As a church consultant, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing around 100,000 Christians one on one. Many of them have been parents of adult children. I would guess that more than half of the parents have adult children who are no longer practicing Christians. That has troubled me, on the one hand, and made me thankful that our own two adult children married committed Christians, are active in their churches, and are very open about their faith as they raise our grandchildren. Thank You, Lord!
Being a trained diagnostician, I’ve asked many of these parents how they raised their kids in the Christian faith. The most common answers pointed to Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, youth group, and—depending on their denominational background—what kind of training they received to “join the church,” usually “classes” they completed. Honestly? Most of these parents utilized the ministries of the church well!
Then I started to go deeper, asking some sensitive questions. “Did you ever talk with your kids about your personal faith—the good, but also the bad and the ugly parts of church life, among real, honest human beings?” I would add, “Did you ever talk about the benefits of faith to you personally, along with your challenges and how God has helped you through tough stuff?” That’s when I began to see a pattern. And I believe this is huge!
I also interviewed hundreds of parents whose adult kids are very active, clearly “get it,” and are on fire with a personal, spiritual, and relational connection with the living Christ.
Guess what? The larger group of parents—who deeply mourn their adult kids’ drift from active faith—approached raising kids as “the church’s job.” Those with children who demonstrated sustainable faith, living faith, also took advantage of church ministries such as Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and youth group, but they also had the home environment in which, as parents, they imitated living faith to their kids!
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he opens, saying, “Every time we think of you, we thank God for you” (verse 2). He continues by saying, “When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions” (verses 4-5).
Now comes the important point. Paul says, “You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you and determined to live that way yourselves. Imitating us, you imitated the Master … you’re the message” (verses 5, 6, 10).
Discipling isn’t institutional, and it isn’t just preaching or teaching alone. Discipling is allowing someone, even your kids, into your inner being, your joys, triumphs, fears, insecurities, and all God has done in the messy business of bringing you to Christ. Faith is as important as modeling how a little kid learns to brush their teeth, except that faith has eternal, multigenerational consequences! A good part of discipling is mimicking, with transparency, what the life of Christ is really all about.