James Dobson said, "Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built." Developing authentic faith in our children is the desire of most Christian parents, but how do we get there? How do we raise kids who embrace their faith and choose to follow God intentionally and passionately?
It all begins with us. We cannot give what we do not have. Faith begins in others as we let our faith leak out to those around us. We start with loving God with all of our person and then letting that love overflow to those around us. Your identity--what you love and serve--is your legacy. Ask yourself what your true passions are. Is your love for your Savior as evident as your passion for your hobby or your sports team?. True passions cannot be hidden. Our delight overflows and it becomes contagious.
Research has shown that parents are the most influential factor in the faith formation of their children. Our children are always watching us, which is both good news and bad news. They pick up our bad habits along with our good ones. They say apples do not fall far from the tree because children emulate their parents, including our faith practices. Author Christian Smith puts it this way, “When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.” Paul says in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” How excited are we for our children to adopt our spiritual habits? Living out our faith does not mean pretending to have things together, but rather an honesty about our own brokenness and the challenges of living the Christian life and a diligence for faith to matter. Paul said to his followers in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.” Are we brave enough to say that to our children?
As we practice our faith how then can we convey our faith to others? What are the crucial elements kids need to embrace faith and to make it their own? Kenda Creasy Dean in the National Study of Youth and Religion has identified four characteristics that structure the lives of youth with consequential faith. They have a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold onto.
Our culture has a watered down view of who God is. Teenagers who evidence consequential faith have been taught a personal and powerful "God story" that imparts identity ("a creed to believe").
Christian Smith breaks down the shallowness of the faith of typical American teens into what he calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." In other words, a vague belief in a distant, uninvolved God who wants me to be happy and, if I am good, will take me to heaven someday. This watered down view of faith does not inspire consequential faith. This watered down faith is a distorted view of God.
If we want to raise children who embrace their faith than we need to introduce them to the God of the Bible. God is more than a Band-Aid to use in times of crisis. He is the God who created and sustains the universe and calls you and me into relationship with him. They need to know that God in Christ loved them enough to die for them and that he has called us by his Spirit to live for him. He is with us and claims lordship over every aspect of our lives.
Faith does not flow from one generation to the next without the conduit of intergenerational relationships. Teenagers who evidence consequential faith have found a significant sense of belonging in the life of a congregation ("a community to belong to"). Children need a community of adults beyond their parents who are invested in them and their faith. Authors Chap Clark and Kara Powell share research in their book Sticky Faith showing that youth need five adults who are intentionally invested in their faith lives. “More than any single program or event, adults’ making the effort to get to know the kids was far more likely to make kids feel like a significant part of their church.” How many adults do your children know by name? How many adults would your children be comfortable engaging with in conversation? Cultivate your children's relationships with adults of faith!
We all wish to be useful. Everyone wants to contribute and use their gifts to serve others. Teenagers who evidence consequential faith have a sense of divine vocation or purpose to their lives ("a call to live out"). Service opportunities help them to see their role in bringing in God’s kingdom. We gain a sense of calling as we discover how God has gifted us and how we can use those gifts to serve others. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms."
Teenagers who evidence consequential faith have a keen interest in the future ("a hope to hold onto"). Faith anchors us, knowing that we have a God who holds our future no matter what challenges we face today. Hope flows naturally when we experience God’s love and forgiveness and turn over our lives to his leading. When we believe that our loving God is in control, we can face the future with hope instead of worry.
How are you nurturing faith? Are you helping your children find a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold onto?
Ultimately everyone will have to decide for themselves what they will believe. The best that we can do to help our children embrace Christianity is to live out a genuine faith in the context of authentic community. When our faith community challenges its youth to live out the Christian life, they will develop a hope in a God who is much greater than themselves!
Rev. Jason Ruis
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster