The church in America is puzzled. Young adults are leaving in droves. Magazines, books, and blogs are wagging the finger of blame to point out who is responsible. Some say it is a failure of youth ministry, some point to church budgets, and some nail the blame on outdated, unhip worship services. We parents are shocked that our kids just aren’t all that into Jesus.
When I look for someone to blame, I head into the restroom and look into a mirror. Yup, there he is. I blame him. That parent looking back at me is where I have to start.
If you’re a parent, I’m probably going to upset you. But, hear me out. I think that we, as parents, are guilty of some things that make it easy for our kids to put faith low on their priority list.
What to Avoid
1. Putting academic pursuits above faith-building activities. Don’t encourage your child to put everything else aside for academic gain. After all, when they’re 24 and not interested in faith or following Christ, you probably won’t still be thrilled they got an A in pre-calculus. Do you remember who graduated in the top five of your high school class? Unless you were one of them, I bet you have no idea. I don’t. Instead of teaching your kids that all else comes second to academics, teach them balance.
2. Chase the gold ball first and foremost. Although you may think your kid is a star, the probability is that he’s not, so don’t drive 400 miles so he can play hockey but meanwhile refuse to take him to a home group Bible study because it’s 20 minutes away.
And don’t be swayed by coaches who tells you that your kid won’t play if he doesn’t play in the off-season. The truth is, if your kid really is a star, he could probably go to Disney for the first week of the season and then still start for his school team. And if you kid is an average or mediocre athlete, you can swallow hard and encourage your kid to improve—but be careful what you sacrifice in order to try to make him a star.
3. Teach your kid that the dollar is almighty. Unfortunately, I see this all the time. Faith activities often fly out the window when students say, “I’d like to, but I have to work.” Jobs do often teach responsibility, but faith activities should not necessarily be put aside for the “responsibility” of holding a job.
And whatever you do, don’t make your kids pay their own way to faith-building activities like youth retreats and faith community activities, while you're financially supporting their other endeavors like sports, music, or drama. This inadvertently sends a loud and clear message about what you really want to see them involved in and what you value most.
4. Refuse to acknowledge that the primary motivating force in kids’ lives is relationship. Connections with others are what drive kids to be involved. It’s the reason that peer pressure is such a big deal in adolescence. Sending kids to Bible classes and lectures is almost entirely ineffective if they don’t have relationships that help them process what they learn. As kids share faith experiences like retreats, mission trips, and student ministry fun, they build common bonds with one another that work as a glue to Christian community. In fact, faith is designed to be lived in community with other believers. Remember: Kids often build friendships with the peers they spend time with.
5. Model apathy in your own life. If following Jesus seems to be only about sitting in a church service once a week and going to meetings, young adults opt out. Teenagers and young adults are looking for things that are worth their time. Authentic, genuine, relevant relationships where people are growing in relationship with Jesus are appealing. Meaningless duty and ritual holds no attraction. What kind of faith are you modeling in your life?
Satisfaction (NOT) Guaranteed
I know this struggle is real, but it’s worth fighting through. My wife and I have lived this firsthand. Two of my kids played in “premier” athletic leagues. Both got A’s in high school, though we often told them not to stress out too much over it. Both were in honor societies in college.
But, their success did not come at the steep cost described above. Neither ever missed a youth group retreat, conference, or mission trip because of their sports or academic commitments. In fact, both missed a game or two to attend faith-based activities. Both missed school for family vacations. Both held down part-time jobs in high school and learned to give employers advance notice for upcoming retreats. My son often changed into his baseball uniform at church to arrive in the third inning of Sunday games.
Robin and I did all we could to make sure they connected in student ministry even when it meant driving straight from a tournament to a music festival at midnight so they would not miss out. It was that important to us. My youngest, a culinary student, lost a restaurant job because he went on a mission trip. That’s fine. Thankfully, all three have strong faith walks today. That is due, of course, to God’s grace. But I also believe that our efforts and example helped them long for a community-based faith. I don’t regret any of the games they missed or teams they didn’t make.
There are no guarantees that your children will follow Christ even if you have a vibrant, purposeful relationship with him. But if we, as parents, don’t do all we can to help our children develop meaningful relationships in Jesus, we’re missing a major opportunity to lead them and show them the path worth walking.
I want my kids to see that their dad follows Jesus with everything, and I want them to know that my greatest hope for them is that they follow Jesus too.
Scott Linscott is a pastor in Maine. He is married to Robin and they have three adult children. A version of this article first appeared on ScottLinscott.com. Used with permission.