Raising Christian kids is a top priority for parents who are Believers, but how do we do it in a modern culture that does everything possible to topple the faith of our children? Parents, more than ever before, are determined to disciple and teach their kids the Truth, so let’s talk about it.
Raising Christian Kids in a Faith-Hostile World
The monumental task of shaping little minds toward Christ was an abstract thought in the years I longed for motherhood. It was stored somewhere beyond the imagined positive pregnancy test and fuzzy ultrasound image I hoped for.
Eventually, and thankfully, those things became reality for me. After giving birth to two babies in two years, it took some time before discipling my children landed on the to-do list. Ideas of Biblical literacy and meaningful liturgy bowed to the immediate needs of mothering. Feeding, bathing, rocking, comforting and playing took precedence, as did sleep, survival and sanity.
I blinked and soon enough, they were walking, talking tiny humans with their own distinct ideas and preferences. The time to “train them up” had arrived, but I was outmatched and unprepared for the world of toddler theology. I would squeeze in a few words of a Bible verse before someone had a meltdown over the wrong kind of Cheerio or devolved into giggles over the word “butt.”
Prior to motherhood, I planned to merely model a Christian life. Subconsciously, I knew I’d rely on the church to supplant much of the educational portion of this. It didn’t take long to realize that singing “Jesus Loves You” and dropping them off at the church nursery for one hour a week wasn’t going to cut it.
Shaping Minds and Forming Character
It was overwhelming, this important task of breaking down Biblical complexities into digestible bits. But if we can cut their actual food into small pieces, we can do the same with the spiritual nourishment of knowledge and truth.
The shaping of minds, carving of character and cultivation of critical thinking and integrity is imperative and begins right away. The days of relying exclusively on our churches are gone, as cultural influence increases and theological education ebbs in even those arenas. Seven years into this parenting gig, I believe it is more important than ever for Christian parents to see themselves as primary faith leaders for their children.
Christian families of many denominational hues are starting to take it more seriously, accepting the responsibility of delivering sound, spiritual nourishment at home.
In general, the West is in a cultural cycle that produces less religiosity as time goes on. Pew finds adults identifying less each year with their childhood faith and Lifeway research shows that 2/3rds of young adults stop attending church between the ages of 18-22. Today’s kids will fare even worse if these trends continue.
Worldly culture is more persuasive, and apt to shame those who don’t capitulate than ever before. Christian kids today must understand the foundations of their faith – and why they believe what they do – if their faith is going to survive adulthood.
When I discovered a little company called Tiny Theologians, I immediately ordered their flashcards, marked for ages 2 and up. As I began rehearsing the terms with my kids, I realized how much my own theological knowledge was lacking.
Sunday School is Not Enough
I grew up in church, sanctified by Sunday School and baptized at 11 in a grimy church camp lake under a wooden cross and a hazy, setting sun. And yet, I barely escaped adolescence clutching my own fledgling faith, and witnessed friends succumb to doubt and deconstruction along the way. Could the lack of understanding and knowledge about my own faith be part of the problem? I was confident it was.
Gallup found that about 35% of Americans in their early 20s identify as religious “nones” and that number continues to increase. Knowing the dire numbers altered my perspective on the faith challenges my children might face. It moved me toward a more intentional kind of parenting in faith, as I recognized my primary role as CEO of my kids’ religious life.
Make no mistake, mama, you are the most powerful influence on your children as it relates to everything from education to lifestyle to religion. When it comes to faith, the influence is undeniably strong. Data from the National Study of Youth and Religion found that 82% of children whose parents talked regularly about faith at home, attached great importance to their religious beliefs and were consistently active in church, stayed active and faithful in young adulthood.
Outside of solid family teaching, consistently weekly church attendance is a primary marker for thriving in life in faith in adulthood. This is encouraging, but doesn’t explain why so many people are leaving the church or experiencing significant doubts in young adulthood. Even my own sister – who grew up singing hymns and acting in the church Nativity play with me – encountered a crisis of faith that she’s still battling.
Millennial and Gen X Christian kids are flailing because they often have no concept of Christian apologetics, doctrinal truths or church history. We can change that for our kids, the next generation! Now that we know that we were, perhaps, spiritually malnourished, we can shephard our kids differently.
The Most Important Task We Have
It is a tremendous privilege to disciple and lead our children into a lifetime of faith. When it comes from parents, rather than the church, the lessons are even more meaningful. By intentionally developing a life centered on authentic faith in the home, I’ve discovered a deeper, richer relationship with God for myself – and other parents are finding the same thing.
Prior to parenting this way, my religious actions were private, quiet, and slipped in wherever they fit. Now, they are vocal, set apart, intentional and specific. Mamas, we can pray aloud because we want our children to hear that we can talk to God like a Father and a friend. We can voice our gratitude for the rising sun, the descending moon, our warm beds, cold lemonade, and healthy, happy bodies. We can thank Him for our dinner, our family, our creation. We can talk regularly about being image-bearers and light-bringers, forgiven sinners and love carriers.
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We read scripture at dinner, attempting to insert Biblical truths between complaints about the meal and arguments over seating arrangements. It’s easy to get frustrated, but it’s the daily, single consistent moments of devotion that make a long-term difference. These cyclical actions, meaningful liturgies and contextual habits contribute to a lasting foundation and understanding. We can’t know God in a night. We can’t know Him even in a lifetime. Thus, there is no point in rushing our kids into Him. He will always be there, available for them to ponder and wonder at for eternity.
The enduring commitment to teach them is ever-worthy. By grounding our children in Scripture, teaching them how to access the Father and see Him in Creation, we help position them best to thrive in their faith for a lifetime. This is holy work that is best done through one’s daily, organic, mundane life – when God is revealed in the details, the dirt and the difficult. After all, God isn’t just at church. He’s at the dinner table, in the backyard, on the schoolbus and everywhere else we go.
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