Sticky Faith (4) - Challenging our Children
“People grow best when they continuously experience an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary.”
As a society we are pretty good at supporting our children but not very good at challenging them. Somewhere along the line we developed the false idea that our children are “special little snowflakes” who will be crushed under the weight of any adversity or failure. Because we think this we helicopter above them, seeking to protect them from any unpleasantness or undue difficulty. This is not a good strategy!
In fearing our children’s fragility we have made them fragile. In protecting them from failure we’ve prevented them from learning how to overcome and continue on after a failure. In praising their achievements, instead of their efforts, we have created a cohort of children reluctant to try new things in fear that they will fail and thereby expose their deficiencies. In creating “safe spaces” we are raising up a generation of adults unable to cope with the rigors and difficulties of the real world and incapable of accepting a reality that does not comport to their expectations.
What can we do about this as parents?
First, make your kids do hard things. It is ok and even healthy for them to fail. They will fail and it is preferable for them to fail in a safe environment, like the home, than in the secular corporate world.
Second we need to define success by commitment and effort, not grades or goals. Too often we as parents use extracurricular activities such as sports or music to focus on finding or developing a particular skill. Instead consider: what is the thing for? Our children are not going to be professional athletes and we would be fools to bank on it. That does not mean sports are without value. On the contrary, sports help to develop discipline, encourage camaraderie, and are just plain fun! We should make our sports choices in light the purpose of sport. Are sports encouraging discipline or are they taking away disciplines such as home-work? Are friendships developing or is the competition so intense that the kids are at each other's’ throats? Are our children enjoying sports or have they become a chore?
Likewise we need to prefer the development of character to the development of any particular skill. How your child responds to defeat or victory is far more important than whether they win or lose. How they respect their coach, teammates, and opponents is far more important than how fast they can skate or whether or not they can hit a curveball. Sports are a great place to model character, to learn how to love one’s enemies, and to practice putting others first, but we are going to need a counter-cultural/Biblical view of sports to train our kids in such a way that sports help the development of faith instead of hindering it.
The same principles are true of academic pursuits. We want our children to learn not so they can become puffed up and proud with knowledge, but rather so they can better know God and winsomely share the Gospel with others. We want our children to work through hard passages of literature as a means to help them better understand Scripture. We want them to stick with a difficult math problem as preparation to stick with a difficult marriage or difficult children they may have some day. We want them to reach their potential not in order to gain riches or a great name, but rather to be better suited to excel at any task that God may call them to.
We need to help our children to see their lives not as unconnected tasks and events that we frantically engage in, but rather as parts of a greater whole. What is this whole? God’s Kingdom. God has called us to partake in His kingdom and everything we do, from how and when we eat our meals to how we study to when we play sports must be done in light of this Reality.
Sticky Faith (3) - Maturing in Christ
Maturation in the modern world is a slow and messy process. When does someone enter adulthood? With their first job? When they drive? When they turn 18? When they turn 21? When they graduate from college? When they move out of their parents’ house? When they are 26 and they have to get their own health insurance? Or when, after moving back in with their parents for most of their 20s, they finally move back out for good?
The fact is, the process of discovering and living out an integrated personal identity or a sense of self that drives decisions, morality, and life choices takes longer than it did even thirty years ago. In terms of identity and adult independence, today’s twenty-three-year-old is often the developmental equivalent of a seventeen-year-old in 1980.
Why is this? We live in a society that worships youth. If you don’t believe me watch car or phone commercials for an hour and get back to me.
Sixty years ago if you were a typical 18 year old man in the United States you held a job, had a car, and were saving up for a down payment on a house. You were likely dating with the intent of marriage and would more often than not be married within half a decade. This is not to say that everyone lived like this, but it was the expectation.
Today many young people are wasting their 20s in an attempt to “find themselves.” They are living at home much longer, are less likely to marry, less likely to be chaste, and they are putting off parenthood and having fewer children. It is not uncommon for a twenty (or even thirty) something man to play more hours of video games than he works in a week.
I say all this to point out that if we don’t help our children mature, they won’t mature on their own. Everything in our society is anti-maturity. This is because thoughtful and mature people don’t spend 103% of their income every year—which is what the average American adult spends annually. A lot of people are making a lot of money off our immaturity and there is therefore a vested interest to keep us immature by appealing to our lowest desires and to make us think that our happiness consists in immediate sensory gratification.
What can we as parents do about this? To begin with, we cannot let our children’s peers and social media form their identities. We need to be proactive in connecting them with a Christian community wherein they will be surrounded by more mature believers who will care for them, pray for them, bless them, correct them, etc.
At home, we need to take time to help our children debrief and process their days (e.g. how was your day, what went well, what could you have done better, etc.). This will require us to spend regular time with our kids, to ask them thoughtful questions, and to give them Godly advice and support. This in turn will require us as parents to say no to things (even good things!) we would like to do so we are consistently and reliably available. It will require us to listen, without flying off the handle, when our children make mistakes. And it will require us to be seeking God and developing wisdom in our hearts and lives so that we have something worthwhile to share with our children.
Christian maturity does not develop naturally, especially in a post-Christian society like ours. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…” If we want our children to grow up to be mature and complete men and women of God we cannot be passive, we need to be actively leading and guiding them toward these goals.
Sticky Faith (2) - A Deep Faith
A lot of young people walk away from their faith because their faith is false and shallow—it is based on performance or utilitarianism. Because it is built on false ground, when young people they feel unable to measure up or when their faith feels like it no longer “works,” they abandon it.
For example, in regards to a shallow or false faith, two-thirds of college juniors that had graduated from youth group defined their faith in terms of what they did (e.g. loving others or following Jesus’s example); one-third did not even mention Jesus or God!
In light of this, what can we do as parents? First off, we can help our kids overcome a performance based “gospel” by modeling an unconditional and ever-embracing love in which our kids can do nothing that jeopardizes or even lessens that love. (This doesn’t mean we don’t punish our children, but we show them how even punishment is done in love.)
Next we need to encourage our students to believe the Gospel because it is true and not for any result it brings. So many young people are told that Christ loves them, which is true, but given our cultural definition of love what they hear is: “God wants me to be happy.” When we focus on the happiness and blessings and all the good things that come from a relationship with God we need to be sure that we don’t make God a means to all these good things. We are to seek after God—not what we can get from God. If we simply seek the blessings of God, then when God hides His face and we face some difficulty or challenge we will throw up our hands and declare that Christianity “doesn't work.” We will then turn to pleasure or wealth or whatever we think will best provide that which we were trying to get out of God.
We need to make sure that our children know that being a Christian does not mean living a life free of difficulty. We must be sure we do not teach our children to expect things from God that God does not promise. Expecting things from God that God does not promise, like a life free from difficulty or a life of constant success, sets one up for a radical loss of faith. God never promises a life of ease, He never promises to reveal Himself to us when, how, and to the degree we want, and He never promises earthly “happiness.” Instead, God compares the Christian life to one of a soldier and warns us to prepare for trials.
According to an old proverb: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” If our children are prepared for difficulty they will be less likely to cave when it comes. Alternatively, when they expect ease they are floored when things don’t work out as magically as they were led to expect.
Finally, we as parents can model our trust and faith in God by our actions. Obedience does not save us, but it naturally follows our trust in God. You can show your trust in God in a lot of different ways. Time and money are often the most precious things we have, so giving them to God can be powerful examples to our children.
For example, build regularly patterns of giving that remind everyone in your family that your money belongs to God. If your kids are old enough, have a family meeting where you pray and your kids are invited to give input into how you distribute available funds. Generous giving shows that you ultimately trust God for your provision. You can also give with your time by serving together in the church or community. Kids primarily learn by what they see, not what they are told. Serving others shows that you trust God, not entertainment, to give you happiness. (Often service can divide and put a strain on families, so when possible try to serve together.)
Avoiding legalism and grounding our kids in the grace of the Gospel, pursuing God Himself and not for any “happiness” we think He owes us, and living out our faith in how we spend our time and money—these are powerful ways to help our children develop real, true, and lasting faith.
Sticky Faith (1) - Community
About 40 to 50 percent of high school graduates that attended a Christian church or youth group fail to stick with their faith in college. This is an alarming statistic and something that should get our attention as parents and teachers.
Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark have done extensive study into why students raised in Christian homes so often walk away from their faith in college. Without getting into theological questions like free will and God’s sovereignty, they found that certain habits and practices significantly helped students to stick with their faith. They put their findings together in a book titled Sticky Faith: (https://www.amazon.com/Sticky-Faith-Everyday-Ideas-Lasting/dp/0310329329/ref=sr11?ie=UTF8&qid=1478887728&sr=8-1&keywords=sticky+faith).
The most important conclusion that Doctors Powell and Clark came to was that relationships and examples within a community of faith best help students to maintain their faith. They argue that while doctrine is important and must not be discarded, we cannot focus solely on doctrine at the expense of Christian community. In their words, Christ calls us to join His body, not His seminary.
One major problem with the way many of us engage in Christian community is that we do so haphazardly. Instead of seeing our churches as clubs to entertain our kids while adults do the spiritually important things, we need to see our children as born sinners and our churches as mission fields to teach and train our children in the Gospel. What does this mean in practice? According to the authors, kids can’t be continually kept with their peers. Children’s church and youth group are good, but kids need to attend full church services and be involved in small groups or Bible studies where they can see more mature Christians live out their faith.
The most important example our children are ever going to have is always going to be us as their parents. But parents should be intentional in getting their kids around mature Christians of other ages. Without this, when kids are consistently left with their peers, the church can feel like a club—a club that one grows out of when one moves out of their parents’ house.
*I want to end by adding a word of caution. Please keep in mind as you read through these messages that it is ultimately God, not us, that develops deep and true and lasting faith. We need to be obedient to God’s calling and raise our kids well, and my goal in everything that I do as a teacher and administrator is to help you all do just that, but just as we have no ability to save ourselves, so too we have no ability to save our children—salvation is a gift of God. The authors and I are talking about wise practices that encourage the growth of faith, not spiritual techniques that earn salvation for our children or compel them to follow Christ.