I spent the first eleven years of my ministry career in Youth Ministry and one of my struggles was trying to help parents understand faith development. It was my experience that too many times if a child’s faith looked different that their parents, the parents were concerned. Or, there was a struggle to understand that who a child was at sixteen will not be who they are at twenty-six. Social scientists now believe that the period of Adolescence has lengthened to the point that many emerging adults remain in adolescence until 26-30 years old. If this is true, then we should not expect our children to have mature faith at eighteen, they are still in middle adolescence. As parents we need to have patience as our children develop.
Now that my own children are starting to age I find myself at times needing to hear my own advice. I so much want for them to be passionate followers of Jesus and yet I fear what that looks like. While I don’t want their faith to look exactly like mine, I wonder if I will be able to accept the faith they develop. Or more importantly, am I willing to trust that God longs for them to have a passionate faith even more than I do and that the Spirit is actively pursuing them and leading them in life.
I recently received some great advice for parents from a good friend Kate who is doing her Doctoral Research on an aspect of Adolescent Faith Development. Here is what she said:
Dear parents: As I continue interviewing emerging adults who were reared in conservative, fundamental homes, I am discovering a few things. If you currently have young children, please remember:
1. Some of you have children who will have a faith that will replicate yours into adulthood.
2. Some of you have children who will have a faith that may look like yours for a season, but will be reshaped as they ponder spiritual questions which simple answers won’t satisfy.
3. Some of you have children whose faith will eventually not resemble yours at all.
To paraphrase one of my interviewees, “If those who have taught me about God will simply trust the God they have taught me about, to work in me, this will all work out.” Spiritual parenting is not like matching Garanimals. Everything does not always look like you want it to look and Lord knows, matchy-matchy was never Christ’s style. Be willing to learn from your kids, after all…they’re smart just like their parents.
None of this means that one should take a passive role in parenting and faith development or have no concern at all over a child’s poor choices. What it does mean is that in faith development we need to put things in perspective and realize that the goal for our children is faith in God. That faith may not look like our own (in fact I hope my children outpace me in faith) but that does not make their faith irrelevant or non-existent just because it is different. The most important thing is that they are in love with Jesus and active followers of God, not that they agree with their parent’s doctrinal beliefs.
It is also important for parents to trust the Spirit’s guiding. If you are like me you spend alot of time praying for the faith of your children. If we are praying for God to guide them, maybe we should trust that he will. If we are praying for God to pursue their hearts and draw them to him, maybe we should believe that he is doing so, even if their faith looks different from our own. As Kate pointed out, faith development is not a cookie cutter process, God doesn’t work that way. But God is working. Maybe we should all put alittle more trust in the God that we are teaching our children about.