Oct 20, 2013

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Own their Faith

While I have not {yet} successfully raised a child to the point where he or she could demonstrate full ownership of his or her faith (I have one boy, age 10 and one girl, age 8), I have friends and church family who have.  I also have 3 years of experience working as a full time church youth pastor, and 4 years of experience before that as an intern.  I spent 2 years after that working with kids who lead their on-campus Christian clubs, and 9 years after that working with pregnant and parenting teens.

I have talked with young people who were fully invested in their faith, and kids who were barely hanging on.  I have had the opportunity to watch kids I mentored and loved on become youth ministers, and I have had the heartache of watching others I was just as invested in become drug addicts and completely walk away from their faith.

If you are a believer, this is more than likely something that weighs heavily on you.  We want our kids to stay in church, connected to their faith and hopefully raising our grandchildren as believers later on.  Statistics show that this is no longer happening.  The American church is shrinking, year after year, people are walking away from church attendance in droves. (Some statistics suggest that only 20% of the total U.S. population can be found in a house of worship on a weekend).

While we may not be able to change those devastating numbers, there have to be some very specific things we can be doing in our own homes to help our own children to not become a statistic.  I send out a few emails and Facebook messages and asked my friends who have children who have successfully "transitioned" to a faith of their own, and I received some encouraging responses.  So here you are, from the wisdom of some moms who have been there and done that:

1. Pray for and with your kids
When my son was just 6 week old I suddenly realized that someday he would have to choose to follow God, and I would have to allow him that choice.   That was the day I started praying for his faith.  With tears streaming down my face, I prayed that someday he would choose to live his life as one who is fully invested in his relationship with God.

Prayer is a regular part of our days.  We pray for our meals, we pray at bedtime, and sometimes we pray together when we see a firetruck rushing to a call, or witness a car accident.  One mom {of three adult children} shared this about the power of prayer: "Even at 24 years old, whenever our son has a problem or crisis he will still call us and ask us to pray... it is a huge way to lead by example and to let them know how powerful our God is, and how important they are to us and to Him."

2. Lead by example
If your relationship with God, your faith, is not something that impacts everyday of your life, your kids will notice.  One mom of one teen and one young adult said this "one of the things we did that had the biggest impact was living like believers full time.  Faith feels like the fabric of our lives.  Our kids told us how much that helped them when they struggled with doubts.  They saw us living out our faith daily and realized that it was something worth believing in."  

As parents, we are all painfully aware of how much our children are watching us {the first time you hear your young child say a word or phrase that they heard from you, you become very aware}.  If you are living one way on Sunday mornings and a different way the rest of the week, you will communicate to your children that religion is something you do once a week, which they may determine (when they leave your home) is a wasted day.  However, if you allow your faith to TRANSFORM your life (James 1:22), your kids will rise up and call you blessed. (Proverbs 31:28)

3. Making their faith (and church) a priority

This is strongly connected with the previous point. If your faith is important, you will make the manifestations of your faith a priority. (Hebrews 10:22-25)  If your children view any aspect of the practice of their faith as "optional", they may slowly drift away from their faith as they age.  This is not a legalistic belief that if you don't go to church every single time the doors are open you are going to hell.  The reality is that if something is a habit, it is more likely to continue.  The fastest way to kill a habit is to stop practicing it in a consistent way.  GO TO CHURCH {and take your kids} as much as you are able, and make it a priority (don't allow other less important things to take precedent).

From one mom: "One thing we shared with our kids from a very early age regarding peer activities:  they wouldn't be participating in things that were not consistent with our Christian values....even if it seemed like "all" their friends were going/doing...sometimes it would involve differences with their church friends.  When a situation came up, we would have a talk about honoring God, about how our actions as well as our words tell our story of faith in Christ."  Another mom said, "We provide his vehicle as long as he gets himself to a church service on the weekend. No church - no car. This helps communicate how important church is to our kids." However you reinforce it, just do it!

4. Let them question what they believe (without freaking out) 
Have those intelligent conversations about faith with your kids when they are in your home, because they will be having intelligent conversations with atheists when they are in college.  We all need to have a brain to heart connection when it comes to faith.  If you don't know WHY you believe what you believe and can't adequately defend your faith on both an intellectual and emotional level, do some research! One great book to read is called "The Case for Christ" or you can check out Defending your Faith dot org or Apologetics dot com.

One mom shared that when her son was 13, he really struggled with doubt about what they believed.  Rather than getting defensive or angry, she calmly discussed his questions, and prayed with him about the doubt and then spoke with her pastor and other believers who could advise her.  She directed him to the story of doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29) and gave him the time he needed to resolve the doubt without pushing him away, threatening to reject him or demanding he "just believe".  She faithfully prayed for him and he eventually got beyond his "crisis of faith".

If your child at 12 or 14 starts questioning their faith, don't panic!  Before you answer them, spend time in prayer and ask others to pray as well.  My son at 9 years old asked me "What if I decided that I didn't believe in God anymore?", I took a deep breath and said "I will be very sad because I believe that faith in God can add so much to your life, but you will always be my son, and I will never stop loving you. God will be sad too, but He will never stop loving you."  He paused seriously, nodded once and went on with his day.

1 Peter 3:15-16 - "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

5. Allow your kids' faith to look like THEM (faith is not one-size-fits-all) 
I have found after 18 years of ministry with both teens and adults that there is no one RIGHT way to "do" your faith.  While there are certainly some touchstones that are consistent across the board with thriving and growing faiths, every single person's relationship with God will be as unique as they are.  Just because you like to spend an hour every morning in the Bible, doesn't mean that is the only time and way to be in the Word.  Just because you prefer to listen to "soft rock" Christian music, doesn't mean that your kids can't be edified by Christian rap or dance music.  

One mom said this: "Each of my children seem to relate differently to God, one who completely loses herself in worship and one who completely relates to God on a logical level.  By allowing and celebrating their differences, they are both growing in their faith in their own way. I think that trying to force them to look just like you, will damage their ability to form their own faith."
6. Help them learn a community mindset (and model one yourself)

Repeat after me: "It's not about me."  In a culture that is directed by a consumerist mindset, we expect that everything, even church and our relationship with God, is about getting your needs met.  The Biblical reality (Acts 2:42-47) is that church is about US meeting the needs of OTHER PEOPLE.  As Christians we are called to be servants, not those served. (Philippians 2:3-5; Galatians 5:13; Mark 10:43-45).  

If we model an attitude of a servant and show appreciation for what others do for us (from the Waitress in the restaurant to the Pastor in the pulpit), we will teach our children to value those things as well.  One mom I know is an active volunteer in church and never has a negative word to say about anyone.  Her children all grew up to become adults who actively serve in church and add a joyful and positive presence wherever they go.

One final thought: When you criticize the leadership of your church openly in front of your kids, you teach them that it is our job to criticize and critique. (Hebrews 13:17) While it is within your rights to share your opinion and offer feedback to your church leadership, if you are sitting in church with a "red pen" in your hand (your head or your heart) and making a list of all the ways the church could be better, you may be suffering from a critical spirit. (Romans 14:10-13)  I encourage you to pray about this.  (The only two reasons to criticize your pastor is if: he/she is openly engaging in sinful acts or he/she doesn't preach the Gospel; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-8)

7. Encourage friendships with other believers
Start when they are young! Sign them up for Children's ministry activities, youth retreats, lock-ins, and bring them to youth group at church.  I am not saying that shouldn't have non-Christian friends, how else will they be able to be a witness to the world unless they spend time with non-Christian kids?  What I am saying is that they should have a core group of their closest friends who are also believers, so they have accountability and a good influence.  2 Corinthians 6:14 admonishes us to not be "unequally yoked" with unbelievers.  If your child's best friend, or significant other is a non-Christian, they may be in for some struggles. 
One mom {of three adult children} said this: "I can't stress how important genuine Christian friends are. That has been, and continues to be a strong influence in our daughters' lives." Another mom had this to say: "One of their greatest influences are their friends, our son and daughter were and continue to be surrounded by Christians on their extra-curricular teams and activities too. It is so important to their faith."

My final thought:  Even if you do all of these things perfectly, there is still a chance that your child will grow up and reject God.  We can only be faithful to do the things we can do, and trust God with the results.  If you feel like you did everything right and your child still walked away from God, keep praying, He sees them.  

“You are the God who sees me...” Genesis 16:13

What about you?  Do you have something to add?  Do you have a story to share?  Leave me a comment!!

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  1. These are some great suggestions! I would add, beyond going to church, encourage and provide opportunities for them to attend conferences and such...any time they can feel the Holy Spirit is good. Also, When my kids asked for advice on hard decisions, it would be easy for me to say what I thought they should do, but I would say, "I don't know...have you prayed about it?"

    It's so important for them to stand on their own two spiritual feet. Awesome post!

  2. Thank you! I've been so absent the last couple of weeks. Glad to see a familiar face!


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