Are they losing their faith? Here’s how parents can help them before the point of no return
It all seemed so easy back then...
As a faithful shepherd of your family, perhaps you made sure your baby’s first exposure to “anything Bible” was a Noah’s Ark mobile dangling over the crib, colorful illustrations from Children’s First Bible books, bedside prayers at tuck-in time, or thanking God for snacks, meals, family and friends. There were Sunday school classes and Awana discipleship programs to attend.
As your child grew, they may have never missed a Vacation Bible School summer season. Maybe your kids helped vacuum before the weekly small group gathered at your home, or they saw you faithfully log onto Zoom this past year to forge ahead with online Bible Studies. Next to Dad, Jesus was firmly established as your family’s go-to guy.
But time waits for no one. Candles on the birthday cake that used to represent your child’s single age, now give way to double digits, marking your son or daughter as “tween.” They’ve entered a season of life that may cause a bit of parental discomfort, heralding a time of great development and change. You bid a bittersweet farewell to those simple days and slowly you relinquish control over every aspect of your kids' lives—including their thinking.
Once upon a time, they believed what we said; no questions asked. As they enter the middle school years, we wonder... Have they caught what we’ve taught, in terms of their faith…will they hone and hold it as their own or are they in danger of losing what we’ve worked hard to sow into their hearts?
“Kids are entering their teen years with mixed messages and they must decide which set of values to embrace: Those of their parents or those of the culture?” says President and CEO of Shelterwood Academy, Jim Subers, “And their need for acceptance and peer approval often causes them to lean toward culture. As a result, many high school students today approve of and/or embrace behaviors formerly unthinkable.”
This might cause a parent to panic. But as consolation, God was on top of the behaviors of mankind long before “adolescence” was even a term. Surely there is wisdom in His Word for those in danger of wandering from their faith?
Indeed, for the Israelites during the Exodus, God’s Word was habitually incorporated into daily living. In speaking of the commandments of God, Moses wisely instructs in the book of Deuteronomy: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your forehead. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:7-9)
As a parent in today’s generation, you may have been diligent in living out the tenets of faith. But children are inherently curious, moldable and changeable; they can only dig deep, process information or formulate questions if they receive daily teaching at home.
To secure a strong faith in their hearts, we must weave it into their lives every single day, as an intentional act, with unwavering focus. You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or applying that moisturizer each night, right?
TEN PRACTICAL & PROVEN WAYS TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT A VIBRANT FAITH EXPERIENCE AT HOME:
Pray Consistently. The word of the Lord is nourishment, and praying for your children regularly, gives them sustenance. When a plant is watered, the nutrients from the soil are carried to the plant’s roots. Without water or when watered only sporadically, roots don’t fully develop nor reach their fullest growth capacity. When parents seek God for wisdom, ask for His intervention, guidance, and protection in their children’s lives and pray for their relationship with Christ, their children’s roots are more apt to strengthen. As Author Jodie Berndt reminds us in her book “Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens: “We cannot help but realize that our battle is not against our teens; it is for them.”
Verbally Live Out Deuteronomy Chapter 6 As women we do it well: talk! Integrate the planting of God’s Word into your own heart and your child’s heart, all day long. Does your child have an exam? Let them hear you pray for them to have clarity, strong recall, focus and concentration. Parent and writer Dolores Smyth says she weaves spoken prayers into and throughout the day, as a way of nurturing positive faith experiences. “This might be a short prayer whenever we get into the car and then thanking God for a safe journey when we arrive at our destination.” The idea is enlightening: As your dependency on God’s provision and your prayers are answered, faith is quietly affirmed in their hearts.
Decide that you will be your child’s first line of defense and offense. There might be several adult role models, mentors, and spiritual leaders in your child’s life, and they are an invaluable part of their social and educational community but the responsibility of teaching core values and biblical truth rests with you. You don’t have to have a theology degree in order to teach your child about God. A parent can pray and ask God for guidance, read scriptures, obtain commentaries, literary resources, audio programs, or pastoral help to guide and aid in a tween’s own learning process.
“You may feel inadequate,” says Home Educating Family Magazine Contributor, Rebecca Kenney at Crosswalk.com.
“You may want to pass the teen along to a pastor or elder who has been called and specially trained to support families by answering the tough questions you may not feel confident to address. Those qualified people may indeed be of help as you do some research, but that teen is yours to disciple,” Kenney adds. “Remember that God used some of the most unlearned and unqualified men in Israel to preserve and disseminate his Gospel all over the known world.”
Become a Student of the Old Testament, Starting with Genesis. In addition to helping to foster a personal relationship with Christ, make sure your child has an understanding of the Old Testament. The OT is not a textbook nor book of rules but the account of One God, Creator of the universe and divine order, Savior to Israel, with a plan to save and redeem all of mankind through His Son, Messiah. He alone was and is to be worshipped, not least because of His desire to have a relationship with humanity. Knowing the backstory of Jesus, His lineage, and having an awareness of the person of God prior to Jesus and knowing the fulfillment of foretold prophecies is vital in helping kids understand God’s consistent and unchanging character.
“Let’s face it: many Christian students have no idea why they believe what they believe,” says Author John Stonestreet. The historical precedents for Messiah set up in the Old Testament offer a sense of awe and appreciation for the harmony and comprehensive consistency in all of Scripture. Give them a sense of that, before they are told it’s just a collection of fables.
“When asked to defend the Christian faith against direct or indirect challenges, they are unable to do so,” Stonestreet adds. “Further, without the ability to defend their faith, they may begin to falsely conclude that it is not defensible. This is especially true of students raised in a Christian environment where they assume that they have ‘heard it all.’ ”
Be a Builder of Community in Your Kids’ Lives. “I know a dad who became so burdened about this that he got some other dads together and started a weekly gathering with their sons,” writes John Majors who serves with Family Life Today.
“Over time, their sons continued to meet on their own for Bible study and accountability. They named their group the “Roof Crashers” (after the passage in Luke 5:17-26). Though these young men knew their dads were involved in forming this group, they began to see it as their own thing—they came to own it. But even they acknowledge it probably never would have started without the dads taking the initiative.”
As moms, we can build community for our kids right in our homes by hosting a weekly or monthly time of fellowship in the kitchen over cupcakes, a book club, movie or game night. The invite list can be with one friend or several but prioritizing a time and space for fellowship in the home becomes part of home life.
Be an Emotional Space Giver Leave room for honest questioning, add context, then let your child reason, and draw his or her own conclusions. If a child feels that he can’t freely ask a question or question aspects of his faith, he can be left spiritually homeless, without a place to anchor his views.
“The Fuller study determined that the most important factor in whether young people leave the church or remain steadfast in their faith is whether they have a safe haven to express their doubts and concerns regarding their faith before leaving home.”
It might take self control, but allow any conversation about your child’s questions to be about their struggles rather than your feelings about his struggles.
Be Excited About Your Faith (and let it show!) Author Elizabeth Spencer says parents need to get excited about their faith themselves, and let their tweens see that excitement. She recounts that her daughters grew up hearing her own excitement at the dinner table over Hebrew word origins learned during women’s Bible studies. “The point is accumulated excitement; not one single comment or expression on our faces or way we spend our time, but the adding up of these over weeks, months and years that we trust (and beg God to magnify) makes its way into our kids’ minds and hearts so that they want we want.”
Be Real, Relatable and Humble. Be comfortable with being “visible” as you live out your own faith. We’re imperfect people (wanting to raise perfect children!) and are going to make mistakes despite having the title of “parent.” We don’t have to overstate, repeat, or lecture on a lesson.
Dialogue is effective, but action is witnessed—and remembered.
Let your child see the choices you grapple with as you live out your faith, even the aspects of behavior or thinking that cause you to trip up. The humble, authentic posture that you take with yourself is one that your kids will learn to apply to themselves as they grow and that will hopefully help them feel accepted through their own wrestling process.
When the Day Brings About Questions:
When your child does question his faith, this is an opportunity to see that they are not losing faith, but rather in the process of owning their faith. Licensed Parent-Family Educator, Author and Speaker Lori Wildenberg cautions parents, “not to freak out when children question their faith as this is an important step in (our kids) owning their faith.”
“Be patient with them,” adds Counselor, Author and Speaker Brenda Yoder. “It’s part of the natural process of finding their independence and identity.”
“Training up a child in the way they should go and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6) is a lifelong process and God will be faithful in providing the training, shepherding, and guiding they need through us, and through our submissiveness to Him.
Be a Servant because Jesus did. There are hundreds of ways to serve together in the community. Nothing demonstrates the love of God more than when we are putting people first and loving them with our time and action.
In laying aside His right to be served, Jesus was the ultimate foot washer and modeled love for others through service. (John 13:5)
When our children see that prioritizing service is one of your core family values, that others-focused mentality that Jesus modeled will take root in their own hearts. Your children may also develop and discover their own spiritual gifts in a particular area of service and run with it over time.
Finally, Pray that God’s word will not return void.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Repetition is key to awareness. Ever notice the way advertising works? You might hear a spot for a particular product on the radio, then see a commercial for it on television, in a newspaper or on a freeway billboard. Repeat exposure in a variety of consistent forms is powerful--not that we should treat our kids’ spiritual lives as an ad campaign but variety can work collectively; now and then mentions aren’t going to seal the spiritual deal but a consistent pattern of living out our values, will.
Today may not be as easily navigated as yesterday, but God has our kids in His grasp today, tomorrow—and is in full control.
Our “back-thens” may have passed, but our obedience and response in planting seeds of truth are before us now. These can form a firm foundation for our kids’ lives today—and for eternity.
—Linda Tang, LOMSAA Parent
Recommended Reading Resources:
Jodie Berndt, Author, Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens
Rob Rienow, Ph.D. and Founder of Visionary Family Ministries and Author, Never Too Late: Encouraging Faith in Your Adult Child