One of the most popular statistics that has become ingrained in the psyche of modern American evangelicalism is that anywhere from 55% to 90% of young people walk away from faith when they graduate High School. Barna addresses some of the myths here. I have never liked that statistic because I feel it’s misleading at best. Many of those kids either never had a faith of their own or left their faith much sooner than college. There are no easy answers but having been in kids and youth ministry for over 20 years in the same church, I have a few theories as to why this stat is true or appears to be true.
- In being relevant over sacred, we are giving our kids a version of church that is no different from so many other social spaces in their lives.
- In our desire to reach more kids we often are guilty of not discipling those that are already coming. We are reaching at the expense of planting.
- In our right desire to apply the gospel to our kids where they are at, we are inadvertently giving them a faith they will grow out of rather than a faith they will grow into.
What does a faith that kids can grow into look like?
The prevailing idea that not all of the Bible should be taught to kids is not new. There are some that say not all of the Bible is suited for children. I disagree. Chopping the Bible into parts we feel is palatable for our kids robs them of seeing the wonders of grace that are tattooed all over the bible. This argument comes from the right desire to protect and to communicate in an age-appropriate fashion. To that, I wholeheartedly agree.
However, only teaching parts of the Bible that are safe sets kids up to have a faith they will grow out of. The question is not what should we teach or not teach, the question is how do we teach all of it. When we focus on what to teach we inadvertently shrink the gospel into palatable bite-size hunks. When we come across a hard text and ask “How can Jesus be seen in this?” and “How can I teach this hard text to my kids?”, we give our kids a faith they can grow into. As a parent and as youth pastors and kids pastors we shy away from hard truth to our own peril. When our kids grow up and only know of stories in the bible that contain animals, we have done them a huge injustice.
There are few stories that demonstrate the reach of the love of God like Hosea, but they are never preached in kids’ church and rarely mentioned in youth ministry. Hosea is a hard story, but it’s supposed to be hard. The question is not “Should it be taught?”. The question is, “How do we teach it well?” We can not shy away from hard truths, hard stories, and hard questions. If we do we will give our kids a soft faith that will buckle under the weight of its first test.
How can we give our kids a faith they can grow into:
Teach them the sovereignty of God. – Kids struggle with fear and youth struggle with anxiety in epidemic proportions. Our kids need to hear of a God that is sovereign in all things.
Teach them that doubts are not in opposition to faith – Worldview is indispensable in the life of a young person. We have to create opportunities for them to ask hard questions. We need to teach that doubts are not in opposition to faith. Parents and pastors, listen. Let your kids talk. Listen and then relentlessly point them to Christ.
Read biographies to them. – We have a biblical literacy problem in America but we also have a problem because we have a whole generation who know nothing of the faith handed to them. They know nothing of church history. This must change. Read your kids biographies of people who paid with their lives so that they can hold a Bible in their hands.
Don’t give them pat answers but give them tools to understand their questions. – When you are tired or it is the wrong time or place and your kids ask questions, the easy thing to do is to give them a quick answer that is ultimately unhelpful. When we dismiss their question or give them a canned answer, we miss an opportunity for gospel formation and we inadvertently innoculate them to the gospel. We give them just enough to try faith, only for things to not go as planned, and they surmise that the gospel wasn’t true or powerful enough for their problems. Eventually, they move on to the next tool that they can find to help answer life’s difficult questions.
Let them see you cry – There are few things in this life that show your kids what you love and who you serve like pain. What causes us pain is when the loves of our lives are shaken: job, money, family or health. We feel pain when those things are shaken. When we feel pain, our kids see it. We are training them by our reflexive responses what we actually love in this life. Where we run when life gets hard reveals to our kids what it is that we believe has the power to make the pain in our lives go away. We run to the mall, to substances, and to relationships because we think they have the power to fix what is broken inside of us. What makes you cry shows your kids what you love and where you run shows them who you serve.
“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
― Blaise Pascal
My passionate plea to parents and pastors is don’t give your kids a faith that is simple, easy, and fun that they will grow out of. Give them a faith that is dangerous, expansive and lasting. One of my favorite parts of Lewis’ Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is when the kids learn Aslan (the Christ figure in Lewis’ tale) is a lion. The kids say “Is he safe?” to which another character says, “Of course he isn’t safe, but he is good.” That is a faith our kids need – not a safe Jesus but a wild, sovereign creator who is constrained by nothing other than his own goodness. Let us tell our kids and teens week after week that kind of a story for the Glory of God alone!