested in God. If you haven't talked with your child much about faith before, suddenly immersing yourselves in the subject may seem jarring. You may assume your child isn't interested, yet it's likely he or she has questions but hasn't raised them. Rather than leaping in headlong, you might prepare your child for a couple of weeks beforehand by occasionally asking questions of your own ("Who do you think gave that caterpillar all those legs?") and mentioning your own faith ("I'll be sure to pray about your spelling test tomorrow").
- I'm afraid I'll do it wrong and I'll never have another chance. The good news is that there are a million ways to do it right. You can blend a resource like FaithLaunch with your personality, your child's interests, your family's schedule, your home's layout, your favorite snacks. Share the truths in your own words, and let your child respond without insisting on the "right" answer.
Count on the all-powerful God to use your less-than-perfect efforts — in His own time. When it comes to launch windows, He's able to open a lot more than doors.
Adapted from FaithLaunch: A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child's Love for Jesus by John Trent, Ph.D., and Jane Vogel (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2008)