I got into a brief conversation with one my classmates the other day. He is a youth minister and was telling me that one of his greatest challenges is dealing with parents who want him to talk to their teens regarding unChristian behavior. The challenge is not so much talking to the teen but to the parent who insists that their child is a Christian and therefore should be exhibiting Christian behavior. In other words, there is denial that the child may not actually be a Christian.
Now as a parent, I certainly understand where this insistence comes from. You have established your home as a Christian home. Christ and his church have taken priority. You want your own commitment to Christ reflective in your household. No doubt, your children have been immersed in church from birth – Sunday school, VBS, Awana. Hopefully you have spent time with them at home training and exposing them to God’s word and to prayer. It seems reasonable then that they should turn out to be Christian. And let’s be honest, there is a level of personal pride to say that we have intact Christian homes.
Well, I have come to learn a different story. Regardless of the fine efforts of the parents, it is not a guarantee that the child will place saving faith in Christ despite all our good efforts. By the time they reach their teen years, it most likely will become evident. And I think the worst thing we can do as parents is to presume a Christian commitment that does not exist. If in fact it does not exist, to expect Christian compliance from a rebel of God is not wise and can have negative consequences for the child’s receptivity of the gospel.
The gospel: this is what the unregenerate teen needs, not conversations with the youth leader so they can line up with Christian standards or berating from mom or dad about how they are not exhibiting Christian behavior. If they are not Christian, how can they be expected to behave like one? Of course that does not mean no standards for behavior are set. Please don’t go there. But it does mean we need to be reasonable in our expectations concerning our children.
If they are not believers, they don’t need discipleship training they need evangelism. They should hear the message of God’s reconciliation with man, his grace, the gift of his Son to atone for the sin that is present with all mankind and redemption. Use teachable moments to talk about their rebellion as a mark of that sin, redemption in Christ and grace. Don’t preach at them. And above all, love them as lost sheep whom God loves. Let your parenting be a ministry of reconciliation not legalism or harsh judgement. Remember that it takes the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to convert them.
It is important to know where are children are spiritually. I have heard countless stories of rebellion from folks who grew up in repressive and legalistic homes because standards were imposed that were incompatible with their spiritual status. It only fueled the rebellion that is germane to an unregenerate nature. Why push our kids away like this? I get that there may be shame involved when there are unbelieving children and the need to look like an intact family. But it does no good to present something publicly that is not a reality behind closed doors. And it lacks integrity.
So be honest. Talk to your kids as much as you can. Some kids can be really closed and guarded. Understand where they are so you can meet them there accordingly.