When I was a kid in the ’80s, my friends and I never wore helmets while riding our bikes. Did anyone? Times have changed so much. Today it seems that every child on so much as a tricycle needs a skull-preserving, Disney character-promoting protective device.
I resisted the trend at first. My kids will ride their bikes like kids have done for decades, I thought. But one day my son fell off his bike and hit his head shockingly hard. Fortunately he was OK, but the incident awakened me to the reality of what can happen in the blink of an eye. We were off buying helmets for my kids faster than you could say “sizes 3, 4 and 5, please.”
I often remember that stubbornness when I encounter objections to the importance of teaching kids how to make a case for and defend their faith. (This is called apologetics.) “Sure, we can say the right things,” one mom commented. “But kids still make their own choices.” She effectively questioned apologetics the same way I questioned bicycle helmets: Do we really need this stuff?
Yes, kids will forge their own path, often making decisions that won’t correlate with how we tried to influence their spiritual life. But no dedicated Christian parent completely resigns from the faith-development process. We’re all going to do something to protect our kids’ faith.
But how far should we go in protecting our children spiritually? Scripture places a high value on teaching God’s truths every day (Deuteronomy 6:7-9). And just as we match safety gear to the physical hazards children face, so our spiritual protection should fit the secular world kids live in.
Equipping kids with an understanding of apologetics is an important part of that. It enables kids to confidently deal with the intellectual challenges to Christianity, helping them understand how their faith is grounded in reason (1 Peter 3:15).
A lot of people assume teaching apologetics involves some kind of serious event: Dad comes home from work, loosens his tie and announces. “Kids, it’s time to have the talk about . . . apologetics.”
Actually, apologetics is best taught when it’s incorporated into everything you teach about Christianity. Of course, you’ll need to consider the blend of personalities and ages of your kids.
Here are several strategies that will build a foundation for deep faith conversations:
Commit to deepening your own understanding.
There is no replacement for you. If you have no answer when kids wrestle with big questions, they’ll begin to wonder if faith matters that much, given that you seemingly haven’t given it as much thought as they have. Commit to a life of study (see “Apologetics 101” below).
Of course, transferring your newfound understanding to your kids won’t happen automatically. With the busyness of modern family life, you’ll need to be intentional about creating time and space to engage with your kids and help them grow in their understanding of God. There is no reason this shouldn’t be a scheduled activity like all the other (less important) items on your agenda.
Ask your kids the tough questions they don’t ask.
Your kids should know you’re an open door for faith questions, but some questions may never occur to them to ask.
If we want our kids to develop a robust faith, we can’t just react to their comments and questions. We also need to proactively place the big questions in front of them — the ones we know that they will encounter from the skeptics, such as why God allows so much evil, or why Christians believe miracles like the Resurrection are possible.
This doesn’t mean that your home needs to become a lecture hall. Instead, think of these conversations as a journey to discover faith truths together. This allows you to directly observe their thinking and conclusions in a safe environment.
You don’t need to have all the answers at first, but you do need to provide the forum.
Become a detective.
One Sunday when I was loading my kids into the van for church, my son moaned, “I hate God.”
I gasped in shock. What a terrible thing to say!
After driving quietly for a while, I asked him some questions to understand his feelings. It turned out that “I hate God” really meant “I don’t like dancing in kids’ worship time.”
Not every faith difficulty is so easily remedied. But when children voice doubts, avoid immediately dispensing answers. Determine to understand why they’ve come to their conclusions. Then you can address their actual concerns.
Practice critical thinking.
When kids encounter arguments against their faith, the challenges often come with polished rhetoric. Critical thinking skills help kids isolate the underlying issue from the propaganda. When kids learn these skills, they objectively evaluate the validity of what someone else is asserting.
I help my kids practice evaluating conclusions from given statements, asking them to say if I’m using good or bad logic. For example:
- “It’s sunny. That means it won’t rain today.” (Bad logic. Because it’s sunny now doesn’t mean the weather won’t change later.)
- “There’s ice on the sidewalk. That means I shouldn’t run on it.” (Good logic. We know that ice is slippery. Running could cause me to fall and hurt myself.)
- “I don’t understand why God lets bad things happen. That means He doesn’t exist.” (Bad logic. We don’t have God’s perfect knowledge of the world, so there will be things we don’t understand. Our limited understanding of His ways does not nullify the reality of His existence.)
I’ve encouraged my kids to continually recognize sound and faulty logic in all areas of their lives, and I’ve been amazed at how it’s transformed their thinking. One morning, my son grumbled, “I can’t find my shoes. They’re not in the house.” My daughter yelled from another room, “Bad logic! Just because you can’t find your shoes doesn’t mean they aren’t in the house. You just don’t know where they are.”
None of us has an indefinite amount of time to impact our kids’ faith. And there are no guaranteed outcomes. We can equip our kids with all the protection in the world, and they may still fall. But God asks us to make this investment in our kids.
So start today. Give it all you’ve got. Then pray that God will take your effort and grow it for His glory.
Natasha Crain teaches on the importance of using apologetics in parenting. Her most recent book is talking With Your Kids About God.