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Parents, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

(Lisa Robinson)

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.

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29 Responses to “Parents, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?”

  1. “If they are not believers, they don’t need discipleship training they need evangelism.”

    Brilliant!!

    I think the sticky part, however, is that parents are in a position of authority … and discipleship (life discipleship) … so it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to set aside christian discipleship while parenting.

    With that said, however, in regards to the child’s faith or lack thereof, parents would do well to attack the problem from more of an evangelistic angle rather than discipleship, legalistic approach.

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.

  2. Amen, Lisa!

    When my first-born was young my understanding was that is she ‘asked Jesus into her heart’ she was IN. She did ‘pray that prayer’ when she was three years old. I have come to a fuller understanding since then and realize that it is really not possible for a parent to know the spiritual status of their child for certain…especially while they are young. Therefore it is a mistake to say things to our children which assume that they are saved….such as, “God has forgiven you”, “you don’t have to fear death because you will go to heaven” etc..

    As I was just saying on Paul Copan’s thread, “At some point a person must understand their need….need for forgiveness and cleansing. It is the Spirit who brings the conviction of sin. Until then a person cannot respond to the gospel in repentance and saving faith.”

    I once asked author, Jerry Bridges, what advise he had for parents. He said, “Kids who grow up in the church tend to grow up being little Pharisees. Help them to see that they are sinners….”

  3. “Kids who grow up in the church tend to grow up being little Pharisees. Help them to see that they are sinners….”

    Amen to that. One of the hardest things I’ve had to say is that no, you are not good and that is why you need a savior.

    And I meant to include a line in there about the sinner’s prayer but forgot about it when I was writing this out. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. “Kids who grow up in the church tend to grow up being little Pharisees. Help them to see that they are sinners….”

    I like that!

  5. I sometimes think it is a matter or overkill, so to speak. We so often make out the rest of the world as bad and only Christians as good. My daughter was also raised in a home where we were dedicated to being Christian, yet when she saw that Christians in the church were often worse in their behavior than the secular world she began to question whether it was the real thing or not. To this day, although she is a believer, she has never set foot in a church since our church condemned me for divorcing an abusive alcoholic.

    We have to be so careful that we don’t make it such an either and or thing that we don’t turn them against unbelievers, but make them want to give folks what we have in Christ.

  6. “We have to be so careful that we don’t make it such an either and or thing that we don’t turn them against unbelievers,”

    Mike O said the same thing. It wasn’t my intention to make it an either/or but a recognition of where kids are spiritually so maybe I miscommunicated something. Also, I don’t really understand the second part of this statement in relation to what I wrote. Why would taking an honest assessment about the spiritual status of our kids turn them against unbelievers? This is an admonishment to parents to not insist that the kids are Christians when they may not be.

  7. Lisa,

    I think that often times we assume that our children think they are Christians because they have been raised in a Christian home and go to church, as you have pointed out, so they think that somehow divides them from unbelievers in that feel smug. And certainly non-believers influence them more than we know, so they may appear quite different before their peers as they do to us. So that works both ways I think.

  8. I meant in that they feel smug.

  9. Why is it that we assume that if our home is “Christian” and that we go to church, read the Bible, pray, and expose our children to theologically “light” kids programming that they have taken on a Christian worldview? Even in preaching the “gospel” we say people must realize that they are sinners, but do we even define what a sinner is? To say that it is rebellion against God, presumes a faith in God as a good and just being. This quite possibly places too much presumption upon the hearer, whereas they must accept unspoken belief system before even considering what is said. It would seem that we expect God to change them, minds, heart and soul because we want him to. All discipleship is a reorientation of ones mind from self to Christ. When the mind changes the path of the individual follows. This story reveals more about the lack of discipleship in the parents life than that of the teen.

  10. @Paul, what you’re describing is an American Christian phenomenon. I think you last sentence may be right, but it’s a byproduct of American culture. Like Lisa said – the issue isn’t “discipleship of our children” it’s a lack of “evangelism” of our children. Which is a discipleship issue for the parents. But it’s one that is just now coming to light.

  11. As with most things, I think it’s important to maintain a bit of perspective on the issue of our kids’ behavior. We ALL exhibit un-Christian behavior at times, so while I agree that we need to be careful about assuming our kids have fully grasped the Gospel just because we’ve raised them in that environment, we also shouldn’t worry that they’ve missed the boat just because they act up now and then…or even a lot!

    Sanctification is a process. Our kids are going through it while they’re also trying to figure out how to be PEOPLE. They are also individuals who will one day make their own decisions about life. It’s important for us as parents to provide them with guidance and all the information they need to make wise decisions on their own.

    Our part in the equation is to trust that the work that God began in them will continue until it is completed just as it continues in us.

  12. Discipleship isn’t about moral-ism, it is about the re-orientation of someones thought patterns from self to Christ. Jesus did not call his flowers to evangelize the people of the world but to disciple them. Jesus simply said follow me to his “disciples” then he began to teach them how to think. Why is it that we see it as we need to get people saved first before we start the discipleship process. I’d say it is a lack of understanding on what discipleship is. Equating discipleship to a 10 week course on Christian theology after someone is “saved” is not only contrary to the model for discipleship that Jesus (and the early church leaders) displayed, but has to be one of the primary causes most Christians are still heavily persuaded by the culture. For they have not been shown to think differently than the world. Saved = Declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. However to get someone to that point takes a lot of reworking of thoughts. A lot of belief about who and what God is and who and what we are as his creation (which is another belief). To preach heaven and hell and then give someone the saved equation lacks genuine worldview conversion. People in the bible believed in God or a set of gods and it was through the circumstances or the preaching that Jesus was shown to be God. So, for those recipients the worldview conversion was pretty strait forward. Today it is not so simple. But then again Jesus simply said follow me. Could we not do the same and then disciple them? In the process they will either put their faith in what we show them or turn their backs on it and do their own thing, for even Judas left Jesus.

  13. Paul, “Discipleship isn’t about moral-ism, it is about the re-orientation of someones thought patterns from self to Christ. Jesus did not call his flowers to evangelize the people of the world but to disciple them.”

    I agree that God desires for us to reorient from selfish ways to Christ-centerdness. The Spirit does this work within us with our cooperation. I question, however, your use/definitions of the terms ‘discipleship’ and ‘evangelism’. The noun, ‘disciple’, is a biblical term. I think that the modern day invention of the verb: “to disciple/discipling”…and the corresponding addition: “discipleship” have brought some confusion.

    In scripture, every true convert (person who responded to the gospel with saving faith (belief and repentance), was immediately referred to as a ‘disciple’. Thus, every true convert is a disciple by definition.

    Jesus’ command to “make disciples” was a command to evangelize…to verbally proclaim the ‘evangel’ (gospel). Jesus also said, in the great commission, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded”. We are to teach converts/disciples what Jesus has commanded and that we are to obey.

    You said, “Why is it that we see it as we need to get people saved first before we start the discipleship process?”

    Answer: because a person who is not saved (converted due to reception of the gospel with correct belief of Christ and repentance) cannot be ‘discipled’ because they do not even have the Holy Spirit within them. They are spiritually dead. They have a ‘heart of stone’ rather than a ‘heart of flesh’. Such an unconverted person is not capable of responding to spiritual truth, nor are they capable of living in obedience to Christ’s commands.

    It was a little different to have the Lord Jesus himself calling on the disciples to follow him! Even there you will note that one who followed was not truly His–not a child of God (Judas). Making disciples is more than just saying…

  14. cont. Making disciples is more than just saying “follow me” or “follow Jesus”. In order for someone to be saved they need to have specific, correct understanding of who Jesus is, what his death on the cross accomplished and why they need to respond to Jesus’ call on their life. I person is spiritually dead in their sin–unable to have a relationship with the triune God, until they are made spiritually alive by Him.

    You suggest saying “follow me” to a nonbeliever and they will either accept or reject Christ based on what they see in your life? What if they see you do something wrong, or display a bad attitude toward someone? I wouldn’t want someone to decide about Jesus based on my performance. Yes, we will hopefully reach out in genuine caring love for people, which will hopefully draw them to the ‘something different’ about us that is Christ in us, but our job is really to point people to Jesus…to true understanding of him…the sinless Savior.

    That said, I agree with you that it can take awhile for someone to respond to the gospel and it will probably involve their ability to SEE “Christ in us”, to HEAR our proclamation of the gospel, and a great work of the HOLY SPIRIT.

  15. Susan,

    Good comments.

    I would also like to add that we parents can only do so much. We can guide them, and influence them in their younger years, and well we should.

    It’s inevitable, however when they get older and go out into the world on their own they are also influenced by that. Some who have been raised in Christian homes believe they have only been given one side. I have heard this a lot from my daughter and her peers.

    When it all comes down to it, we have to rely on the Lord to draw them, because all we can do is trust in scripture that if we raise them in the way they they will return to it.

  16. ” In order for someone to be saved they need to have specific, correct understanding of who Jesus is, what his death on the cross accomplished and why they need to respond to Jesus’ call on their life.”

    Really? Let’s say say some poor sinner comes to him, repentant yet without understanding, and then dies (for this scenario does surely happen!!). Do you really think Jesus would send a repentant sinner who believed but didn’t fully understand, who came to him for forgiveness of his sins … to eternal damnation because he didn’t “have specific, correct understanding of who Jesus is, what his death on the cross accomplished and why they need to respond to Jesus’ call on their life?”

    And who defines it? What if you’re wrong about something you think you’re specific and correct about? Is God’s grace unable to overcome your mental error? Are only calvinists or armenians saved, but not both? Because while both are specific, and both probably love Jesus, both probably aren’t correct. In fact, probably neither are!

    We are saved by grace, not a full and complete understanding of the whole of scripture.

    I agree that these are things that one should grow in, but to “be saved?” You’re making it too hard. In fact, would I be overstating it if I said, if you’re right, I’ll see you in hell? Because neither of us is specific and correct and has a complete understanding of Jesus.

    I am reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and am reminded of this passage … ” The minister […] thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.”

    I guess I don’t think you have to be that smart to be saved. Just believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, repent of your sins, and follow him. Like a little child. Or like a thief on a cross. Or like you or me.

  17. ” I wouldn’t want someone to decide about Jesus based on my performance. ”

    Bad news … they do. They shouldn’t, but they do.

  18. Wow, Mike, let’s just say you overstated my case!

    “…a repentant sinner who believed but didn’t fully understand”

    I didn’t say ‘fully understand’ nor, ‘understand completely’, but there does have to be content to one’s belief about Jesus.

    Here is just one of many texts that point to this: John 20:31 (John’s stated purpose for writing his gospel).

    “But these [miracles] are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

    You asked, “Who decides?”

    God, of course.

    Calvinist? Arminian? Really?

    “I guess I don’t think you have to be that smart to be saved.”

    No, smarts aren’t required. Jesus said to come to him like a child, but even a child needs to know who he is and why they need him.

  19. @Susan, I thought I might have :)

    I just think we need to be careful when we put conditions on who is or who isn’t saved, particularly when those conditions can be measured by us. God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in sprit and in truth. Salvation is a spiritual transaction. I can’t explain who is or isn’t saved or why some are and some aren’t. But I think it’s fair to say if their “heart is right with God” then they’re saved. Regardless of the externals. Will it manifest itself in the externals? It seems like it should. But what does that even mean? I don’t know.

    Back to parenting and the question of whether parents should “evangelize” their children rather than (or in addition to) “discipling” them. I think Lisa’s point is good that it is in error for parents to assume their kids are Christians. In all actuality, I think the children of Christian parents will *tend to become* Christians. But we live in america and to assume they aren’t being pulled away is naive. They are. And if we forget the allure of the gospel, and forget to show our children the allure of the gospel (evanelism), then discipleship is just rules, and we’re just raising up little pharisees as referred to in comment #2 (which I just realized was yours, Susan :) )

    I’ve noticed an interesting behavior in my parents – they assume my sister is a Christian *regardless* of how she lives. But they can turn right around and question the salvation of someone they don’t know *because* of how they live. Paradox. That’s all I’m saying. I think that supports Lisa’s original premise.

  20. This is an appropriate post I think but it troubles me. As a youth leader I’m always questioning the faith of those I teach. I am often surprised by my lack of discernment. I have to ask what does a regenerate teen look like? I’m not sure.

    As a father of two teens who confessed Christ at young ages, I’ve seen them both go thru periods when I doubted their faith. I am surprised again when I see them mature incramentally and failing continually. What does sanctification look like in a sixteen year old? Again, I’m just not sure.

    Lastly as someone saved young who would have never been recognized as regenerate by 17, I worry more that the church will discount a floundering Christian than mislead an unregenerate child into false security. The elect will be saved despite our fumbling efforts but many true believers are never truly liberated because we see them as something less than what they are, immature people who are immature Christians.

    I do see Lisa’s point though. Are there so many parents so unfamiliar with the gospel as to base their judgement of their child’s condition on something other than their childs faith? Obviously…

  21. Donnie,

    having raised a child, who is thankfully far past the teenage years, I agree with your assessment here:

    “Are there so many parents so unfamiliar with the gospel as to base their judgement of their child’s condition on something other than their childs faith?”

    If we truly believe we are all saved by grace, we must trust the Lord ultimately with our children’s salvation. Faith is something we cannot measure in another human being, no matter how close, because we can never truly know the condition of another’s heart, like God can. I believe part of our job as Christian parents is to have faith ourselves that our children are ultimately in the hands of the Lord, no matter what. That’s why we have done all we can do we have to let them go into the hands of God.

    Hard for a loving parent? Certainly! But isn’t that how we demonstrate our own faith in God’s sovereignty in the long run?

  22. Word, @Donnie!

    “what does a regenerate teen look like?”

    Doesn’t that ultimately wrap back around to the original question? Are we trying to determine whether they are saved or not by “what they look like?”

    But again, back to Lisa’s original premise, whether or not our kids “look” saved, we should be in evangelism mode with them because, as you said,

    “I am surprised again when I see them mature incrementally and failing continually”

    And how is that different than we parents? You asked,

    “What does sanctification look like in a sixteen year old?” To which I would add, or a sixty year old. Or a thirty year old. Or a parent of a sixteen year old.

  23. Donnie,

    I think you highlighted something important in this discussion, “What does sanctification look like in a sixteen year old?”. I think one of the challenges to parenting “churched” kids is focusing on behavior instead of belief especially if there is an insistence that they are Christians. I wonder if it is more that we want them to look like their Christians as a reflection on us, the parents. So their is this tendency to focus on behavior.

    I think one of the gauges is interest in hearing the Word or even signs of rebellion from God’s truth. My son is going through this phase now where he is really not that interested in church or wanting to hear about the things of God. That is a red flag to me that whatever confession of faith he made earlier may not be genuine. But on the other hand, if kids are interested it could just be peer pressure. Mbaker has it right I think, sometimes we just really don’t know and have to entrust it in the hands of the Father.

  24. While it’s true that we are told that we are to evaluate the tree by its fruit, we cannot know for sure what the condition of the heart is. Lisa brings in another good consideration: observing the child’s belief/response to truth.

    My daughter is now 21 and attending a secular university after having been raised going to Christian schools. It seems like she is suddenly questioning everything. She’s questioning the cannon of scripture, the inspiration of scripture (thus, inerrancy), she’s irritated that people would label homosexuality as sin….in other words she is going through the struggle that most kids go through who have been raised in the church. As my mother said to her, “That’s the hard thing about growing up. You have to make your faith your own.” I’m just thankful that my mom can have these discussions with her at this critical time…because she bristles if I make any attempt to discuss these things with her. My lips are sealed!

    This is hard for me though because I’m concerned. As M. Baker (my maiden name!) says, I need to trust the Lord and pray!

  25. “The gospel: this is what the unregenerate teen needs…”

    The gospel is what the unsaved need to hear, and what Christians need to constantly be reminded of. The gospel is so much deeper and richer than “you need to get saved.” The lost need to hear it, Christians need to grow in it including how to share it with others effectively. Children and teens growing up in a church immersed in the gospel are less likely to think right behavior equates to salvation. Behavior is an indicator of what’s going on inside. The lost can change their behavior, but that’s like painting over rust.

  26. I’m looking at America from the outside, so apologies if I have this wrong, but I honestly think the greatest danger to the families of Christians – really serious-minded Christians – in America today is the widespread assumption by so many that their kids are Christians – just because they haven’t openly rebelled, or because they know their Bible, or because they said they loved Jesus when they were young, or simply because they’ve been born to Christian parent. Almost every Christian book I’ve read on parenting seems to have its basis on the assumption that our children and Christians, and that their faith needs to be *strengthened*.

    I just don’t get it. I’m glad I don’t. God didn’t give us ‘Christian children’. He gave us children who were shaped in iniquity, conceived in guiltiness and sin, who need a Saviour, and whose privileges *add* to their sin, not diminish it. (Let us not either, though, forget – and let our children never forget – that those of them brought up by Christian parents, and who are being taught the Scriptures do have privileges that are above measure.)

    But it is so, so dangerous to think of our children as Christians – giving them a false sense of security could be as damning for them as not giving them the Scripture.

    Let us all show our children their desperate need of Christ as much as we can. Let us show them the wonder of salvation, and the beauty of Christ. But we can not save them. This is God’s work, and His alone. Thankfully.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud - September 12, 2012

    […] Parenting/Youth Ministry — Lisa Robinson thinks that the present emphasis on ethics and morals with Christian teens ought to be refocused; that Christian teens actually need evangelism. […]

  2. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog - September 12, 2012

    […] Parents, do you know where your children are One Youth Minister says 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.” Needs to be said because I’m afraid that this is frighteningly widespread. […]

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