Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Recently, our neighbor’s century-old barn burned to the ground. My husband and I were startled out of bed when our neighbor rang the doorbell. We both ran outside to investigate the situation and found the barn engulfed in flames. The fire department had yet to arrive and, in a moment of adrenaline and panic, I grabbed the garden hose to protect our home.
My husband yelled to me to put the hose away. He feared the gas tank on the truck would explode and I would be injured in the blast. I looked from the blaze to the tiny nozzle in my hand. As I watched the fire department arrive with their high-powered nozzles and huge fire hoses, I immediately felt stupid. Did I really think I would protect my home from an inferno with this tiny garden hose?
Joys and Battles
I feel so blessed to be a parent. The joy I feel when my oldest son expresses his wonder at God’s creation, when my daughter runs to me with outstretched arms when I pick her up at daycare, when I play a board game with my middle child… indescribable. I can’t thank God enough for His little creations with whom I have been entrusted.
And, I often feel like I’m fighting a blaze with a garden hose. If my boys aren’t engaged in a wrestling match, my baby girl is eating Play-Doh, or we’re running late (again) for soccer practice. And yet, as I’ve started this new job with Victory of the Lamb and done lots of research on reaching our community with the Gospel, I’ve become painfully aware that these small fires I fight in my home are not the real threat. The true threat to my children, and to all of us, is sin.
My husband and I are called to impress this commandment upon our children: “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] hearts and with all [our] souls and with all [our] strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). With God’s help, we’re doing our best to teach this to our children through regular church attendance, giving of our time and talents, and sending our children to Christian grade schools. My prayer every night is for God to keep my children close to Him, because I know of the temptations and pressures they face as they grow into teens and adults.
Some research into Christianity claims that almost 75% of teens leave the church during the college years. For some of them, it’s a worship hiatus. At least a third of these teens, however, don’t ever return to church.1 The church is losing teens at a critical age of self-discovery and development. The reason that teens stop coming to church at this time in their lives is about more than just relocation and time constraints.
Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, in their book Soul Searching, explain, “The majority of teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their faith, religious beliefs and practices, and its place in their lives.”2 Teens who grew up in the church might know the heroes of the Old Testament, be able to quote some Scripture, and have a Bible with their name on it. But many of them lack an understanding about what Jesus did for them, and they certainly can’t explain their salvation to others. When their faith is about a list of facts and anecdotes, rather than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it doesn’t hold up to the questions and pressures of popular culture.
Fighting the Blaze
In a sermon about parenting, preacher Steve Abramowski stated, “What is it that we want for our children? As Christian parents, we want for our children to know and express the unconditional love of Jesus. Yet, there’s this tension between this ideal and the realities of the world.”3 So, as parents, how do we guide our children to Christ? How do we help our children to stay strong in their faith and be able to articulate what it means to be saved by faith through Jesus?
One way we help our children to stay focused on Christ is to bring them up in Christ-centered homes. Pastor Ben explains in a sermon about parenting: “If we want kids who will have a strong sense of security and identity… they need something in the center of their lives besides themselves. Our kids need the strength and identity and love that comes from Jesus Christ.”5
In homes where children’s wants, needs, and desires are central, children will likely struggle to develop a Christ-centered mindset. Parents must set the tone for prioritizing God in family life. This is not easy work because it’s not the norm in modern society. You might feel judged by other parents who feel you’re too strict. You’ll face opposition from your children whose friends don’t have this experience. But setting expectations about priorities and faith is what parents are called to do. Deuteronomy 6:5-9 tells us that our love for God is to be demonstrated in the words, actions, and habits of our public and private lives.6 We are doing what’s best for our children when we set the expectation that God’s commandments come first in our families.
Of course, we can’t just speak these expectations. We must live them in our daily lives for them to have a positive impact on our children. One part of this is establishing habits that build up your faith. In a study on Christian children, psychology researchers Smith and Crosby concluded, “Participation in family religious practices scaffolds children’s private religious behaviors, drawing them into deeper intimacy with God.”4 Your kids benefit from hearing what you’ve learned from studying God’s word. You don’t have to have all the answers about God to discuss faith with your children. In fact, seeing you wrestle with spiritual questions teaches your children what to do when they have struggles with their faith. Children who engage in faith-building behaviors like devotions and prayer continue these positive habits into adulthood.
Attending church regularly with your family and being involved in the church community helps your children in ways you might not expect. “Children who saw adults at their church being as supportive and responsive to their needs were more likely to view God in the same way, promoting self-esteem.”4 As children get older, having a support system outside of the home becomes increasingly more important to their development. They may not always want to talk through personal and peer issues with parents, so a church community gives children other positive adults to whom they can turn.
In the introduction of his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul explains, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). Paul assures Timothy that he is remembered in prayers as he works to spread the Gospel. How influential would it be to your children if they knew you were praying for them daily?
In conjunction with setting expectations for priorities and modeling religious practices, prayer for and with our children helps them develop a relationship with God. Our prayers for our children can be specific (God, please help my child’s broken arm to heal) and general (God, please continue to work faith in my child’s heart through the Holy Spirit). God hears our prayers and answers them in ways that work out for our eternal good: “And if we know that [God] hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:15).
Fight Fire with Jesus
Unfortunately, nothing that we do as parents is going to guarantee infallible faith in our children. Sin is ugly and powerful. The lies the Devil whispers in our ears can sound an awful lot like truth.
Sin blazes in all our lives. We attempt to fight the fire with good deeds, positive thinking, exercise, and other earthly tools. Yet, none of these tools is going to fight the inferno of Hell. Only Jesus can defeat sin. Jesus died for your sins, the sins of your children, and the sins of the whole world. His victory becomes ours by grace through faith.
So yes. Teach your children the classic Bible stories. Bring them to church. Help them memorize Scripture. And, most importantly, guide them to know their Savior in an intimate, individual way. Model what it looks like to have a personal relationship with God. Talk with them about your faith so they know how to share theirs. And pray for the Holy Spirit to work faith in their hearts as He has worked faith in yours.
1 Stetzer, E. (14 May 2014). Dropouts and disciplines: How many students are really leaving the church? Christianity Today. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html
2 Wallace, J.W. (29 January 2018). Updated: Are young people really leaving Christianity? Cold Case Christianity. Retrieved from http://coldcasechristianity.com/2018/are-young-people-really-leaving-christianity/
3 Abramowski, S. (30 September 2019). The home: Where God is central. Family Matters sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/parents-dont-obey-children/
4 Smith, E. I. & Crosby, R. G. (2017). Unpacking religious affiliation: Exploring associations between Christian children’s religious cultural context, God image, and self-esteem across development. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 35. pg 76-90.
5 Kuerth, B. (15 June 2014). Start moving from off-center to Christ-centered. Modern Family sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/center/
6 Boa, K. (2018). Perspectives on parenting. Bible.org. Retrieved from https://bible.org/article/perspectives-parenthood
Meet the Blogger
Sammi Goodger is the Office Manager and Director of Communications at Victory of the Lamb. She’s not an expert in family and faith, but she’s hoping to help herself and others grow closer to God and their families through sharing research and practical tips on relationships and faith. She can be contacted here.