So many souls in recent generations have turned away from God, his Word, his gospel, and his church.1 Many studies have shown that even those who claim to be Christians do not have a strong biblical worldview but support ideas and behaviors contrary to what the Bible clearly teaches.2 A different group of people who believe most of the key teachings of the Bible would confusingly claim to “love Jesus but not the church.”3
Various studies in the past few decades have attempted to discern the beliefs and practices of these younger generations and specifically their reasons for departing from the church.4 Why do our children leave the church? Ken Ham states in his book, Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant,
I believe (and the research in various ways confirmed) one of the biggest reasons so many Millennials are leaving the Church and why the ones who remain are confused is that we haven’t shown them how to defend their faith. We haven’t taught them answers to skeptical questions that cause them to doubt and disbelieve the Scriptures. We haven’t taught them apologetics. We’ve given them some of the “what?” but not nearly enough of the “why?” . . .
We have generations who don’t understand the Bible’s original plot—the beginning. Therefore, they don’t fully understand the subsequent message of Jesus dying on the Cross and being raised from the dead. They also don’t understand why they need to believe in Christ in order to be saved.5
Since God-fearing parents desire that their children walk in the truth of God’s Word and be part of a local church in their adulthood, the least we must do is give our children “answers to skeptical questions” when and even before they ask. Trusting in the power of God and his Word to change lives, parents are to labor and strive “until Christ is formed” in their children (Galatians 4:19; cf. Colossians 1:28–29). Certainly no one is saved simply because they “go to church,” and parents cannot make their children believe. But as parents who want the best for our children, we should help our children love “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Involvement with a local congregation not only demonstrates faith but also encourages our children to grow “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). A genuine love for Christ’s church supernaturally arises from a heart that has been convicted of its own despicable sin and finds its only hope in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Life and Doctrine Affect Our Children
The Apostle Paul instructed his spiritual son Timothy:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV)6
This command confirms the importance of deliberate example and clear instruction especially because other people—most significantly our children—are watching and are affected by our faith and practice (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Timothy 3:10–17). While extended family and friends, including the local church, should also help our children, parents typically supply and are responsible to be the most significant influence upon their children (Ephesians 6:4). In fact, one recent study suggests that parents truly have been successful in passing on their faith to their children, but that this faith is oftentimes shallow, uninformed, disconnected, and inconsequential.7 Having modeled and taught our children such an anemic faith and confusing practice over the years, we shouldn’t be surprised that our children reflect their primary teachers. Instead we should be, do, and say all that we would like our children to be, do, and say as mature adults. To be sure, each individual is responsible to God for his or her own choices and actions, but we want to do all we can to encourage our children toward a robust faith and humble obedience to the Lord.
“Watch Your Life”
The Apostle Paul says to the church in Corinth, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The Lord Jesus stated it similarly in the context of judging others, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). As parents we have the responsibility to train our children toward godliness, so we must first ensure that our own conduct is godly. Our children study us daily and can detect inconsistencies in us. What are they observing in our lives? What would our children say is important in our lives? What evidence do they see of our personal faith and obedience to the Lord? How would they describe our devotion to the Lord? How are we being discernibly different from the world (Matthew 5:13–16; Philippians 2:15)?
We should be men and women of integrity according to God’s standards of thinking and behavior, walking in humility.
We must avoid the dangerous disconnect between our words and our actions, as Jesus faulted the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 23:2–3, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [as authoritatively teaching God’s Word], so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” We should be men and women of integrity according to God’s standards of thinking and behavior, walking in humility. We all sin and are sinned against, so we must show grace to one another. Even when it is necessary to correct our children or others, we should refrain from condemning them, but should approach them in love and concern for their own sake and progress in the Lord. We must judge ourselves first and be honest about our own failures. Let us not claim to be perfect and without the possibility of error, but accept rebukes, confess our sins, and seek forgiveness when appropriate.
Particularly in relation to our involvement with church, we should be careful to devote ourselves to the corporate gatherings, as the Scripture says,
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25).
It is a privilege and a delight to gather with God’s people. Under what circumstances would we consider absence from a church meeting to be appropriate? Do our children’s curricular or extracurricular activities have a higher priority than meeting with the church? When we are away from home on business or pleasure, what priority do we place on gathering with a local church as a guest? Who leads the charge to participate in the church—the mother or the father? How do we talk about people in the church? Are our words filled with grace? In all these ways and more, we are setting an example for our children to follow. Let us take care to ensure that this example is worthy of passing on to the next generation.
“Watch Your Doctrine”
We take daily steps to feed and nourish our physical bodies; how much more then should we feed our souls the living Word of God. We know that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Parents should be careful to read the Bible personally each day and help their children cultivate that habit as well (cf. Psalm 1:2). Studying the Bible together as a family is also a powerful faith-building discipline. Truly, as simple as it seems, reading God’s Word privately and with others can significantly advance our spiritual maturity.
Reading God’s Word privately and with others can significantly advance our spiritual maturity.
Our world is full of ungodly influences battling for our children’s attention and affection through all sorts of media at all times of the day and night. Limiting and sometimes eliminating our children’s exposure to these media may be warranted at times, but we must help our children grow to understand in what ways the worldviews presented are often contrary to God’s Word. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to help our children become experts in various ungodly teachings, for one proven way of discerning error and fraud is having an exceptional understanding of what is true and right.
As parents we should answer our children’s questions and doubts about God and his Word, even expecting and being prepared for these questions and doubts. Teach them that the Bible is true, authoritative, and relevant. Give answers about the age of the earth, evolution, dinosaurs, Noah’s ark, evidence of a global flood, and the cause of death and suffering. Help them understand key biblical doctrines and how to defend them. Help them understand that God is holy, that he wants holy people not merely nice people, and that any sin deserves his condemnation. Teach them who Jesus is and that he has made a way for sinners to be forgiven. Show them how the Bible speaks to the issues we face every day like relationships, marriage, sexuality, economics, happiness, and purpose. If we don’t know how to answer or teach on a topic, acknowledge that we do not know, then we must go and study!
What Else Can We Do?
Our children need godly relationships within their own family and also in the church. The Bible gives this encouragement and warning: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). We should help our children choose friends who are good influences, and especially to befriend older, mature Christians in the church. We should help our children think less of “church” as something we come to but rather what we are a part of. Our children are part of the church of tomorrow, but they are also part of the church of today. What can we do to fellowship with others outside the main church meetings?
We should encourage our children to use their gifts, skills, and passions to serve others, because the body of Christ grows “when each part [of the body] is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). We should become aware of other people’s needs and meet those needs with our children as we are able. For example, we can volunteer to mow widows’ lawns or wash their windows, help families load or unload a moving truck, write a note or color a picture to encourage someone, pray for needs mentioned in the church and see how we could be part of God’s answer—we are all needy people who can help one another.
As parents we want our children to be saved and sanctified. But we remember that it is God alone who saves sinners and that each person is responsible to believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our children may rebel against the truth, but God rescues and redeems those who come to him humbly. We must do our very best with our children, pray for them to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, and leave the results in his hands. We must put our hope in God, not in ourselves, our children, or our churches. Fear not—our Lord promised to build his church, and he has always had a remnant of faithful followers. May Jesus Christ be praised!