Last week I finished reading Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. In the book, Christian Smith (a sociologist from Notre Dame) reports the results of the National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR) which he conducted along with Lisa Pearce from UNC Chapel Hill.
There are two main takeaways I see of vital importance to parents, teachers, and youth workers:
First: The NSYR found that most teenagers’ religious beliefs could be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which I’ve already written about in a post here.
Second: The NSYR serves as another reinforcement that parents are absolutely the greatest influence on their children. Some studies have reported that this is not the case, but I’ve never been convinced by those reports. Scripture teaches that parents (not the church, though the family of God is a great assistant teacher!) are charged to be the primary teachers and disciple-makers of their kids. When writing about the influence parents have on their kids, Smith writes, “We get what we are.”
If you are laissez faire and casual about your faith in Jesus Christ, then don’t expect your children to grow up to be more mature in their faith than you have modeled for them. If, however, you make prayer and reading your Bible a priority because you love Jesus Christ and want to know Him and serve Him, then that will also rub off on your kids. We must not neglect the spiritual component involved in salvation and make this into a non-mystical and godless lifestyle, but in general the study has found that apples truly do not fall far from the tree.
What type of example are you setting for your kids? Do you teach them to respect their authority while you complain about your boss or about your aging parents? Do you teach them that education is important even though you haven’t studied to learn anything new in years? Do you expect them to be Christians simply because you take them to church or youth group?
It’s my hope that over the course of this year our youth ministry will grow in its emphasis in equipping you parents to better disciple your sons and daughters to grow in their faith in Jesus Christ. Discipleship is not simply about “behavior modification” and getting your kids to be “good kids.” It’s about teaching them about the absolute importance of knowing God and what Jesus Christ has done for them on the cross… and teaching them what that means for their everyday lives.
May the Lord continue to bless you parents who are already doing this with your kids. May He also inspire others of you to begin this work… it’s never too late!