I had an amazing childhood with loving parents, was raised in church, and attended a Christian school. The road to Christianity was clearly paved by the example of both my mom and dad. Yet at the age of twenty, I began to question whether my faith in God was real. Statistics suggest that the vast majority of children raised in Christian homes will turn their backs on Christianity by the time they are twenty-five. The shocking results of Ken Ham’s research suggest that many of our teens, while outwardly attending church with their parents, have “already gone” in their hearts.1
Today at age thirty-four, I look back in amazement at God’s grace in my life, knowing that I considered walking away and becoming one of these statistics. I know that to most I am young, but I have lived long enough to know that any time a child turns out “right” it is because of God’s grace.
I often hear parents of prodigals ask themselves, “Would our children have made different decisions if we had done a few things differently in our home?” “Would our hearts still be broken because our children turned away, or under different circumstances would they never have left in the first place?” “Are these results all my fault?”
Church Kids or God’s Kids?
I have had literally hundreds of talks with “prodigal” children, and every time my heart breaks for them and the parents who wanted them to experience the protection, wisdom, and joy that a relationship with Christ offers. Truth is, even our heavenly Father, God, had “children” who rebelled despite the fact that He wanted nothing but the best for His chosen people (Isaiah 1:2).
I think any analysis of this topic should start by acknowledging that God’s grace is secure. No one ever really leaves the faith. Life just has a way of testing our children to see if they have ever truly believed in the first place. You see, many who were once the “kids in church” have turned their back on the faith of their fathers—and that seems to be the problem. It was only the faith of their fathers!
The statistics are sobering. Two-thirds of young adults who at one time attended church and called themselves Christians have turned their backs on church and the Christian faith, and some now even question the existence of God. How did children go from “kids in church” to practical atheists? And more importantly, what can parents do today to stop this tragedy from being repeated?
The Parents’ Responsibility
We know that salvation is ultimately in God’s hands, but that does not negate the parents’ responsibility in passing down a biblical worldview to the next generation. Hey, if I could have become one of those sad statistics despite an amazing childhood with two God-fearing and loving Christian parents, anyone can. That is why I have devoted my life to helping people get to know the God of the Bible and learn how to defend their faith in Him. I want people to know not just where dinosaurs came from, or the truth about the age of the earth, I want them to understand why Christianity is true and how all truth and knowledge begins with God.
But who is ultimately responsible?
A pastor friend of mine who oversees three Christian schools said to me, “Don’t give the education of your children over to the church or to the school. It is your job. It is your responsibility.” That advice is so pertinent. We who are parents will be accountable to the Creator of the universe for the upbringing of our children. What a terrifying yet awesome responsibility Christian parents have!
While parents should know it is their job to train the children, the statistics show that they simply don’t seem to be doing the job.
Don’t think that I don’t understand. As a leader of a ministry, a husband, and a father of three, I really do understand the struggle of balancing responsibilities: deadlines versus date nights; studying versus chilling out; and engaging with my children’s spiritual needs versus handing that off to the church and Christian school. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are commanded in Ephesians to bring up our children in “the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This requires a lot more than just sending them to Sunday school. It means more than just giving them a Bible of their own.
Training children takes a lot of effort. Here’s what you need to remember: someone will train our children, but in the end we are the ones God will hold responsible for that training.
Start with the Foundation
As I read books on pastoring and attend leadership conferences, I am frightened by a shocking trend. Leaders are being encouraged to stop using the phrase “the Bible says” because the Word of God in its entirety brings up unanswered questions and scares people away.
Leadership experts assert that we can’t present our children and our generation with an “all or nothing” proposition because the Bible’s ultimate authority is almost impossible to defend. What?! Impossible to defend the Bible?
This is the real problem! We have abandoned the Bible’s authority in our churches and now in the home.
Show How the Bible Is All or Nothing
With God’s Word, it is all or nothing. Either we fully embrace it in its entirety, or it becomes powerless. The gospel and the rest of Scripture are all one seamless fabric. Either God’s Word is true, or it is not. Either we can trust the historical claims of Scripture, or we can’t. You have to understand that God’s plan of redemption starts with the miraculous creation of a perfect world that was marred by Adam’s sin, and it ends with the promise of a new, sinless world obtained by the miraculous saving work of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. Try to pull a thread out and the whole thing unravels.
Could this be why we aren’t obeying the clear commands of Deuteronomy 11:19 and Ephesians 6:4 to train and nurture our children in God’s Word? Is it because God’s Word is not the ultimate authority in our own lives? Do we truly believe the Bible ourselves?
As parents, we have to be able to answer our kids’ “why” questions with more than “because I said so.” We need to provide a safe haven for them to express their doubts and concerns about Scripture and their own faith before they leave home. Former church kids are asking me real questions that need real answers, answers that were not provided from parents or the church. For example, the typical reply I hear from Christians to the question “How do you know God exists?” is: “You just have to have faith.” The problem with this answer is that it describes a blind faith—an ignorant faith—one with no basis or merit. Faith in our Creator and our Savior is not blind. There is a reason for our faith, and every believer should be equipped to give it (1 Peter 3:15).
Always Point Them Back to God
Case in point, why do we tell our children that adultery is wrong? Is it because God made a rule that adultery is wrong? Is it because adultery breaks up marriages and destroys families? While these are true, they do not expose the foundational issue. The unfaithful act of adultery is wrong because the God of the Bible is perfectly faithful, and we were created to bear His image!
Why do we teach our children that stealing is wrong? Is it just one of the rules that God made up, or is it because God himself is not a thief? Why is lying wrong? Because God said so or because God is not a liar? This may sound trivial, but it is critical if we want to understand the God of Scripture.
The God of Scripture declares that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:25 the Scripture declares that people embrace the truth only after repentance. So the reason many children grow up questioning truth is that they don’t have a relationship with the God of truth. Let me ask you, are you promoting a relationship with the God of truth or are you guilty of just using God to keep the kids in line?
When we present a list of rules without a relationship, we will never encourage a true relationship with Christ. I know Paul says in Romans that we would not know sin but by the law, but we also know that the whole law can be summarized by two simple commandments—love God and love others. Relationships!
Our journey should be all about our relationship with Jesus Christ based on the truth revealed in Scripture. This is what discipleship is all about—passing on the teachings of Christ, through intentional relationships.
Commit for the Long Haul
The Bible tells us that we are to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Training implies lots of work, patience, time, and commitment. To be effective trainers, we must be well trained. We must keep learning and improving. And in this generation we must know and understand apologetics inside and out. Whether reading about creation apologetics and apologetics in general, attending conferences, reading blogs, or even interacting with people on Facebook, ultimately we need to be studying and applying God’s Word to our own lives and to the lives of our children.
Our goal should be to see the love of God so deeply imparted into their hearts that their relationship with God is much more than just external obedience. We want our children to learn to love the Lord Jesus Christ because it flows out of a trust that His way is the best way.
I am a young parent and I don’t have it all figured out, but I do know from God’s Word that teaching our children takes daily application. It takes time! We can wish there were a magic wand or a magic formula, but there isn’t. It’s all about a relationship, and relationships take work. At the end of the day, if our children turn out to love God, what a reward!
Live the Answers
If you want to communicate the Bible’s absolute authority and infinite value, the best thing you can do is to make it a way of life in your home. Here’s some practical advice I learned growing up in my home.
My dad’s enthusiasm showed that he really loved Scripture. I remember learning Bible verses and Bible history in the most fun and engaging ways. Dad was amazing at making the Bible come to life. I can’t tell you how many times my brother, sister, and I would act out the Good Samaritan as we learned about loving others. Everyone wanted to be John the Baptist so that we could baptize.
I loved hearing my dad explain a book like Proverbs. It seemed like no matter what the situation, a proverb applied. He knew and loved his Bible.
My parents applied our devotions to the current day’s activities, and they were always willing to ditch their personal agendas to take advantage of the moment.
Going out with Dad to share the gospel was lots of fun. We would tell people about God and ask them if they knew where they were going to spend eternity. He cared.
In the end, what impacted me the most is that my family wanted to live like Christ. I think the most practical advice we can follow is this: Live an example of Christ.
has spent his life in creation ministry. He is the president of Creation Today and has a worldwide media outreach. Eric has been speaking on Creation for the past 14 years and lives in Pensacola, Florida, with his wife Tanya and three children.