Raising Kids To Be Christians, Or The Good Disease

Back in October I mentioned I’d like to explore in an unofficial blog series the issue of raising children in the faith – and I’m finally comin’ round to it again. In that post I started backwards with college students, looking at our tendency to surround and overwhelm them with religious activities – because if we don’t structure their time to be with God they’ll fall into sex, drugs, and rap (rock and roll is dead).

So today we’ll venture to the beginning. This is of particular interest to me as I am figuring out how I want to raise my own daughter into the faith. She’s just shy of 5 months old and I have yet to walk her through the sinner’s prayer – mostly because she smiles at me all the time and wouldn’t be able to take it seriously quite yet.

Not many people can contest that Jesus never intended to create a new religion. If anything, he came to break down religious to its very essence – namely, love.

Whatever it is he did create caught on. It couldn’t stay contained – island-hopping and transcending people groups, cultures and dividing lines. Conversions were radical experiences where people met Jesus, in figurative and literal senses, and were transformed. It’s why we say Christianity isn’t a religion but a relationship.

Belief in Jesus was not inspired by apologetic debates or through intellectual convincing. It was a lot more infectious than mere philosophy, because love does not keep to itself. To me, the kingdom of God was to be spread from person to person, much like how a wildfire hops tree to tree. So naturally I’m sure the first Christian parents were a bit puzzled as to how to raise their kids in the faith when traditionally it had been passed around like a good disease. All of a sudden belief was not coming from a experience of God.

Do you see this shift – from Christianity as spreading from the transformations of adults to raising Christian children? From discipleship to parenting? To me it is a huge difference. You can’t pass down a relationship with Jesus.

At this point I’m not even sure how to raise my child in the faith because I can’t standardize an encounter with God, and this is ultimately what the Christian faith is. And in my experience –all the curriculum, programming, videos and story books are not the way to go – as their all lack the power to induce a meeting of God.

We all know how it’s been done (poorly) in the past – but how you do raise a child to have an encounter with grace?

If anything, many people met Jesus when his mercy and forgiveness stood such a stark contrast to the deep and hurtful sin coupled with condemnation and guilt. Obviously, it is not a good thing to try to convey this to a child, though of course many well meaning fundamentalists have convinced their children they are dirty rotten sinners.

What do you think about the shift? How do we navigate it? If you’re a parent, how did you raise your child in the faith?

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13 Responses to Raising Kids To Be Christians, Or The Good Disease

  1. JamesBrett says:

    my daughter is not a lot older than yours — she just turned one. so i’m just now in the beginning stages of really thinking through all this. but as of now (at least) i’m going with deuteronomy 6. you can’t do much better than to (among other things):

    – love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
    – impress these commands on your children. talk about them when you sit at home and when you go places, when you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning.
    – do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight.
    – when your son asks why he have these commands of God to obey, explain to him that (i’m taking some liberties here) we were once slaves to sin, but God rescued us with a mighty hand. and he brought us to him. and we are blessed when we’re obedient to that God who loves us so.

    deuteronomy 6 is an entire chapter about how to bring our children up to know God, love him, and be obedient to him. it’s an incredibly little tiny parenting book.

  2. jay @ bethegospel says:

    My daughter is 5 months old, but we have plans of having many more. My goal with them is to show/prove/live my life in such a way as to give them every reason to believe in Jesus. I’m not gonna push it on them, force them to say a prayer, or tell them about hell before we eat thanksgiving dinner and then cut the head of the turkey off. I’m gonna be praying for their salvation while living the best I can to please Jesus in front of them constantly.

    • what does not push it on them mean? Because to me, taking my kid to a traditional church is simply allowing someone else to push it on her. I see that system as very problematic.

      • jay @ bethegospel says:

        In my mind push it on them is like “Alright all you have to do is say a prayer and all your problems will go away. Come on and do it. It’ll be the best choice you’ve ever made. yada yada yada” That kind of stuff. In my mind a church can only push something on someone as long as the parents are supporting what is being done. If we go somewhere and the church does something that I don’t agree with and I address that with my kids that should help from having a traditional service push something on them. If a parent just stepped aside while something takes place that isn’t right, that is when I think it could harm a child. But what do I know? Honestly. The most sophisticated thing my kid can do is pull her feet to her mouth. We are a long way from seeing what I’ll actually do when she is old enough to pick up on “church stuff.”

      • i think I’m very uncomfortable with how churches bring up children in the faith – which is why I’m so concerned about it being pushed on my daughter. I don’t think I want my daughter going to Sunday school, as crazy as it sounds.

  3. David says:

    Some good thoughts Charlie…

    I guess it all depends on what your idea of Christianity is. It is it a piece of spiritual jewelry with no depth, no sacrifice, and the lines between what everyone else does are blurred, it won’t really matter.

    As a parent are we trying to give our kids more than we had in terms of stuff, ease of life etc?

    As Christian parents do we want them to know and serve God, or just get saved?

    As a father you will form her image of what a loving father is. Your blend of morality, and discipline, your attitude towards the church, your attitude towards worship, your style of worship, she’ll learn it all before she is 5. And she’ll practice it until she is in her early teens. If she is not saved and serving God by then, it is unlikely that she ever will.

    Look at your relationship with Jesus; is that the one you want her to have to model, to emulate? If she acts like you do towards your wife, is that what you are hoping for?

    If your Jesus only feeds the poor, and neglects to clear the temple of unrighteousness, and perform a bunch of miracles in between, is that the Jesus you want her to know?

    You’re the filter Charlie.

    My 33-year-old doesn’t know God because I didn’t think it was important. I wanted him to makeup his own mind.

    My 22-year-old and my 19-year-old both got born again at a Christian school (PK-8th). They both served God on YWAM mission trips. They both left church because we moved and people are well pretty shallow. After 4 years they have both returned now that we have found a church that has great music, friendly folks and regular prophetic ministry and healing miracles.

    My 7-year-old hasn’t said a sinner prayer, but she does love Jesus and listens to her favorite worship CD in her room every day.

    • I’m a bit alarmed that you say if my daughter is saved by early teens then she never will – because it suggests that our religious leanings are all formed in our teenage years and we aren’t open from then on. I’m not disagreeing, I’m simply alarmed – it almost seems that our hearts are open to the transforming power of Jesus after that point.

      • David says:

        Well, that is what the studies I saw said; the next fertile ground for salvation would be if she met a saved man, the death of a close family member that was highly religious, or her own near death situation.

        Real salvation is a serious life decision. We get freaked out when preachers say, “Where would you go if you died tonight? Are you sure?”

        In the proper context, those are good questions.

        Most folks either decide for Jesus because they see it working in others, or they have a crisis in which amazing grace abounds.

  4. Angela says:

    Easy. Pull out your wallet and send them to Bible boot camp.

  5. Chris says:

    Hey Charlie, Hope you’re feeling better soon.

    Maybe when you’re up and around you can take up a response here if you’re so inclined. You said:

    “Belief in Jesus was not inspired by apologetic debates or through intellectual convincing. It was a lot more infectious than mere philosophy, because love does not keep to itself. To me, the kingdom of God was to be spread from person to person, much like how a wildfire hops tree to tree.”

    Sorry, but I might have to disagree here. Consider this from the book of Acts:
    17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

    I know the point of this topic has to do with raising kids “Christianly?” But I’m going to challenge your premise because if you start from the assertion that belief in Jesus was not inspired by arguments or reasoning and you happen to be wrong in that belief then 1) your conclusions that follow might be unfounded and/or unhelpful, and 2) you will have to answer (or deconstruct) why the text in the book of Acts indicates that Paul was apparently successful in attempting to persuade people through reason and what were basically apologetic arguments. I think it’s important to deal with the text from a fair, straightforward reading. I think it’s important because the answer to raising kids into the faith is not a one size fits all answer. And God’s moving in the life of a person is not one size fits all either. My point being that different people respond differently to the Spirits prompting. Some, maybe even most will respond through love, while some others may respond through the mind and the intellect. As I’ve said before and continue to say, we are all strung a little differently and I think God speaks to us all a little differently. If you say that things like reason and logic have no place in faith, then you have to contend with Paul and what he was able to do in Thessalonica and other places. Granted, I think the Holy Spirit was (in the case of Paul) and is (today) involved in the process, but the mind, as well as the heart can be the conduit through which the Spirit speaks.
    In terms of raising kids. I think the best advice (which is cheap) I could give is make sure the things you espouse to your kids matches up with how you live. No amount of preaching or indoctrination will “make” them Christian, but a true example of integrity and of your life matching your words will go a long way towards it. Your children may stray at some point in their lives, but as they were growing they were always watching you, and when they hit those moments of storm in their life and faith, they will have that anchor of your example to bring them back home.

    One quick story I once heard that kind of goes along with what I’ve just mentioned here. Sean McDowell, the son of Josh McDowell the well-known Christian apologist of the 70’s and 80’s (and still today somewhat, I think) told how he reached a point of crisis in his faith where he felt that he could just no longer believe this whole Christian thing. Imagine, the son of a world famous apologist no longer feeling convinced of the truth of Christianity and just doubting the whole thing. Josh’s response was simply to thank his son for having the integrity and honesty to come to him to tell of his true feelings. He then simply asked him one thing, and that was to not abandon his quest for the truth. It took some time but Sean did return to the faith, more convinced than before and without reservation.
    I see a couple of things in this example worth remembering. 1) Josh gave his son the room to question and even to leave the faith without condemnation, rebuttal, or rebuke. 2) Josh was confident in the truth of the Gospel and he knew that if Sean’s search was a sincere one it would eventually bring him back. And 3) Sean new that although he seriously questioned and even doubted the faith that was given to him as a youth, he always knew his dad to be a man of integrity, and after chasing after the wisdom of this world, the pull back to what was real and true was stronger than he ever thought it could be.
    I have two boys, one in college and one a senior in high school. This model I just described is one I try very hard to live by. To live like I speak. I’m certainly not perfect at it. But God has seen fit to bless us with believing children and I’m thankful for that. If at some point they have their season of disbelief, or even if it’s a lifelong skepticism, I will continue to love them as always.

  6. thanks so much for writing that. I was definitely being too broad and you easily pointed out how Paul did use some apologetics with unbelievers – ultimately though these apologetics soften the heart – rarely does doctrine break through a heart/help someone encounter Jesus. Maybe I’m being too broad here.

    I really enjoyed the story, and especially your insights as to how the situation was handled well. Overall a helpful “answer” to my inquiry, thanks!

  7. Pingback: Mountain Dew And Donuts For Communion, Or How Youth Groups Are Terrible For The Church | Charlie's Church of Christ

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