Raising Kids Who Love Jesus for Life

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Millennials and the church. A Barna study, conducted a few years ago, revealed that 59% of the generation (if raised in the church) has dropped out at some point. People are talking about this sobering statistic, because now in their 20s and 30s, Millennials are choosing whether or not to raise their own kids in the church.

The choice is not just for Millennials. Gen-Xers (like me) have also been wrestling with the decision on how to lead the spiritual-journey of our children. With deep wounds inflicted through years of bad leadership, many Christians born after the Boomers (our parents’ generation) are deciding if the church is important to their family faith and whether or not to follow Jesus at all. In large part, tradition has been replaced with cynicism. Going to church just because it’s what you do isn’t good enough any longer. Twenty, thirty and forty-somethings need a compelling reason to inconvenience themselves on the weekend to drive across town and gather in community.

The myriad reasons “young people” are abandoning the church and faith are understandable. Legalism, abuse of power, lack of accountability and responsibility are not values we want to expose ourselves to, let alone our children. Many feel the church is out of touch with modern society and antiquated in its approach to spiritual growth. Some believe church is irrelevant to the walk of faith. Many have completely abandoned Jesus because the church and its people stopped looking like him a long time ago.

There’s been damage done to Christians (and potential believers) by our own people. We don’t want hypocrisy and control; a religion that continues to look less and less like the divine man it’s supposed to be about. I understand the tension because in my 40 years, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of the Christian life. But as a mom who’s survived the messy journey of faith, I’m determined to raise a new generation of Jesus-followers that proves it can be different.

Millennials may be leaving the Church and rethinking their relationship with Jesus, but our kids don’t have to.

Here’s why. . .

I believe it is possible to raise kids who love and serve Jesus…for life. We don’t have to abandon tradition or community in order to live like Jesus. Our past is messy. Our present might just be a little messier – if we’re willing to admit it. But with our hearts open to learn from mistakes (ours and those of generations before us) and our motivation focused on raising a new generation of healthy disciples, Gen X and Millennials can – with our children – take back the honor, reputation and impact of Christianity.

Here’s how. . .

Model with Authenticity

The idea of modeling is not new in parenting. For years we’ve been told the most powerful way to teach our kids anything is by modeling it for them. But the call to model can often leave parents feeling an immense pressure to do it perfectly. After all, no one wants to model a mess. Or do they?

My parents accepted Jesus right before they got married. They became husband and wife and had children right away. So they walked their own path of discipleship while simultaneously teaching us how to follow Jesus. My mom and dad stumbled a lot in those early days but my siblings and I had the privilege of observing their authentic transformation and because their hearts were changed through honesty and humility, the result was attractive to us.

We wanted what they had – however messy and imperfect it was. And although we all stumbled a bit on our own over the years, we’ve faithfully followed Jesus with a passion we’re passing down to the next generation through our families.

Authenticity will often re-write the script of Christianity we’ve heard for years. This doesn’t mean we abandon truth and tradition but instead, change the way we model it. In doing so, we’re exemplifying a faith that is much more attractive and attainable for the long run.

Seek Balance

“But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27

We live in a world of extremes. Balance isn’t attractive to most because we want to be told what to do or be left alone. We want a clear cut, rigid plan or nothing at all.

The Bible is our plan, though I admit, it isn’t always that clear to the average person. But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to us, we can find a healthy, God-honoring, balanced way to apply it to our lives. When our children live and grow in the midst of this balance – equal parts grace and truth – they feel safe and secure in a relationship with Jesus that brings peace.

Teach Kids They Have a Choice

“Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.” Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

The truth is, faith is a choice. It’s one we make every day of our lives. If we raise our kids to think a relationship with Jesus is a choice they make once, they will walk away at the first sign of struggle. Our children need to understand that our feelings cannot carry us through life, especially when it comes to faith (and love, but that’s a whole other post).

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus and get to know God, we learn about his character. Each time we encounter hardship or questions, we decide if what we know about God is true, no matter how we feel.

Our job as Christian parents is to help our kids see why choosing to believe in the goodness of God (no matter what) will lead to a good life. We have the privilege of guiding their choice until one day, they begin to make the choice on their own. It’s their faith and their choice whether or not to follow Jesus. It never was and never will be ours to make. But if we’ve led them along a path of Bible-based, authentic, balanced truth, why wouldn’t they choose Jesus?

Remember and Reform Traditions

Jess Wolstenholm
Jess Wolstenholm
Jess Wolstenholm is an author, blogger and freelance writer. Co-founder of the popular blog, Grace for Moms, Jess became passionate about developing simple faith tools when she began to navigate the spiritual development of her own young children. She launched Gather & Grow in January 2017. Since the loss of her mom to pancreatic cancer in 2012, she's focused on continuing the legacy of faith started by her wonderfully imperfect parents. Author of The Pregnancy and Baby Companion books, Jess also contributes articles and resources about family and faith to Tommy Nelson, JellyTelly and The Huffington Post. When she isn't writing, you can find Jess teaching kids at her home church or taking notes for the school PTO. She lives outside Nashville, Tennessee with her amazing husband, Dave and their two miracles, Hope (8) and Joshua (5).

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