How to Get Your Kids to Own Their Faith

Christian Life & Theology, Motherhood

Yesterday, on a whim, I asked for some input on a new theology curriculum for parents/kids. I just wanted to hear some of the struggles with discipling kids and teaching them about God. I was inundated with replies! I was a bit astonished at the amount – I’ll be typing those up today for reference!
One theme that kept coming through got me thinking and I’m going to talk about it here (but also tomorrow on Instagram more at length). A concern I keep seeing in these questions is, “How can I get my children to own their faith/have an authentic faith?” Even under the questions about explaining God/Trinity/sin/gospel “insert theological topic here” the question was – “How do I not mess this up?”
I think that’s a valid concern. I don’t want to mess my kids up either. But here’s the lie of today’s parenting: You can give your kids a sinless existence.
And you can’t. You cannot give your kids a trauma-less, sinless, perfectly explained and exampled upbringing. You can’t “get them” to own their faith. You can’t exact a formula that turns out authentic believers. You just can’t. And that’s because you’re a human and they live in a fallen world with a free will to choose.

I am convinced that the anxiety millennial parents experience is largely due to their quest to control things they just can’t control. They’re just the flip side of the generation before. The generation prior attempted to control kids into faith through elimination: remove all the bad stuff. This generation tries to control kids into faith (or in the secular world, morality) through curation: give all the good stuff. 
Don’t be like my parents.
Don’t say these words, they are trigger terms.
Don’t correct too much, it will break their spirit.
Don’t give consequences – they’ll become people pleasers.
Don’t let a toxin touch their skin; they could get cancer.
Don’t feed them that! No, let them eat whatever they want; they need autonomy.
Don’t talk about God that way, they’ll think He doesn’t love them.
Don’t talk about sin that way, they’ll think it doesn’t exist.
On and on it goes, a never-ending cycle of defeat and fear, fear and defeat. What if… we opted out?
Did you know we can do that?
Scripture, and the gospel within it, gives us the option of letting the Lord lead our parenting without fear. If you think you’re not a fearful parent, ask yourself why you get so mad when your kids act out. Ask yourself why you feel crippling anxiety about what to say or how to teach or where to lead them. For me, my anger is always linked to an underlying anxiety that if I don’t deal with this behavior exactly right, right now, I’ll have destroyed my child’s foundation for the future. I’m mad because I’m afraid, I feel overwhelmed with figuring out what the best course of action is, and I recently read a pastel meme that told me I’m ruining my kid because I put him in time-out for hitting his sister.
In that moment there is something greater than my fear, and I have to stop to see it. What is more important in that moment is my consistent teaching on the sin that separates and the Savior that saves – a Savior not just for my child, but for me. And from His saving grace, I can teach. I can be consistent and explicit is because that’s what God is.
Today’s parenting peeps will tell you God is all sorts of things, mostly gentle and kind and loving, not so much righteous and holy and all that uncomfortable stuff; and God is indeed gentle and kind or we wouldn’t have the Savior we have. God, the one in the Old Testament, the one that Jesus and the Spirit are with and united to – this God saves us. And that’s the kindest thing I can think of.
But God is also perfectly consistent in His narrative about Himself and us. His love will not lie about our separated state. His love will not leave us damaging ourselves with violence, anger, judgment, legalism, promiscuity and all our petty sins. He consistently condemns sin, not just because God is “mad” and wants to ruin the fun but because He knows what a just world looks like. We don’t. We try, and echoes of His ideas run through the souls of our societies hinting at what could be. But only He knows and only He can make it happen. God is consistent about His anger against sin, and our need to be freed from it, because He is love. His love is always out to protect His own – even from ourselves.
God is also explicit. He operates in specifics on the fundamental things, but He also gives a lot of freedom for walking it out (and His very own Spirit to show us how). The “explicit gospel” is one of my favorite terms because the gospel is nothing if it isn’t specific. It’s quite frankly garbage if Jesus isn’t God and man, if He didn’t die, if He wasn’t resurrected as proof that His sacrifice was effective to atone. The gospel is an all or nothing deal. You take all of it or none of it; it’s useless without all of its parts. These parts include love AND righteousness, sin AND grace, separation AND redemption. We can’t keep the parts that we like or think are best and get rid of the rest.
So when I say I try to be both consistent and explicit with my kids, I’m saying this: I teach the same truths, values, and standards day in and day out, hour after hour, sibling fight after fight, backtalk after backtalk, tantrum after tantrum. And the truths I teach are explicit – they contain all of the necessary parts. The truths are not vague:
Jesus cares about you deeply, and He sent His Spirit to help you do what is right. Let’s pray right now for His help.
God loves you whether you are happy, sad, or mad, and He also expects you to honor others with your actions and feelings.
I see kindness in you. The way you are acting is hurtful to God and people and it’s not consistent with who God made you to be. I’m teaching you how to choose better.
You can’t give your kids a sinless, perfectly explained and exampled upbringing.
But you CAN give them a consistent, explicit theology of God, humanity, sin, and life. It will come out in little pieces as you diligently teach them at the dinner table, in the car, and at bedtime. But it will come out most naturally when you personally prioritize seeking God’s face.
It is much harder for the truth to translate to them if it never landed with you.
The good news? Though it’s harder, the truth still can reach them because God is a great God and He works miracles. But as Coat and I say on our podcastChristian kids are always a miracle, and never an accident. The best gift you can give your kids is a parent who seeks God’s face. Not just knowledge ABOUT God, but God Himself. Doesn’t matter how you do it – whether it’s psalms on audio and praying aloud, or writing prayers out in a journal as you study a passage.
You’ll find as you seek God’s face and listen to His Spirit there is a leading that defeats fear. There is a peace that surpasses understanding. There are words for things that you’re still learning and trying to understand. Jesus said we have the Spirit as our Helper, and He wasn’t playing when He made that promise. The Spirit is your Helper as you raise your kids to know the God who loves them.
What they do with that is between them and God, but as far as it is up to you: Seek God’s face. Diligently prioritize Him. Follow the Spirit. Be consistent and explicit. And trust He will make up the difference.
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