"Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."--Col. 1:28, 29 Statistics have shown that at least 50% of children who grow up in Christian homes leave the faith by the time they finish their first year in college. I have even seen some reports that say it could be as high as 80%. Even on the lower end of the spectrum, that is a chilling thought. Will our kids be one of those casualties?
While I am sure that there are many reasons why kids choose to turn away from their faith, as a parent, I am realizing that my job is not to fear those statistics but to work now to prevent my children from being one of them. Now I am not saying that by faithfully discipling our children and taking them to church and having family devotions we are going to keep our kids safe. They are not robots. And they can choose to reject Christ. Just think: even Jesus, the perfect discipler, had his Judas.
Yet this is not to say that we are to throw our hands up and leave things up to our kids. On the contrary! As parents, God has given us our children to raise for Him. Even if there are no guarantees, we want to lower the odds, right? Like Paul, I want to labor with all my heart towards the goal of presenting mature children to Him. He even describes it as toil. (Think about labor and delivery!) That is how much we are to invest in this endeavor of raising disciples.
Partnering With God on the Journey
What I am realizing is that just like us, our children are on a spiritual journey. They are not empty cannisters that we deposit information into and call it good. They are spiritual beings, just like we are. Understanding this may help us to not just look at discipleship as merely filling our kids with the right facts, but to nurture a spiritual life.
Dr. James Engel, communications expert and missiologist, developed the Engel Scale of Evangelism that I found very helpful in understanding the spiritual journey people take. This chart was originally designed to help those who were seeking to share the Good News of Jesus to others, which I think also includes parents and their children!
There are two parts to the scale, before conversion and after conversion. We start out spiritually dead and little by little, we become aware of a supreme Being. Awareness of the Gospel comes as the Spirit enlightens the eyes of our hearts. Our job as parents is to verbalize and model the reality of the Gospel, while the Spirit takes our words and helps our kids understand.
As parents during this season, we have several key jobs:
- internalize and live out the Gospel in our own lives
- pray fervently that the Spirit will enlighten their minds to understand the truth of the Gospel
- be sensitive to the opportunities of sharing Gospel truth at their level of understanding. Move when He moves.
- resist pushing kids on our timetable to make a decision
Crossing the Line
But our spiritual journey does not stop at conversion. Too often, we breathe a sigh of relief that our kids have prayed the prayer, and then we stop. The moment of conversion is like finally birthing your baby. No mom would consider her job done then. In fact, the real work has just begun! It's just the same with spiritual birth.
During this season, our work includes:
- teaching our kids how to commune with God through His Word and prayer
- utilizing training and discipline to partner with the Spirit in changing bad habits and poor behaviors
- helping our kids discern and nurture their spiritual gifts for service in the body of Christ
- showing them how to steward their resources
Our Most Important Job
The most important thing we can teach our children is to love God in response to what He has done for us on the cross. Loving siblings, obeying parents, serving others---all these things are what we teach our kids in response to what God has done for us. I want to instill in my children an attitude of gratitude for God's grace that overflows in a life of faithfulness to Him.
Without a love relationship with God, it is no wonder that many children walk away from the faith. When we separate the Gospel from our walk, we may end up with legalistic do-gooders. Christian faith becomes a list of do's and don'ts. Are we modeling a vibrant life or do we just og through the motions?
When I attend weddings nowadays, I find myself thinking not just about the bride and groom, but about the parents. When Dad reaches the bridegroom, all the years of hard work, training, and providing for his daughter comes to an end when he hands the best he has to offer over to the bridegroom. His role in her life will continue, but it will never be the same again. She now belongs to her husband.
So it is with us one day. All the hard work we do now will end when we one day hand our precious children back to the Bridegroom. My prayer is that when that day comes, like Paul, I may present them mature in Christ.
For you to think about:
Where are your children in their spiritual journey?
What can you do to present them mature to Christ?