Although parents are certainly the primary source by which faith is passed down, they must not be the only source. There is not one earthly source by which anyone can receive all of their spiritual needs. In years past many churches and parents depended on youth groups to be the sole source by which children and teens received their faith. Now that many churches realize this has not been working, some are scratching youth ministry completely. Eliminating any support system for teens will not help. In order for faith to be passed down, there must be consistency from multiple sources. It is up to parents, youth groups, peers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, youth ministers, cousins, siblings, friends, the church, and mentors to assist families in imparting faith to this generation. Some parents have tried to isolate their kids and develop them spiritually apart from the world. This approach nearly always falls apart in the teen years when a teen naturally searches other influencesin order to grow. It is only together, from a variety of relationships and perspectives, that we can successfully impart faith to this generation. Unfortunately, not every child has Christian parents and some hypocritical Christian parents can do more damage than good. This is why it is necessary for everyone to contribute toward a supportive network that overcomes the lack of spiritual influence from parents. This generation will listen to authentic sources no matter who it comes from, and they will not take spiritual counsel from hypocritical sources, even if it is their parents.
HOW CAN WE ALL IMPART FAITH TOGETHER?
Psychology can nearly predict the emotional and mental health of children and teenagers by determining the presence of protective factors and risk factors in a child’s life. It is simple; protective factors positively contribute to healthy child development, and risk factors have a negative impact.
The percentages of alcohol abuse, sexual activity, violence, drug use, and school success rise and fall based upon the number of protective factors and risk factors that a child or teen has in life. The majority of today’s youth are reluctant to accept faith because they are surrounded by too many risk factors from their families, friends, neighborhoods, and churches. It is not because a rational argument has been presented to them from science against faith. They are turning away from their faith because they want nothing to do with the faith of parents or stepparents who verbally abuse them or with a church that disagrees and argues most of the time. Our youth culture is not willing to give up its party culture in exchange for a hypocritical faith. Can you blame them?
ONE TEEN WROTE THIS ABOUT THE WAY FAITH WAS PASSED TO HER
“My parents raised me to be Christian, but many times I saw in them the opposite of how a Christian should act. The example that I saw from them was inconsistent, and I learned from them to rationalize partying and drinking with my friends and then going to church the next day. It wasn’t just with alcohol though, it was them emphasizing to me how important church was and expecting me to be a part of every youth activity when the only time they went to church was on Sunday morning. The best way to describe my home growing up was a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality. After a while, I was just so fed up with the hypocrisy. If it wasn’t for the outside influences in my life, I don’t believe I would be a Christian today. My youth minister and his wife were the people I confided in, and I saw true consistency and realness from them in their Christian lives. There were also other role models in my life from church that encouraged me to be better and who guided me to find what true Christianity is all about. My family was never truly bad, but if they would have lived out what they said they wanted for me they would have had a bigger part in my faith today. It is crucial for families to emphasize the importance of practicing what you are preaching and being consistent and stable in your faith. If you want your children to feel the desire to be involved in church, show them that you enjoy being involved. If you want them to put God first in everything, make sure you show that God is first in your life. For non-parents, I encourage you to be the influence to someone that my youth minister was to me. You’ll never truly know the impact you could make on a young person by just listening and being a Godly example.” 10
What is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt is that when mothers, fathers, and grandparents work together to put regular faith practices in the family, the chances of children and teens being faithful believers throughout their lives dramatically increase. The family’s relationship with the church serves as a link between your child and other faith influences. Families that are deeply involved in church find positive friends for their children, adopted grandparents who are interested in leaving a legacy of faith, and mentors who have the potential to offer a great amount of spiritual guidance. Imagine if each of these significant faith influences were a positive part of your child’s life. The positive spiritual influences and protective factors add up very quickly. What impact would that have on their faith?
Everyone has natural opportunities to become a significant spiritual influence in the lives of others. Most of us are one or more of the following: brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, or friends. Everyone must look for opportunities within their existing relationships to encourage extended families and friends in their faith in God.
Grandparents have a wonderful opportunity to be positive spiritual influences on their families and grandchildren. Here are a few tips for creating the kind of environment to have this spiritual influence.
1. WALK THE WALK: The most influential thing a grandparent can do is to live out a faithful life as a Christian.
2. SHOW THE LOVE: A warm, encouraging, and close relationship, between generations in a family, is an incredible blessing and a powerful asset in passing down faith through generations. Whether you live near or far. Call one another, ask questions, listen, take walks, spend time together, play games, go on trips together, do things the kids like to do, and share with them things you enjoy. Through it all, look for opportunities to shape their view of God and share how amazing He is.
3. BE INVOLVED: Pray together. Serve together. Share your faith with your family through storytelling and experience. Have all generations in your family come alongside one another while serving, loving, and growing in faith. Start young! It is much easier to talk to a 4-year-old about God than it is to talk to a 16-year-old about God. As they get older, it won’t be as difficult to continue these conversations.
Whether your siblings are young or old, whether you are 10 years old or 85 years old, you have an opportunity to talk to your brothers and sisters about faith. Share some recent lessons you have heard or verses you have read that stuck out to you. If you and your siblings have young children, share your Imparting Faith experiences with them. If you are a teen and have younger siblings, you may not realize how much your younger siblings look up to you, but your spiritual example is very influential.
The goal of a mentor is to care about the child, have fun, yet become an additional spiritual support especially as the child-parent relationship is strained in the teen years. See page 34 for more information on mentors.
1. CASUAL MENTORS:
A young person needs multiple mentors and several positive influences in their life. A casual mentor is someone who strive to develop positive relationships with the children and teens in their congregation. A casual mentor takes time to keep up with how the children and teens are doing and spends time with them at church or at other family or church related activities. If the idea of being a mentor is new to you, and you do not have any existing relationships with a family, start by helping teach a Bible class or inviting a family you want to get to know better out to lunch. DO NOT simply go up to a family you don’t know and say, “Can I be a mentor to your child?”
2. DEDICATED MENTORS:
A teen or child can also benefit from a more intense mentor relationship. Although a child can have many casual mentors, he/she should only have one, or at most, two dedicated mentors. A dedicated mentor should ONLY be set up by the parents. Parents should approach an individual only when an existing, trusting relationship is established between a mentor and a family. A dedicated mentor provides an additional family-type relationship with someone who is not a part of the everyday family routine.
Friendships are some of the most significant influences in our lives. Friends can often be afraid of being spiritually influential because they don’t want to offend by pushing their beliefs. However, everyone needs to be challenged spiritually. It is especially true that while undertaking new endeavors like imparting faith, true friends can provide accountability, spark creativity, and become a catalyst for spiritual growth. Open yourself up to becoming that friend for someone else and allow someone into your life to encourage you spiritually. Many of us have friendships that are ready for this step. Don’t be afraid to talk about faith and grow together.
Children have a natural tendency when they are very young to be curious about life. Find ways to encourage this and to dive deeper into their curiosity. As your kids get a little older, they will have a desire to explore, think, and ask a lot of questions. They may ask about God and what He has done, what He is like, and who He is. As they become teenagers, they will want to become independent and pursue God in their own way. It is so important at each step of the way to shift with them into their new way of looking at things. If you can look ahead and shift your approach to helping them explore who God is, they will allow you to guide their faith until they have a faith that is fully their own.