According to the Barna Group, only 6% of adult Christians made their decision to follow God over the age of 18. That means 94% made decisions as children that follow with them throughout their life. Wow. That is encouraging. And scary. And then encouraging again. That means that there is no time like the present to be shepherding their little hearts.
Just to get this out of the way, I know that everyone must decide to follow Christ on their own and, as parents, we know we cannot make that decision for our children. There are surely many things we can do that will help our children see Jesus as He is, and there are also many things we might do unintentionally that can become stumbling blocks for our children in their spiritual journey. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8) and it is not up to us to save our children. We can, however, live a life with God that encourages our children to go on their own spiritual journey.
We’ll never get it all right. If we did, we wouldn’t need Jesus. The point is not to be perfect and – most definitely – not to pretend to be perfect. The point is to be loving in our hearts both towards God and our children and to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment in their lives. I’ve spoken some on the difference between protection and over-protection, and spiritually speaking, we need to be on the lookout to protect our children from experiences or impressions that might steer them away from God’s love.
(1) Be transparent about your faith. Just going to church and praying before bedtime will more than likely not be enough of an example to our children. Do we pray in front of them? Do we talk about God to them? Do we share our own struggles or trials or tests of faith? Being transparent will help our children see that a relationship with God is give and take. Hypocrisy – to a certain extent – can’t be avoided. We are not perfect and never will be. However, if we are trying to maintain an image that is unlike who we really are then the very last people who will be fooled are our children. This will pass on the truth that it’s better to look good than to be good. God is concerned with our heart, and it’s our heart that we need to share with our children.
(2) Prioritize your family over your ministry. The world over there are pastors and missionary kids who go off the rails and rebel leaving their parents wondering what went wrong. I don’t pretend to have answers to this nor do I think that these parents are to always “blame” in these cases. Again, children have their own free will. I do believe that if we set our ministry or area of service in priority above our family that it will breed resentment in our children. Resentment towards us and towards God. Who’d want to serve a God who told you to neglect your children and work like a slave? Immature thought, of course, but children’s minds are immature. I knew a couple who were spiritual parents of sorts to me at one time and she said something enlightening. She said she’d rather stay at home and serve her family, forgetting about her “calling” forever, if her own children didn’t make it with her to heaven. As far as she could help it, that was her first priority. Others? Of course. Service? Sure. But above the spiritual health of her own family? Never.
(3) Keep a diligent eye your kids aren’t getting snubbed / hurt / rejected in their church kids and youth groups. I know that our children will get hurt, they will feel pain and they will have to learn to handle it in a healthy way. However, many many people walk away from God because of very negative, hurtful or abusive experiences within a church or youth group. Many of them never go back. If your son is an “outcast” in his group and dreads the thought of going to church, is it better to prove a point and make him go or to try to find a group where he fits in and will thrive? I know these things can happen and our children may never make us aware, and I’m not saying we have to micromanage their lives. However, if we notice their attitude towards attending church or youth functions has changed we should diligently explore the reason. Do they have questions or doubts about God? Do they not like the youth pastor? Are there bullies there that make them feel unwelcome? If we force our children to go to church when the whole experience is actually causing them damage then it will surely backfire. I don’t mean letting them sleep in or indulging excuses to sit out, but not being aware of the spiritual health of their surroundings can leave them open to many negative influences.
(4) Protect them from bad spiritual leaders and influencers. Similar to the above point, it’s important who we let speak into our children’s lives. They’ll have teachers, and many teachers will tell them things they might not think are true. They’ll have friends who engage them in all manner of conversations. Life happens. However, if you are in a church where there are irresponsible, spiritually abusive, or dysfunctional leadership issues that trickle down and affect your children, I’d seriously consider if it’s the right place for you. I’m not advocating running every time your church has an issue. Simply put, it is important your children are not coming under repeated and long-term effects of a church that is doing a bad job of exhibiting Christ’s nature and fostering an environment of family, encouragement and support. If a church is very controlling and legalistic then you may find your teenagers running at the mention of God. Why? Because they may start to view God as your church portrays Him. Always no, no, no, no never good enough, and yes if it involves denial. Obviously no church will be perfect, but it is the duty of a parent to protect their child physically, emotional and spiritually. And spiritual damage is hard to fix if they aren’t willing to let God in.
(5) Be willing to answer [investigate] their hard questions. Your kids are likely to ask you questions that are hard to answer or that you just plain ole don’t know. If they are truly seeking God or trying to determine if He is real (a good thing) they may ask all manner of questions. We can’t be scared to talk about these things with our children, even if we don’t know the answers. In fact, these are valuable opportunities for the family to draw near to God, to study His Word, and to spend time in prayer asking Him to give answers. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is for children to hear from God because they haven’t spent years and years believing it’s impossible. Buy books, do studies, have deep conversations. Running away from hard questions or giving answers like “just because” “just believe it” or “it’s wrong to think those thoughts” will not mean your children blindly follow you or God. Or, if they do, they will be very ill-equipped to defend their weak faith when they are out of your house. It’s not about knowing everything, it’s about knowing that only God knows everything and pointing our children to God who is perfectly able to speak to our children Himself.
(6) Give God a fighting chance to shine! Spending time in prayer together as a family and encouraging our children to pray for their needs and the needs of others is a good place to see God work. God doesn’t give us what we want all the time, but if our children are actively and consistently praying I believe they will learn to recognize God at work in their own lives. We must encourage our children to pray themselves. Encourage journeys of faith. Believe and trust God where His word says we should. By living a life of wisdom and faith, and by encouraging our children to do the same, we set our children up to see God for who He is. The sooner our children see God and know Him the more likely they’ll stick out the narrow road.
If only we could ensure our children’s salvation like we can their first car. Giants of faith can have atheist children. Atheist parents can have devoted Christian children. Raising our children in the way of the Lord, praying for them, and protecting them from many spiritual stumbling blocks may be all we can do. Malachi 2:15 says God puts people together in marriage and desires godly offspring. Meaning, he supports our heart’s desire 100%. If we are wise, discerning and transparent with our children and in our walks with God then we will position our children well.
Raising Rescuer + other spiritual matters posts here