Our children and teens are pulled in many different directions. They have school responsibilities, extracurricular activities, social events—the list could go on and on. With so many different influences and so many things vying for their attention, it is easy for our students to lose focus of their spiritual growth and development.
According to Barna Research, “nearly 3 out of every 5 young Christians disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” This statistic is startling, and it is alarming to think about our youth inching away from their faith. In an attempt to address this issue, I came across some practices that give me hope.
Integrating the Faith
I’ve discovered that in order to meet our children and teens where they are, the idea of discipleship has to be redefined. Now more than ever, it is crucial to be intentional and help our students move from a faith that is only experienced at church to a faith that is all-encompassing. We live in a compartmentalized world where home, work, school, and its activities do not intertwine with church and faith.
Kara Powell, Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute, best describes this by comparing a TV dinner to a pot pie. TV dinners are neatly compartmentalized, with their contents conveniently separated from each other. It would be easy to remove the food we don’t like. In the same sense, it is easy to remove faith from certain areas of our life. A pot pie, on the other hand, is a mixture of foods, making it difficult to remove any one component. Our students need to see how God’s hand is at work in all areas of their lives, not just at church.
In the home
One of the most powerful ways to address this compartmentalized way of living is by discipling parents alongside our students. Generally speaking, children’s spiritual formation has been outsourced to the church, with the church being the sole provider of spiritual nourishment. We need to encourage parents to create a culture at home that emphasizes the importance of loving Jesus and living out their faith. My goal is to equip parents to light their homes with the light of Christ, to share their faith story with their children, and to support parents as they help guide their children through their spiritual journey.
In the Community
Intentional discipleship begins at home but doesn’t end there. We are called to live in community for the sake of the world. Our students need examples of faith being lived out, and they need the comfort of knowing that they are cared for and loved by their community of faith.
Several years ago, the Stock Ministry was created as a means to connect the older generation of believers with our teens and children. Stockholders are adults who agree to invest in the life of a specific student. They commit to pray daily for their student, write letters of encouragement, and support their activities. In turn, the students send letters and cards to their Stockholder. It is amazing to experience the connection that is formed and to hear stories of how God uses people in our own church community to build each other up.
Milestones of Faith
In my life, I have seen the benefit of fellow believers recognizing the importance of children and teens in the life of the church. One of the most powerful examples of this came from my time serving at First Baptist Richmond. There, Pastor John Lockhart implemented a time to recognize important milestones during a child’s life.
When a student turns 13, they are given the Book of Proverbs and they are asked to seek God’s wisdom and allow that wisdom to guide them through their teen years. On their 16th birthday, students are given a key chain to remind them to be safe while driving and make good decisions behind the wheel of a vehicle. When they celebrate their 18th birthday, students are given a voter’s registration card and are reminded that they have a role to play in God’s world.
These milestone recognitions allow the church body as a whole to affirm their love and support for the youth in a very tangible way. Students are reassured that their church is celebrating these important times in their lives and making an intentional effort to live these milestones alongside them.
Pouring into Others
As a parent of a pre-teen and a teenager, the idea of intentional discipleship is near and dear to my heart. It is of great importance to me to create opportunities for my own children to deepen their faith. Our congregation was able to send a mission team to Guatemala this past summer, and my family and I were fortunate enough to experience this trip together. When families server alongside each other, children are able to see their parents’ faith in action, thereby strengthening their own faith.
In order to help our children deepen their connections with leaders of the faith, my wife and I have created a rite of passage so to speak when our children turn 13. When our children turn 13, we send our children to spend a few days with trusted adults who are not only close friends but also people who live out their faith daily. The spiritual leaders pour into our children and share their faith story with them. What an incredible gift it is to my wife and me to know that these people of faith are joining us in discipling our children, helping their “roots grow down deep so that their faith will grow strong in the truth they were taught” —rom Colossians 2:7.
The goal of intentional discipleship can be summed up with this: "So, here’s what I want you to do with God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering" (Rom 12:1, the Message).
Together with our church community and the parents of our students, we can equip our students to make faith an integral part of their life, a part that overflows into all other aspects of their lives.