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.