There’s been a lot of talk lately about Millennials and the church. A Barna study, conducted a few years ago, revealed that 59% of the generation (if raised in the church) has dropped out at some point. People are talking about this sobering statistic, because now in their 20s and 30s, Millennials are choosing whether or not to raise their own kids in the church.
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The choice is not just for Millennials. Gen-Xers (like me) have also been wrestling with the decision on how to lead the spiritual-journey of our children. With deep wounds inflicted through years of bad leadership, many Christians born after the Boomers (our parents’ generation) are deciding if the church is important to their family faith and whether or not to follow Jesus at all. In large part, tradition has been replaced with cynicism. Going to church just because it’s what you do isn’t good enough any longer. Twenty, thirty and forty-somethings need a compelling reason to inconvenience themselves on the weekend to drive across town and gather in community.
The myriad reasons “young people” are abandoning the church and faith are understandable. Legalism, abuse of power, lack of accountability and responsibility are not values we want to expose ourselves to, let alone our children. Many feel the church is out of touch with modern society and antiquated in its approach to spiritual growth. Some believe church is irrelevant to the walk of faith. Many have completely abandoned Jesus because the church and its people stopped looking like him a long time ago.
There’s been damage done to Christians (and potential believers) by our own people. We don’t want hypocrisy and control; a religion that continues to look less and less like the divine man it’s supposed to be about. I understand the tension because in my 40 years, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of the Christian life. But as a mom who’s survived the messy journey of faith, I’m determined to raise a new generation of Jesus-followers that proves it can be different.
Millennials may be leaving the church and rethinking their relationship with Jesus, but our kids don’t have to.
Here’s why. . .
I believe it is possible to raise kids who love and serve Jesus. . .for life. We don’t have to abandon tradition or community in order to live like Jesus. Our past is messy. Our present might just be a little messier – if we’re willing to admit it. But with our hearts open to learn from mistakes (ours and those of generations before us) and our motivation focused on raising a new generation of healthy disciples, Gen X and Millennials can – with our children – take back the honor, reputation and impact of Christianity.
Here’s how. . .
Model with authenticity.
The idea of modeling is not new in parenting. For years we’ve been told the most powerful way to teach our kids anything is by modeling it for them. But the call to model can often leave parents feeling an immense pressure to do it perfectly. After all, no one wants to model a mess. Or do they?
My parents accepted Jesus right before they got married. They became husband and wife and had children right away. So they walked their own path of discipleship while simultaneously teaching us how to follow Jesus. My mom and dad stumbled a lot in those early days but my siblings and I had the privilege of observing their authentic transformation and because their hearts were changed through honesty and humility, the result was attractive to us.
We wanted what they had – however messy and imperfect it was. And although we all stumbled a bit on our own over the years, we’ve faithfully followed Jesus with a passion we’re passing down to the next generation through our families.
Authenticity will often re-write the script of Christianity we’ve heard for years. This doesn’t mean we abandon truth and tradition but instead, change the way we model it. In doing so, we’re exemplifying a faith that is much more attractive and attainable for the long run.
“But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27
We live in a world of extremes. Balance isn’t attractive to most because we want to be told what to do or be left alone. We want a clear cut, rigid plan or nothing at all.
The Bible is our plan, though I admit, it isn’t always that clear to the average person. But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to us, we can find a healthy, God-honoring, balanced way to apply it to our lives. When our children live and grow in the midst of this balance – equal parts grace and truth – they feel safe and secure in a relationship with Jesus that brings peace.
Teach kids they have a choice.
“Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.” Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
The truth is, faith is a choice. It’s one we make every day of our lives. If we raise our kids to think a relationship with Jesus is a choice they make once, they will walk away at the first sign of struggle. Our children need to understand that our feelings cannot carry us through life, especially when it comes to faith (and love, but that’s a whole other post).
As we grow in our relationship with Jesus and get to know God, we learn about his character. Each time we encounter hardship or questions, we decide if what we know about God is true, no matter how we feel.
Our job as Christian parents is to help our kids see why choosing to believe in the goodness of God (no matter what) will lead to a good life. We have the privilege of guiding their choice until one day, they begin to make the choice on their own. It’s their faith and their choice whether or not to follow Jesus. It never was and never will be ours to make. But if we’ve led them along a path of Bible-based, authentic, balanced truth, why wouldn’t they choose Jesus?
Remember and reform traditions.
“So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.” Psalm 78:7
I believe that faith begins at home. But I also believe in and value the body of Christ in community – the church (however damaged it may seem). Traditional church doesn’t have to be the enemy. It can greatly support and enhance our life when we find the right community for our family.
“Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way.” Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
Tradition gets a bad rap, especially in the church. I get it. There are many “church traditions” I would gladly do without. But there are also many rich traditions I want my children to take part in. The very tradition of faithfully going to church, together as a family, to gather in community and learn about Jesus is a start. Once we move past our wounds and connect our hearts again to the importance of the church, we can ask for the grace to embrace the next tradition and begin making a few new ones for our family.
If we can’t find what we’re looking for, we can create it. Our kids need to learn to be the solution, not merely complain about the problem. We shouldn’t miss out on a relationship with Jesus and the community of saints because it doesn’t look how we want it to look.
We can reform old and stale traditions by adding new elements that reflect the personality of our family and culture. This kind of approach to faith makes it personal and relevant to our kids. It sends the message that life isn’t all about them or their culture. It teaches that tradition has value, and it can be born again and again for future generations.
Maybe it’s because we’re Italian, but talking was something my family was really good at. I remember feeling an open invitation, at all times, to ask questions and have conversations surrounding life and faith. Those two things were beautifully intertwined in our home. Life was faith. Faith was life. It all blended together so that our growth came naturally, in the midst of ordinary days.
It’s easy in the beginning. Preschool and elementary age kids love to talk. They love to ask questions. Faith-building in the early years is simpler because kids are interested in soaking up as much information as possible. Their hearts are soft and ready to absorb the truth.
A few years later and kids begin to close themselves off. They don’t want to talk because they think we don’t understand or what we have to say isn’t as important as whatever it is they have going on. I remember feeling this way. But my parents kept the doors and the lines of communication always open. There were times when I ignored their invitation but many times, I was glad to know I could come when I was ready.
Children grow up feeling safe; feeling heard and understood when our family culture includes an open door from day one. Spiritual development in the midst of this kind of culture is effective and long-lasting because it’s raw and real-time.
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 (NLT)
Families that actively and authentically build faith – in their homes and in their church communities – raise kids who love Jesus for life. Parents who want to change the world, can start by helping their kids understand the heart of our Rescuer and why it’s worth the daily choice to follow him.
Despite what the world (both Christian and secular) may throw at them, our children have the power to choose Jesus. It won’t always be easy. From time to time they might get hurt. People will disappoint them. But he never will. God is good. He is worthy. He is love.
My spiritual journey (like many) has been messy. Full of flawed people, my own mistakes and questions. But through it all I remained close to Jesus because of the legacy my parents created for our family. They showed me that it was worth it, no matter how messy it got. I could have chosen to walk away. God knows I’ve had reason to give up on my faith. But when I imagine my life without Jesus and the church community, I feel lost and hopeless. I don’t want that for my children.
If I do nothing else right as a parent, I want to do this…raise kids who choose Jesus every day of their lives.
What are some ways you are committed to raising kids who love Jesus for life?
Statistics taken from this Barna Study.
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