Over the years, I’ve been a part of various Christian groups with men who were slightly older and had already sent their children to college. I discovered a common theme among many of these men in their prayer life — they longed to see their children return to God.
My personal testimony of coming to Christ in my 40s is one of hope and encouragement for many parents with older children who have walked away from their Christian upbringing. While studies show that after the age of 18, the probability of someone accepting Christ goes down dramatically, I believe there is a lot that parents can do to help their kids find solid footing for their faith, that will last when they’re no longer living under your roof.
Is Sunday School Enough?
I know from personal experience that all the Sunday School classes in the world don’t necessarily translate to a rock-solid faith once you leave the hometown bubble. My Sunday School experience was mostly doing crafts. I was raised in a Christian home, but when I went to college, attending church became optional and I quit going. I made attempts here and there to get back into church, but they weren’t great experiences and I continued to fall further from the Lord.
It wasn’t until I became a husband and father that I returned to my Christian roots and truly surrendered my life to Christ. I took my family to church on a regular basis, made sure the kids attended Sunday School and sent them to youth camp every year. The youth ministry at our church was excellent — far superior to anything I experienced growing up. Yet, even with this great introduction to faith, I still wondered if my kids’ spiritual foundation would remain intact when they went off to college.
After I was saved, I encouraged my children to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Even the best youth leaders and pastors are imperfect, and you’ll never find a church that doesn’t have its flaws. For these reasons, it’s most important to establish an intimate relationship with Jesus Who is perfect, and Who will never leave you or forsake you. Youth groups are wonderful, but when it’s time to leave that bubble of Christian friends and leaders, then what?
Can They Spot Biblical Untruths?
Over the years, I talked with my kids frequently about what the Bible says versus what the world says, and we would compare the two. I thought I had done a good job of teaching them biblical values as well as the dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex. Yet, as we approached heading off to college, I realized they were naïve to the subtle attacks that were sure to challenge their values once they left home. Did they know how to recognize and stand up against a world that will go so far as to use Bible verses to justify evil?
My own college experience served up a whole host of ideas and views that weren’t biblically sound. In my sociology class, for example, we were told there is no such thing as human nature. Statements like that sound harmless, unless you’re sharp enough to identify the anti-Christian principles behind it. If there is no human nature, meaning we’re not born good or bad, then we don’t have a need for a Savior.
All of my science classes taught evolution. Once you buy into the theory of evolution, you’re denying the uniqueness of man and how special we are that God created us. In my criminology class, we had to write a paper about John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” specifically focusing on the verse “imagine there’s no hell below us, and above us only sky.” And of course, that verse follows the first, “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.”
The list of subtle attacks on Christianity, both in the education system and in current events, could go on and on. Once that foundation is laid, it’s very easy to twist and attack Christian principles and Christianity as a whole.
Knowing that the world today is more secular than ever, I turned my attention to better equipping my kids to defend and maintain their faith. In the car, we started listening to podcasts and sermons involving apologetics, which made for great discussions around the dinner table. We focused on topics where culture was telling us one thing and the Bible says something clearly different — and how we can handle the difference between the two. We also did a study of the book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, by Greg Koukl, to learn how to question the claims of non-Christians.
Are They Equipped to Defend Biblical Truth?
My son attended a conservative Christian college, but still encountered many instances when culture informed faith, rather than the other way around. He was prepared to defend the Word of God and did so on more than one occasion.
Proving that even a Christian university isn’t immune to deception, my son recognized critical race theory being preached in chapel. Later, when an ad in the student newspaper reported that God was a member of the LGBT community, he didn’t delay in contacting the president of the school. When a professor told them that there was no truth because we live in a post-truth world, he was prepared to stand up to the professor and others regarding biblically based topics.
My daughter had her own share of experiences defending the Word of God while in college. From day one, her biology professor sought to distort students’ personal views of faith and Christianity. For example, he would advise students against seeing a doctor who is a Christian because they “did not understand science,” and were therefore incompetent at their job.
On several occasions, this same professor, who clearly had an anti-Christian agenda based on his criticism toward believers, would ask students to use science to disprove God’s existence. My daughter knew that science actually points to our Creator and was prepared to answer the question accurately. Imagine the unfortunate influence this assignment would have on a student without a foundation rooted in God’s truth?
Socially, my daughter was often challenged to stand up for her convictions. Armed with a solid understanding of why abstinence is a biblical value, she was prepared on several occasions to be firm when fellow students, male and female, propositioned her for sex. Explaining that she was a Christian, she often heard in response, “I’m a Christian, too,” for which her reply was, “What does being a Christian mean to you?” That one simple question often led the person to reflect on their faith.
Watching my kids stand up for their biblically based convictions is one of the most rewarding outcomes of parenting I could have imagined. They’re not perfect and they’ll continue to be challenged throughout their lives, as we all are, but they’re on the right track. The more rooted they are in truth, the more prepared they’ll be to be strong in the face of a culture that doesn’t love God.
Parents, if you’re on a mission to help your kids stand firm in their faith when they leave the nest, start with these basic strategies:
- Encourage your kids to develop a personal relationship with Christ that extends beyond Sunday morning youth group.
- Start having family discussions about apologetics.
- Have conversations with them about things happening in our culture today that contradict the Bible.
- Let your children see you stand up for your faith, so that they know that they can as well.
- Stop acting in unchristian ways during the week while attending church on the weekend. Your actions speak louder than your words.
- Repent and be transparent with your kids when they see you mess up. Don’t talk to them about mistakes you made in college, as they will think they have time to correct their behavior later like you did. We sin enough every day for them to see us fail and receive God’s forgiveness.
Most importantly, give yourself a lot of grace as you endeavor to raise Christ-fearing kids who become Christ-fearing adults. The most important thing you can do is cover them in prayer and ask God to minister to them in a very personal way.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” — Proverbs 22:6
Peter Demos is the president and CEO of Demos’ Brands and Demos Family Kitchen. A Christian business leader from Tennessee, Demos uses his biblical perspective and insight gained from his own struggles to lead others to truth and authenticity in a broken world. Demos is the author of On the Duty of Christian Civil Disobedience and Afraid to Trust. To learn more, visit peterdemos.org.