Two boys in our congregation recently obeyed the gospel. They are nine-year-old best friends, and undoubtedly each had an influence on the other one’s decision. One of the boys was baptized after hearing a particularly poignant sermon about salvation. His friend became a Christian a few weeks later while on vacation, his father immersing him in a
river. Both of these young men are keen Bible students and are off to an excellent start in their lives of service to God. West Virginia
My husband and I sometimes think ahead a few years to the time when our oldest daughter may begin to consider becoming a Christian. What spiritual challenges will she face, and how well will she meet them? Will we succeed in helping her to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (II Peter )? Will she be “strong in faith” (Romans ) or will she be plagued by disbelief?
While there are no worldwide church records that give statistics on members’ children who never obeyed the gospel or who have become unfaithful, a few congregations have kept records on the young people within their own groups who have grown up. Some congregations report that they have lost more than half of their young people to the world, the classic case being the teen who goes off to college and loses his or her faith at the feet of an atheistic professor scornful of religion.
Gathering data concerning unfaithful young people must surely be a sad and difficult task, as we all probably know Christians who have lost sons and daughters in this way. At the same time, maybe such statistics can serve as a “wake-up call” to those of us who are now in the process of raising our children. We face many decisions every day that affect the spiritual well-being of our young, yet we know that there is no guarantee that children will accept the faith by which their parents live.
Following are listed several reasons that young people sometimes give for not obeying the gospel or for becoming unfaithful, and I’ve offered some strategies to try to head off the development of those feelings. Just as Lois and Eunice gave young Timothy a firm foundation in “genuine faith” (II Timothy 1:5), we women can have a powerful influence on our children in their spiritual upbringing.
“I Don’t Agree With The Church’s Doctrine”
Although it is never too late to start teaching our children, the process of spiritual development ideally starts when they are very young (Lamentations ). The Mormons mandate a “family home evening” on Mondays among their members, when the parents and children are supposed to gather together for a religious lesson of some kind, followed by a time of family togetherness with a snack, movie, or some such diversion. Doctrinally, they are wrong about more things than I can count, but the so-called “Latter-day Saints” have hit the nail on the head in this one area. Too often we neglect this kind of study that we need to be doing regularly with our children, and we pay the price with their woeful lack of knowledge, which leads to spiritual destruction (Hosea 4:6).
I remember so well my own family Bible studies when I was growing up – they usually took place in the morning, before we went to school. These times do indeed forge closer relationships between parents and children, and going over Bible basics with your children at home (e.g., names of books, divisions, dispensations, and major characters and events) can help make sure they are getting the most out of their Bible classes elsewhere. Give them a solid foundation of factual Bible knowledge on which to build a mature, growing faith. When our children are little is the perfect time to be teaching them that the Bible holds the ultimate authority for religious doctrine, and that they must respect the commands, examples, and necessary inferences contained for us within its pages (Proverbs 1:8-9).
The accounts found in the pages of the Bible are important teaching tools (Romans 15:4). When you tell them the dramatic stories from the Bible, be excited about them! Let your children see how interested you are in God’s word, and how much it thrills you. Get a Bible story book with large, colorful pictures and maps or invest in the Beka picture packets and travel through Bible times with your children. This is also a great time for using those Bible games so that your time together as a family can be enjoyable yet productive.
“There Are Too Many Hypocrites In The Church”
We must never forget that, as they grow, our children are watching us all the time. They are learning from us how to speak and act. Do we want our sons and daughters to observe in us signs of spiritual weakness, superficiality, or pretense? Or do we want to show our children true commitment to the church and genuine love for God? We should strive to live the life of a Christian that we want our children to live. Some young people who choose not to become Christians cite the hypocrisy they have observed among church members as a spiritual turn-off. Don’t let it be you whom they’re referring to!
Do we gossip about, criticize, or belittle other Christians in the car on the way home from worship services, or do we speak kindly and lovingly, even when we’re concerned or upset about something? Our children are listening. Do we participate enthusiastically when we worship? Or do we sing with indifference, not bothering to open our Bibles during the sermon? Our children are watching. Do we plan our activities carefully around the scheduled services and Bible studies of the church? Our children are taking note, and they don’t miss much.
And when they notice inconsistencies among some Christians, we can remind them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans ). A huge favor we can do for our children is to teach them to be patient with another’s faults and frailties and to realize with humility the extent of their own (Matthew 7:4-5; Luke ).
Explain to them why we do what we do, so they don’t end up feeling like resentful robots with no voice in the matter. Allow them to participate with the family in some discussions about church-related issues so that they will learn how to make the right choices for themselves when they’re on their own. We must give our children a clear understanding of what mature, thoughtful Christianity entails – most importantly, by modeling it ourselves.
“I Never Felt Like I Had A Real Relationship With God”
Flashing red lights and alarm sirens ought to go on in our heads if we ever hear young people say that their experiences with the church feel empty and ritualistic, devoid of true spiritual meaning. Think about it: if our children never see us reading the Bible in our free time, meditating upon the Scriptures and working hard to understand and apply them to our lives, and if they never hear us praying to God in a heartfelt manner (Matthew 6:7), they might not be as likely to engage in those activities themselves. Let your sons and daughters clearly see the rewards that you derive from being a child of God: that you are happy, that you take time to feed your soul constantly from the Scriptures, and that you rejoice in your close associations with other strong Christians.
American life in the twenty-first century is fast-paced and hectic. But if we’re too busy to do these things, we will surely find that our children will be, too. After they’ve left home and have started making their own rules, they may find that they’re too busy even to attend services anymore, much less do these “extra” things that can build their faith.
As our children grow a bit older, they may approach us with doubts or questions about our beliefs. That’s a normal part of their spiritual development, and we don’t need to panic or be shocked. If we have already been discussing spiritual matters regularly with our children, as suggested above, that sets the stage for their being comfortable enough to share their feelings honestly, even when they fear angering us or hurting our feelings. We should want to hear those questions and listen to those doubts and concerns. Otherwise, they will fester, unaddressed and unanswered, in our children’s minds for years and will likely get in the way later. If I don’t know how to handle an issue raised by my child, I need to seek help from a trusted Bible student and get that answer. My children and I can learn and grow together.
I’m no gardener, but even I understand that we can’t usually just stick a plant in the dirt and leave it alone. Sometimes we need to put a stake in the ground next to it, helping it along, while we water it and weed around it. We cultivate it carefully if we want it to survive, grow correctly, and yield fruit. So it is with our children. We can’t just drop them at the door of a Bible classroom once or twice a week and hope for the best. We’ve got to be tuned in to their unique spiritual needs and be ready to meet them, whatever they might be. And if we’re not ready, we need to get ready, because our children won’t wait. They’re growing up quickly.
An elderly woman once told me that her son obeyed the gospel, but her daughter never did. She sadly told me that she often wondered how that could have happened, as she and her husband “did the same thing with both of them.” This mother’s experience teaches us that we have to consider each child individually – what works for one child may not work for another, in everything from potty training to learning right from wrong.
Sisters in Christ, we cannot afford to assume that our children will grow up accepting Christianity. In considering strategies to help our sons and daughters obey the gospel and remain faithful, forewarned is indeed forearmed. Let’s equip ourselves thoroughly for the fight ahead, realizing that it is a battle between life and death. We must take it seriously.
Lydia [Humphries] Casey is a homemaker with three small daughters. Her husband, Evan, preaches for the Crestwood church of Christ in Crestwood, Kentucky. Before her marriage she worked in radio broadcasting and teaching, both in the US and abroad. She graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in English and Allied Language Arts. She was Evan’s “help meet” in Hungary for two years (1999-2001) while he was preaching and teaching the gospel there. Their residence was in Budapest. If you wish to communicate with her, you may do so by addressing your remarks to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.