What Can a Parent Do to Energize Faith?
Spiritual Disciplines and Teens
I’ve always been intrigued by the advice Paul gave to his protégé Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness,” (1 Timothy 4:7 NASB). Another Bible version states the advice this way, “Train yourself to be godly” (NIV). Teaching our teenagers spiritual disciplines, and in a sense training them to honor God, is something that can be done if we are proactive about it. It was Henri Nouwen who once said, “A spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is the other side of discipleship.”(1) Somehow the fine line between training and discipline is teaching our teenagers to love God out of a response for what He has done for them and not just because they feel some sense of family responsibility.
Some time ago I was speaking at a Christian school on prayer and devotional life. I challenged the students to spend 5 to 10 minutes a day with God for the next 50 days. I even offered to take out to lunch anyone would complete my “50 Day Challenge.” Oh my goodness, the students took me up on the challenge. The “50 Day Challenge” cost me $750 because of all the kids who followed through. At lunch, I asked them how the challenge to be in God’s Word daily affected them. Interestingly enough, 50 days was long enough to become a habit and not one kid told me it was not worth their while.
Help Make Faith an Adventure
Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life was fond of saying, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.” As a family, it’s important to periodically provide experiences that remind our kids that faith is an adventure. What we don’t want is for kids to see faith as old-fashioned, dry or boring. Teenagers need to know that faith is relevant and practical and sometimes even a bit dangerous. When my two oldest daughters became teenagers, I took them to Mexico to do mission work. We worked hard building a church. The dirt and sweat and calluses on our hands were not what I or they were used to. I kept wondering if they were having an okay time. It was hot and dirty and smelly. Years later one of the daughters became a missionary for a year to South America and the other one teaches in the inner city. Both point back to the “Mexico mission experience” as part of their faith journey to move them toward helping those less fortunate than us.
Every family can find ways to have faith adventures and every family can serve the poor and oppressed. I am always amazed how well teenagers do when they are challenged to move beyond their comfort levels and make a difference in the life of others. Even the most self-centered teenagers are inclined to move beyond and perhaps be open to having their heart break with what breaks the heart of God. When this happens, growth occurs.
Engage in Family Faith Conversations
One of the difficult findings about teens and faith in recent years is that a majority of teens who graduate from high school do not attend church the following year. There are several reasons for this, and youth ministry experts are still researching for ways to reverse this downhill trend. However, what the research is beginning to show is that kids who grow up with healthy faith conversations at home, are much more likely to stay in church after the teen years, practice their faith and marry someone with similar faith values. Faith conversations are simply talking about faith in a helpful, positive, interactive manner on a regular basis. As parents, we always want to be looking for those “teachable moments” and “spontaneous interactions.”
Many families today are introducing a weekly “Family Time” to their schedule. For the Burns family, our family time consisted of about 20 minutes of faith conversation, prayer laced with chocolate or other treats. Who says you can’t eat fun food and do a little laughing together when you are having faith conversations? Our motto was K.I.S.S. (Keep it short and simple). I must admit that there were times when the kids wanted to miss a family time or thought they were boring. We used short Bible studies borrowed from youth ministry, YouTube inspirational videos or developed discussion starters from hot topics. Our kids liked discussion starters best. Here is one we used that is now a part of my book Faith Conversations for Families. I adapted it right out of the Denver Post newspaper.
As far as Regina Hammond is concerned, luck has little to do with it. The 37-year old flight attendant won $100,000 in a Colorado Lottery game on top of the $50,000 she won the previous year the same way. And she’s not finished yet. Her goal is the multi-million grand prize. Hammond believes that prayer has paved her way to riches. “I pray to God to help me and He answers,” she says. (2)
Our family had three choices and they voted: Yes, God answered her prayer. No, God did not answer her prayer. Undecided. I’m just not sure. All of the family voted they weren’t sure. We then talked about the fact that sometimes God says yes to our prayers, sometimes no, sometimes wait. We looked at what the Bible says about prayer. We talked about the lottery. It was a very stimulating conversation and my kids barely knew that in the process we were learning about prayer. A short regular family time can create those kinds of meaningful conversations.
Another experience that is important to many families in passing along faith is celebrating rites of passages for your children. I call it the “Pass it On” experience. This consists of celebrating important milestones in life with intentionality. How about celebrating getting a driver’s license or sexual purity or even in 12th grade having a womanhood or manhood ceremony. In my book, Pass it On: Building a Legacy of Faith for Your Children through Practical and Memorable experiences (3), co-author Jeremy Lee and I encourage families to create a topic, have an informal ceremony, give your child a symbol, even bring significant others around the student to celebrate whatever the rite of passage is you are focusing on.
Our family celebrates birthdays in a big way. One of the experiences we do is to have a nice meal and at the end, each family member speaks directly to the birthday person and offers them three words of affirmation about that person. It’s a part of the family tradition as we celebrate another milestone in their life.
No matter how you bring faith conversations into your family, know that you are helping place a healthy spirituality into your kid’s lives by the most important influences in their spiritual life.
Provide Exposure to Other Role Models of Faith
You don’t have to carry all of the weight of role modeling faith on your own shoulders. Yes, you are your teenager’s primary faith influencer, but others can play a positive and impactful role as well. Make sure you provide your teenagers with plenty of opportunities to rub shoulders with other Christ-followers who you know provide rich examples of integrity, authenticity, and faith. Surrounding them with these great people, friends, and mentors sends a clear message that people of faith aren’t only found in your home or within the walls of your church. By “teaming up” your influence as a parent with other trusted role models, you are setting the table for a lasting legacy of faith that will serve your teenager through his or her lifetime.