Are your teens drifting away from your faith?
Well if they are, it is probably because it is your faith and not theirs. You may have reasons for your faith, maybe a life changing experience, or just something you believed since you were young, but whatever the reason or reasons, it is your faith, not theirs. Once youth begin Jr. High, they begin to question everything. Not only why they have to learn algebra, (some of us still question that), but why should they listen to authority, more specifically their parents. Many young teens grudgingly do what their parents say only because they have to. Their parents still provide food, shelter, clothing, and more importantly, transportation to their friend’s house when needed. Without their parents they would be out on the street, hungry, cold, naked, or worse – without their smart phone.
So how can you give teens a faith that would last a lifetime? Notice I did not say, how can you give your teen a faith that can last a lifetime? Of course, it is a parent’s primary responsibility to raise their children to do what is right, (I am not talking politics here, but ethics), but it is also the responsibility of other family members, friends, pastors, and youth leaders.
If your teens are attending a youth group, are they engaged? Do they wrestle with the tough questions the world can ask, or it is just worship, a brief message they can’t wait to get out of, and then the fun of pizza and hanging with friends? Is the success of the youth group based on numbers attending? What they are learning? Is there any kind of system in place to see if they are learning? Has any youth leader after a month of talking about a particular topic, (say in 1John, recognizing false teachers), ever given a test or quiz? Then follow up with some kind of reward, Sunday recognition, or a slap on the back by the pastor for a job well done? Certainly there has to be a balance, but more often than not the scales are heavily tipped in favor of fun recreation, not reasoning.
Natasha Crain in her book Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side points out four necessary steps adults can take to enlighten and engage youth about their faith. Isolating students about what the world has to say about Christianity may serve them for a while, a bit longer if you home school them, but once they join the real world they will hear ideas that run counter to how they have been raised.
1. Our ultimate goal should not be for our kids to merely believe true things.1
I heard a story once about a Christian apologist that had just finished a lecture and was mingling with his audience when a young man walked up to him, cheerfully greeted him, and announced he was an atheist. The apologist smiled and asked him if he had a name. The young man told him it was Mark and then announced that he would believe in God if God would write his name, (Mark), in neon lights in the sky, asking Mark to believe in him. The Christian replied, “What makes you think He is so interested in your belief?” Stunned, the young atheist stood silent for a long moment. The Christian added that even the demons believe, but where has that landed them?
You can see that having a belief in God is not sufficient. Read Acts 17 and you will find Paul in Athens reasoning in the synagogue to both Jews and Greeks. When the Epicurean philosophers showed up they took Paul to the Areopagus. How does it end? Some became followers of Paul and believed. Acts 17:34
2. We need to make sure our kids have good reasons for their beliefs.2
Children may believe in God, but without good reasons they will quickly fall away. How many of you reading this can think of a young man or woman who has walked away from their faith? The reasons can be far and wide, but untold numbers have walked away because they encountered reasons or heard questions they could not answer.
One of the most common objections to religion students in college may encounter is called the ‘genetic fallacy’. An instructor may tell students the reason they are Christian is because they were born to Christian parents and they simply adopted their parents’ faith. If they were born in India, they would likely be Hindu, if in Korea, they would likely be Buddhist, if they were born in Iraq they would likely be Muslim. Of course what he is saying is true, but what does that have to do with the truth behind any religion? Just because you were born to unbelieving parents and you are now an atheist, does that imply that atheism is false?
Young men and women will hear reasons why Christianity is not true. If they have spent their formative years surrounded by other believers without having wrestled with difficult questions, they will be pinned in the first round.
3. We need to make sure our kids can articulate the good reasons for their beliefs.3
Not long ago I was with a group of men and we were discussing our faith. One man shared that he simply believed Christianity to be true. He would discuss his faith with his son, (my impression is his son no longer believes) who was a bright young man, and he would often raise questions to his father that dad could not answer. He could only respond to his son that he choose to believe the Bible was true and nothing his son could say would persuade him differently.
I cringed inwardly when hearing this because not too many years ago I was in the same boat. If anyone pressed me on my reasons for my faith I doubt I could have come up with much. If you think quoting Bible verses at someone will persuade them when they have serious doubt about the truth of the Bible, you are in for a surprise.
What does the famous atheist from Oxford, Richard Dawkins, say about faith and Christians? “Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not the end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book.”4
4. We need to teach our kids how to evaluate reasons for other beliefs.5
Exploring other world views can help you understand why someone is an atheist, skeptic, Mormon, or Muslim. When you better understand someone’s reasons for a particular belief, (whether is it true or false), you can better respond with your own reasons. For example, when you compare Christianity with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism you will see that Christianity stands alone in that God reaches down to us, but all other religions require ‘works’ to be saved.
Several weeks ago, I met a young father at our church for the first time. He was introduced to me as someone that was an evangelist at heart. I was introduced to him as an apologist. He smiled and looked surprised, but shared with me he was familiar with Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, and some other Christian apologists. It was my turn to be surprised because few Christians know what the word apologetics means, let alone can actually name some Christian apologists.
We chatted for a few minutes and I stressed the importance of apologetics, being able to defend our faith with reasons and evidence. I asked him what he would say to someone who did not believe the Bible was the inspired word of God. He replied with what many Christians would say. He talked about his personal experience and feeling that it is true. I replied that if I was a Mormon I could say the same with a ‘burning in the bosom’, or as an atheist I could also say I know in my heart there is no God. He paused for a long moment, not knowing what to say. I explained that having reasons and evidence can be very helpful in conversations with non-believers and also strengthen the faith of believers.
A few years ago, Tom Bisset conducted a study on why people leave their faith. After many personal interviews, he fell on four main reasons people leave behind their Christian faith.
- They leave because they have troubling, unanswered questions about the faith.
- They leave because their faith is not working for them.
- They leave because they have allowed other things to take priority.
- They leave because they never personally owned their faith.6
Do some of those above four reasons look familiar? Do you know any one that left Christianity because of unanswered questions? Notice that is the first of the four he listed. Think how different some of our Thanksgiving conversations would be if we had some Christians apologists at the table. How many of you would pay to have a Christian apologist at your Thanksgiving table and strike up a conversation with your teens or skeptical family member? With a little effort, that could be you.
My wife and I are working on a certificate in apologetics from Biola University. It is going to take us several months, but when we are done we look forward to the new tools added to our tool belt. Tools that can strengthen our own faith, strengthen the faith of others, and answer questions for those who have some. We may not have all answers at the tip of our tongue, but we will have an answer. Talk to your children about your faith so that they can build their own. Wrestle with the tough questions so the first time they step on the mat, it will not be a short round. 1Peter 3:15
1. Crain, Natasha. “Keeping Your Kids On God’s Side” Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2016. Print.
4. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: First Mariner Books, 2008. Print.
5. Crain, Natasha. “Keeping Your Kids On God’s Side” Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2016. Print.
6. Challies, Tim. “Why Christian Kids Leave The Faith.” Challies. Challies.com, 21 November 2016. Web. 22 November 2016.
First Round Pin by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.