The Great Commission starts at home.
When starting a family, parents often see the value of raising their children in the context of the Christian household. Whether one is religious or not, the basic moral standards of the Christian faith, such as operating in forgiveness, not stealing, being kind and not being jealous are basic principles most would want their children to follow. Having a faith-filled background has also proven to have lasting effects into childhood. A recent study by Ying Chen, a Harvard University scientist, concluded that those who had a religious upbringing are less likely to “subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection—than people raised with less regular spiritual habits.” Yet, despite this study and many others that confirm the value of raising children in a Christian home, we still see a great number of those raised in Christianity falling away from the notion of organized religion. In fact, current research suggests that 70% of teenagers who were once in church regularly will leave the local church and even walk away from Christianity altogether. It can be quite confusing to see how church can be a benefit yet so many children are growing up to deny the faith.
One cause of this could be due to homes that don’t necessarily reflect Christian faith. Perhaps, parents expect the local church to primarily plant the seeds of faith. For other homes, it may be that parents act one way on Sundays but are volatile, abusive, or unloving when church is over. Whatever the case may be, parents have a responsibility to do all that they can to encourage their children to grow deep in their relationship with God. Although the enemy will certainly try to bring confusion and cause them to wander away from the Lord, there may be some tangible ways parents can shift the atmospheres of their homes that can help children yearn for the Lord.
With this in mind, here are 8 reasons children may grow up to doubt their parent’s and their own faith:
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1. Parents don’t model their faith.
A primary aspect of learning is observation. Observational learning is one way that children can see their parent’s faith in action. From seeing their parents pray for others to watching how they respond to people they don’t like, children are always watching for clues on how to respond. With every scenario, we have a choice to respond in faith or frustration, with prayer or pity, with blessings or curses. Modeling the faith goes beyond taking children to church or praying over the dinner table. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, “If my life, actions, and thoughts were projected a movie screen, would the world around me know that I am a follower of Christ?” Would your movie show you turning to God’s Word, praying over your children, giving to the poor, making the choice to forgive? Simply stated, the best way to show your children how to walk out their faith is to walk out your own. When we expect children to be spiritual but have an undeveloped Christian walk, we are only fooling ourselves. Let us give our children an example that they can imitate readily!
“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11)
2. Parents act one way on Sunday and differently during the week.
We have all met “Christians” who are different each day of the week. One way to cause our children to doubt is to be spiritual at church but have a completely different personality when no one is around. This inauthentic faith will teach your children to distrust of the Word of God, the Christian faith, and you! Instead, we should seek to confront the behaviors that we are ashamed to display in front of our local church. If we wouldn’t yell, curse, get drunk or gossip at God’s “temple” on Sunday morning, why would we allow ourselves to do so in our home? Remember, we are called to see ourselves as the temple of Christ who carry the Lord everywhere we go. We honor the Lord when we choose to live a life that glorifies God in all things. True worship doesn’t just happen at the church but in how we act and react in our every day lives. If we want to show our children how to be people of faith, we must first look inward.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)
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3. Parents rely completely on the church to teach their children.
When it comes to church, it is to be a supplement to what is learned at home. Instead, many parents rely on the church to teach their children the stories and life lessons that can be found in the Word. As a church planter, I cannot count how often parents approach me with the notion that the church must teach their children how to be respectful, how to pray, and how to worship. However, these foundational aspects of church are found within the home. When we look to the church only, we run the risk of things being taught that may contradict our convictions or for children to only think about God once a week.
“Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion that the Sunday-school is intended to ease them of their personal duties. The first and most natural condition of things is for the Christian parents to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” – Charles Spurgeon
4. Parents encourage Bible story memorization versus learning deeper aspects of the word.
Bible stories are a great way to introduce children to God. However, the stories are meant to highlight underlying principles. In her book, Falling In Love With God’s Word, Brittany Ann discusses the common misconception that the Bible is just a story book. She states that when we do so we miss out on the deeper truths, revelation, and life change that is available in the Word. If we want our children to know our faith, we must go beyond the inspirational stories and talk to them about the tougher topics that can bring life or lead to death.
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5. Parents focus on the rules and neglect a relationship with God.
Many parents use God as an extra form of discipline or to guilt them into good behavior. Phrases like, “Liars go to hell” or “How would Jesus feel if he saw you do that?” causes God to become a rule setter that we must follow or else. Although it is certainly true that God has a standard and He has called us all to strive for righteousness, parents can come to use God as a weapon against their children if they aren’t careful. In doing so, children stray away from wanting to have a relationship with a God who punishes them and makes them feel bad about their choices. Parents can instead encourage children into good behavior by sharing their life experiences and how God transformed their lives. These heart-to-heart conversations go further and encourage transformation instead of temporary behavior modification.
6. Parents talk bad about the church.
One way to indirectly cause your children to stray from the faith is to talk poorly of your local church or the Church in general. This was seen in my own home after suffering from a church hurt years ago. After months of talking about our frustrations in front of our children, our oldest child asked us, “Why do you keep taking us, if you hate it so much?” We quickly started to realize they had started to complain about the church and doubt their own faith during this time. Our conversations seemed to be the root cause of their disdain for the church and caused more confusion. Whether you spend time sharing how you feel about prominent megachurch pastors or complaining about your local pastor or church, be mindful that your children are observing and their perspective on faith is being shaped by your words.
“Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
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7. Parents don’t reflect God’s love.
Does your home reflect God’s love? Are you patient, graceful, and gentle or brash, irritable, and quarrelsome? Your answer to these questions will play a role in how your children see your faith. Our homes should reflect His grace, love, and His character. This not only effects children now, but later on in life. Studies supports this notion and have found that love and warmth within a person’s upbringing plays the most significant role on adult happiness and relationship steadiness later in life. As parents, we must show God’s love, even when we find it difficult. When we fail to do so, we are not living out what we find in the Word. Remember, Jesus said that is by our love that we tell the world we belong to Him.
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)
8. Parents don’t have a prayer life.
Prayer is a vital part of the Christian faith. Without prayer, we will struggle to hear from God and feel peace in our everyday lives. Yet, our children should know that we are a safe place for them to come when they need prayer. If they only see us pray at mealtime or as an afterthought, they may come doubt our faith. In our homes, we have an opportunity to pray for our children every chance we get. From when our children are leaving to go to school or when they are making a choice that will affect their lives, we get the privilege of partnering with them with prayer. If we neglect to pray, or our children have never seen us pray, we can expect that they won’t see the value in it as well. What a victory it will be when our children run to us for prayer or pray for us in a troubling time!
Overall, we can encourage our children to love the Lord with each interaction we have with them. From choosing to walk in humility to placing them in the company of other believers and praying for them, we can show them that following Christ is the best choice they can ever make.
“These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
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Originally published Thursday, 24 June 2021.