Becoming a parent opens the doors to the most selfless, sacrificial love a human can experience. It is a love that is different than the love of a parent or spouse. In my estimation, it most closely resembles the love our heavenly Father has for us. This love for our child instills in us a fervent desire for that child to grow up to love and serve the Lord, to be people of faith with a strong conviction, to make a difference in God’s kingdom. We take them to church as soon and as much as we can. Make sure they attend church classes and youth events. We send them to Christian schools if we are able, and we pray. We do all we can, and we constantly look for ways to encourage their faith formation – especially as our children mature.
When our children reach adolescence, one of the driving questions for Christian parents is, “How can I encourage my teen’s faith formation?” As I reflect on the 45 years I have spent in youth ministry speaking to middle and high school teens, I recall what thousands of teens have taught me. I identity four areas that can have a powerful effect on a teen’s spiritual growth.
If I asked your child to describe what you do to grow spiritually, what would they say? Do they know when and where you pray or have your private devotions? Have they heard you pray for them? What is your attitude about going to church? Is worship a duty or a delight? I have found that young people are more observing what we do than listening to what we say. They are sticklers for authenticity and dislike hypocrisy. They want to know what you really believe, and they learn it by watching your behavior. Your actions tell them about your relationship with Jesus Christ, whether or not you find great joy in living obediently in an intimate relationship with him. So, I encourage you to ask the Spirit to show you ways you can clearly model your love for Christ to your children. Let your actions and lifestyle “preach” about God’s great love and grace. Give them a good model to follow, because they will follow the model you give.
The adage, “It takes a village,” is profoundly true when it comes to faith formation in teens. At this age they start looking beyond their parents for points of connection with the world. They need to hear as many voices as possible speaking God’s truth into their lives. Their world is so full of misinformation, they need more than you to help them find their way.
They need to know that they are worthy of someone’s time and attention. That is why it is so vitally important to ask God to provide a wise Christian mentor. Someone other than family who will come alongside them and help them grow spiritually. Begin praying early on for God to provide someone who will love your child and show them Jesus. This person can be a godly neighbor, someone from church, or a trusted friend. Let the Spirit make the connection and then pray for that person.
I have spent time with young people in a variety of settings, but the one place where I have seen their faith grow the most is when they are actively serving others. There is something about being on a service project that breaks through hardened or apathetic hearts and lights a holy fire that ignites spiritual growth. The young person experiences the Spirit using them to bless others and they also realize they have much to learn from those they serve. In most service projects, the greatest benefactors are often the ones who come to serve. They see God in a way they can’t in their everyday life. If possible, find the means to send your child on service projects and mission trips then watch the Spirit work.
I left the most powerful activity to the last. Never ever underestimate the power or effectiveness of a parent’s prayer. God may not answer in the time frame you want or in the way you want. But we parents need to remember that God loves our children even more than we do. He has a plan for them, and he will never let them go. The very hardest thing we are asked to do is to totally let go of our children and completely trust them to God. Arm your children each day with the full armor of God through prayer. Pray scripture over them. Let them hear you pray for them. Pray with them as you drive in the car. Let them experience prayer and see prayer modeled. Then trust God with the rest.
Show them your faith, connect them with adults who care, give them chances to put faith in to action, and tell God you trust him to care for his children.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra