Raising Christian children–that’s not the hard part. It’s raising Christian children that will grow into Christian adults that’s the challenge.
It’s probably the prayer Christian parents pray the most: “Please, God, help my child to grow up to love you.” Sure, we want our kids to get a good job, a good spouse, a good home. But mostly we just want them to follow God. We want to raise Christian children.
And yet all too many of my friends and acquaintances with kids who are now young adults spend their evenings checking out their children on Facebook, looking at pictures of drinking binges or statuses that they wouldn’t even recognize as their own kids, now that those kids have left for college.
These kids who used to go to youth group, and who used to seem so innocent, aren’t seeking out a church. They’re not finding Christian friends. Instead, they’re letting other kids pull them down.
That’s not unusual. In fact, that’s par for the course today.
Most teens raised in a Christian home will not go on to live as Christians themselves when they’re adults.
That’s the awful truth. I’ve seen statistics that say only about 18% of churched kids who went to public schools will still love God as an adult.
So what goes into raising Christian children?
I’ve spent the weekend talking to a couple of moms who are going through just this with their kids (isn’t it amazing how Facebook lets us keep track of our kids like that?), and I don’t have any real wisdom for them. I don’t know what to do when a teen goes off the rails and starts to make poor choices. The only thing I can think of to share is how to lay a good foundation. So whether your kids are 5 or 15, these are good things to start looking at now:
1. Think hard before you let your child go to public high school
I know many of you don’t have a choice about schooling because you don’t have the money for a Christian/private school, and homeschooling is not an option. But before you absolutely decide this, really pray about it. The rates of kids who stay in the church are much higher for homeschoolers and Christian schooled kids, and it’s not just because kids get into trouble in public high school. Most of them don’t. It’s something far more fundamental: they start choosing their closest peers from outside of the church. And once they do that, church starts to seem irrelevant.
If your child has to go to public high school, that’s okay. For some kids, public high school is a great experience, and Christian schools do not cure everything. It’s just that statistically, public high schooled kids do far worse when it comes to staying in the faith than do other kids. So please, think about these next points even more then:
2. If you want to raise Christian children, then make church a huge priority
Never skip church as a family. Ever. I know that sounds radical, but if you want your child to take God seriously as an adult, you have to model it. If you skip church, you give the impression that it is optional, and if it’s optional, your child likely won’t go.
I see so many parents of teens that I know only coming to church sporadically, but then they wonder why their kids date non-Christians, or don’t seem to want to be involved in the youth group or help in Sunday School. It’s because you haven’t modeled it as a family! So find a church where your kids can both help out and be ministered to themselves, and then keep going. Don’t slack off. Make it a major part of your family’s life. Serve there yourself! And then your kids will be more likely to stay plugged in.
If your child is involved in sports, do not go to games on Sundays. Take them out of sports if you have to. If you go to sports events on Sundays, even if you’re totally and firmly committed to God yourself, you tell your child, “church is secondary.” Is that what you want them to think?
Now, I also know many families who don’t go to church often but who are Christian. They do church “at home”. I respect their faith, I really do, and I certainly believe that they are still saved and even still have a great relationship with God.
But nevertheless, I think this is a mistake. The implication that you’re teaching your kids is, “you can be a Christian all on your own in your home”. What’s to stop them, then, as adults, from saying, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. I can sleep in on Sundays and still be fine.”
You certainly don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, but the repercussions for not going to church are much greater on a young person than they are on someone in their forties who already has his or her devotions established and who has a whole history of walking with God. When you’re an adult, and you’ve already met your spouse, and you’re already on course, it’s one thing. When you’re young, and you’re still trying to figure out who you are, you really need that accountability and reminder of who God is. Make sure your children think of church as an integral part of their lives.
3. Encourage your children’s deepest friendships to be Christian
Part of raising Christian children is teaching them to identify, first and foremost, as Christians, and a large part of that is raising them to seek out other Christians as friends. In fact, this is probably the most important point, and the reason that so many Christian teens end up leaving the faith when they get to college. If kids’ deepest friendships aren’t with Christians, then God will diminish in importance in their lives. Make sure your children are always surrounded by Christian peers first. When our deepest friendships are Christian, then we’re far more likely to stay in the faith.
That means that you have to be involved in a good youth group, and if that’s not an option where you live, start one yourself. If your child doesn’t know a lot of Christian teens, invite families in for dinner. Cultivate those friendships. But raise your child so that it’s natural that they should look to other Christians for support and friendship first.
That’s not to say that they shouldn’t have non-Christian friends; we all need to be involved in the world. But too many people use this as an excuse to not have Christian friends. “I’m just witnessing!”, they say, but then pretty soon they’re hardly hanging out with Christians at all. One of the primary reasons we need church is for fellowship. If they don’t think they need that fellowship, they won’t go. It’s that simple.
So don’t let your child date anyone who isn’t a Christian. If their best friends aren’t Christians, switch youth groups and try to find another source of Christian friends for them. And you yourself should model the importance of Christian friends by having them yourself.
Keep in mind that the danger is not just that your child will become involved with non-Christians and thus start drinking or doing things you’d rather they not. I’ve seen Christian teens become immersed with very upstanding citizens who aren’t Christian, and that was part of the problem. They knew so many kids who were “good” who didn’t go to church that they started to suspect that you didn’t need to go to church to be good (which of course you don’t). And then church became superfluous.
The reason we need Christian friends is not because only Christians are good; the reason we need Christian friends is to help hold us accountable and help us grow in our faith. If our kids don’t see the need for that, then it will be harder for them to choose to belong to a solid Christian community when they’re older.
4. Make Faith Natural
All of this hinges, of course, on making faith natural in your home so that your kids know it’s not that you’re worried that they won’t be “good”, it’s that you want them to actually believe. Pray over problems. Talk about God. Don’t keep God just for Sundays. Many of us aren’t comfortable praying out loud, or praying spontaneously, but whenever something comes up in the family, stop and pray. Ask what God would think. Read your Bible together. Memorize verses together! Share with the kids the things that you’re struggling with and praying about. Tell them what God is teaching you. Just make God real. Raising Christian kids means raising kids who see God in the everyday things you do; it does not mean simply making sure they don’t drink or do drugs or have sex. Sometimes I think we emphasize the outward actions far more than the inward character.
I actually don’t think rules are all that important–and in fact they can backfire. If you try to control your teenagers, they won’t establish their faith for themselves. It’s far more important to simply TALK about different things, and listen to their opinions, and come to an agreement together, rather than telling them what to think. When faith is natural and when you can talk, it’s very likely they’ll come to the right heart decision anyway.
So serve together. Volunteer at a food bank. Go on family missions trips. Teach Sunday School together. Just do things together so that your child realizes serving is a natural extension of the Christian life. When you serve, they will experience God in a new way. And those experiences with God are so important.
If faith is a natural part of your family life, your kids will see it’s more than church. And then they’re more likely to stick with it.
5. Be Proactive in Finding Christians on Campus
Finally, if your child is going off to a secular college, or moving to another city, help that child find a church or a Christian group on campus. Don’t leave it for your child to do. Get on the internet and investigate before they go so that they know how to get plugged in.
A teen who finds the Christian group on campus in the first week is far more likely to make their first friends from that group than a teen who waits a few months. It’s important, far more important than what courses they’re taking or what college they choose. So don’t let this one go.
Last year one of my young friends, Kaia, went off to university in a town about 3 hours from where we lived. I went on Facebook and found the meeting times and locations for all three Christian groups on campus and sent them to her. She came up to me at Christmas (a year and a half later) to thank me. She wasn’t sure she was going to go, but when she got my Facebook message she looked up the groups and went to one. Today she’s living with two other Christian girls from that group and she’s a leader. Woo hoo! She found great peers who are Christian, and she’s very plugged in to the Christian community now.
Those are my thoughts on raising Christian kids who will stay in the faith. Right now I’m living with a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old who each do have deep faith, and I’m so grateful. But I still plan on doing all of these things to make sure that faith carries them through. It’s my primarily responsibility.
(Update: I wrote this post a while ago, and my 15-year-old is now 19. Here’s a blog post she wrote that sums up her own thoughts on God and kids’ purpose. And here’s one she wrote on why she didn’t rebel as a teen!).
Maybe your children aren’t that old yet, but many of these things you can put into place now. Pray as a family. Put a priority on church. Make sure they have Christian friends. Do those things, and your kids are more likely to seek out those friends when they’re on their own. Of course there are no guarantees; everyone is responsible for themselves, and everyone will ultimately make their own choice. Should your child choose to walk away from God, it should not reflect on you, as I wrote in this post on prodigals and tragedies. Yet nevertheless, as parents, we should still do what we can to make it more likely our kids will know God, even if we can never be 100% sure. That’s a parent’s job.
UPDATE: As was mentioned in the comments, I left out PRAY! Duh! Of course we need to pray for our kids. I guess the reason that I left it out (if I can offer any kind of an excuse for that) is that for many parents that seems to be the ONLY thing they do. They pray, but then they leave it up to God. They’re not proactive in these other areas. So perhaps I should say this: Pray first, but then make sure you DO something within your family, too. Take the responsibility that God has given you!