Helping your child own their spiritual journey

Mark Gregston (OneNewsNow.com)
Read the latest advice on raising teens from the founder of Heartlight Ministries.

Statistics show that 85% of kids today are leaving the church upon graduation from high school. When I was a teen, I wasn’t brave enough to say: “I don’t wanna to go to church today.” For today’s teen, leaving the church is normal – but not necessarily helpful. Teens today are exposed to more opportunities and options in the kind of church they want to go to. And when they begin to put into practice their developing desire for independence, you might need to be prepared.

Building independence

Every parent wants their child to grow up and become a successful adult; I know these parents. They’re great parents. But as our kids grow up, they begin to exercise more independence. How we respond to them, especially in this area of going to church, will affect their decisions. As we raise our kids, there are different signs and little signals that show us that our goal of helping our children become independent, is working – this is one of them. Even if you don’t like the idea of your child not going to church with you, it’s a good sign. It shows us that they are starting to think on their own instead of just following us.

Helping Your Child Own Their Spiritual JourneyParents, I understand that we’re dealing with an issue that’s very important to you. The real issue is faith in God, not going to church. I so often hear parents say “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” and then in the next breath say to their kids “as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules.” Does this sound familiar? To tell you the truth, it unnerves me a bit. You need to sit back and evaluate your values, beliefs and goals for your child. If what you are telling them is contradictory, then you are going to be making your uphill battle even harder.

The bigger picture

Ultimately, you are helping your child form a belief system – not just a habit of going to church. So, if your child can choose the church that he wants to go to, then you can help him achieve your own goals for your children. Your goals may be for his spiritual training; if he can reach those goals on his own, it may be better to have him go to a different church that meets his interests, while keeping him connected to the church.

Let’s keep the kids involved in something. I may lose the opportunity to sit in church with them, but I may gain something far greater in having them part of something that will help them throughout their life. The bigger issue is their spiritual health.

Responding when your child chooses something else

I would encourage you to pre-meditate your response when your teen tells you that he doesn’t want to go to church. Are you going to allow your child to make choices in his life? Even if you know they won’t make the choice that you want? Just because you like the idea of your family doing things together, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for your teen to desire something different. This is a season of independence you need to embrace in order to hold onto the bigger picture – faith in God.

As a parent, I want to help my child make good choices. If they make choices that you don’t agree with, you may need to reign in the choice they are allowed to make. Allow them the opportunity to make a choice, but provide for their training as well. This way, instead of choosing not to go to church at the age of 13 or 14, you give your child the option to go to one of two or three churches. They keep the ability to make a choice and have control over their lives, and you still help guide them toward faith.

At some point, your teen may reject any choice you give them. But teens send out signals in advance of coming to this point, so you need to pick up on these clues. If they’re falling asleep, writing notes during church services, or are more interested in eating after church than being part of church, you may need to address their actions. If you see these things coming up, pull your teen aside and talk to him about it. The issue could be something other than the church itself. By talking to your child, you can help determine the motivation behind the behavior.

Make sure that your plan gives some opportunity and flexibility that reaches your goals for them. As they get older, if your child chooses not to go to any church at all, keep your relationship with them. Don’t shame them in the process or make sarcastic remarks. These things will show your child that you are disappointed in them; instead, let God work it out and bring them back in His time.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program. It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens. Next time, expert Chap Clark shares what he has seen in the lives of families that are facing this issue. He’ll also share strategies he has found helpful for maintaining that relationship and allowing your teen to define his relationship with Christ. Chap has been with Young Life for years and is now the Vice Provost at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. We will also talk, as always, with a teen who has experienced this issue in his life.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you. All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

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