Ouch! These are painful words. They’re some of the most painful words I’ve heard parents say. It is usually at the end of the story about how their teenage son or daughter walked away from the faith. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes anger when this is expressed to me. There is always a look of shock that accompanies the statement. Sometimes parents will say, “I wish I saw that coming.”
The situation usually surrounds the brutal fact that we don’t teach our children the “whys” of our faith. We tell them Bible stories, biblical values, and model a good Christian life only to find out it isn’t enough to keep them walking with the Lord. In short, we have taught them “what” is believed to be true, but not why it is true. We have never pondered the idea of evidence or reasons to believe. We’ve never shown how faith is a reasonable choice. At worst, we said things like, “It’s in the Bible,” as if that would be enough to secure them in their faith. What we haven’t done is supported our assertions with good reasons.
Now the question is for those who still have their children within the sound of their voice and grasp of their hand: “What must I do to prepare myself and my children for the challenges both of us will face?” Lately, I seem to draw on my military experience for illustrations and rightly so: this is a fight, too. One thing the military is good at is training. When the military knows what obstacles or situations you will face, they step up their training. Usually, that includes some physical conditioning. Sometimes it is psychological training. In effect, the military wants you prepared for every situation you will face. For me as a crash rescue man, I had to learn vehicles, tools, tactics, hydraulics (Yes! Hydraulics!) rates of explosive ordinance, and much more. When I received orders to Binh Thuy Airbase, South Vietnam, I had to undergo some other training. Quite a bit of it was psychological. In all, the Air Force wanted me prepared so I wouldn’t be saying, “Didn’t see that coming!”
So, how do you prepare to be ready for this challenge? Fortunately, there is a growing amount of resources for parenting children in the 21st Century. Three aspects of this preparation are necessary. For the Christian parent, the task is to learn the material that will help you teach your children why they believe Christianity is true. Don’t depend on your church to do this. If your kids attend a Christian school, don’t rely on them to do this, either. Teaching your children is your responsibility. Think of it as homeschooling your children in their faith. Many parents have a family devotion time. If you don’t, you must. Use this time as “school-time” to teach your children the reasons why you believe Christianity is true.
The second part is for the Christian parent the challenge is learning how to dialogue and convey the answers to the many questions their children will have. Okay, so you have a toddler who jabbers and having a meaningful conversation doesn’t have much of a chance at this stage. I know, I hear it all the time: “I don’t think my child can grasp complex issues.” Here’s another way to think of this – when do you think retired New York Yankee Derek Jeter began playing baseball? Would you say it was when he was five years old? Ten? A teenager? I’ll bet his father was rolling a ball to him when he was a toddler. Young Derek may have picked it up and tried eating it, but he knew what the ball felt like, smelled like, and how much it weighed. That ball would have begun to imprint on his young brain. His ability would have grown accordingly. It would have been crazy to put him in a batting cage when he was a toddler.
So it is with presenting evidence with children. I would bet one of the first issues a parent has to deal with is their darling child lying to them. What? What parent hasn’t had to deal with this? Here’s a tip – this is a good situation to begin to explain the difference between truth and falsity. We know lying is wrong, but why is it wrong? Why do we value the truth? The point here is, once you learn the basics of why it is we believe Christianity is true, we begin to teach our children the same.
The last part of this is providing that space for your children to learn. If we see this as a mandate, a responsibility, we make the time to teach our children not only the “what” of the Christian faith, but the “why” it is true.
Our kids will face all kinds of opposition to the Christian faith. The internet provides hundreds of videos designed to deconstruct their faith (and ours). How do you keep your children from that? How do you keep your kids from other children that have learned all religions are like fairy-tales. The point is, we want to equip our children so that none of these challenges come as surprises. We want to prepare them so that none of these challenges catch them unprepared, and we never have to say, “Didn’t see that coming.”
Here are some resources: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Build a Lasting Faith.
Also: download a mp3 from our website by Natasha Crain (two available).
–Dr. Ray Ciervo
Ray Ciervo has been in Christian Ministry for over 42 years. He is primarily a minister of the Gospel with a strong emphasis on apologetics. He helps believers strengthen their faith and become more confident in explaining it, by understanding not only what they believe, but why they believe it, so that they become better witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus.