As a youth worker with eight years of experience, I’ve known the pain of watching my old students lose their grip on faith.
Sometimes it’s on them; they just decide it’s more interesting to live the way they want. But sometimes the loss looks more akin to theft, being snatched way by the brutal realities of life after high school. They “get out into the world” and quickly find themselves mired in a slog of doubt, and the strength needed to wade through is rare.
It’s interesting – as I’ve prayed over and grieved these friends, I’ve seen their struggles fall into categories. This is encouraging, as naming the battleground is sometimes half the battle. These are categories that many youth groups address with all their might, but there simply is no substitute for a parent’s influence – your influence – in your child’s life.
I humbly offer some brief thoughts, in the hope that they might help you build a faith that will survive travel and the post-high-school world.
Christians can be scummy and atheists are not always villains. This really throws some young people. “If the Bible isn’t making a difference in these people’s lives,” they wonder, “how valid can it be?” It’s a good question. And it doubles in intensity when they’re hurt directly by believers’ failures, as opposed to simply witnessing them, or when those failures occur higher up the chain (such as a pastor or mentor).
Having been raised in a good church does not always mute this confusion. I know millennials who saw the real Christ in church yet still struggle to take it seriously once they realize how much of an exception their church was.
Teach your kids to anticipate this. The Bible has always taught that those who truly follow Christ’s commands are typically a remnant. Sadly, too many Christians were raised in churches that emphasized feel-good preaching, or hate, or empty religion. Others treat their faith as more of an identity (like their blood type) or a cause (like animal advocacy) than a daily reality that’s changing them. All religions are prone to this. It doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t real; it just means that sin is.
College will expose young people to large pockets of resistance to Christianity. Classes, cliques, movements, organizations, sometimes entire institutions. High school simply doesn’t have these “clubhouses”. It’s a jarring transition. The mocking intellectual challenges grate like a sandstorm.
“Look at all these other religions. What makes yours different?”
“This stuff got disproven decades ago. Didn’t you get the memo?”
“I don’t need a two-thousand-year-old book to be a good person.”
“I’m sick of how Christianity has dragged the world down. Take it somewhere else.”
Of course, none of these are grounded in any truth; the “smart people” argument has been around since Paul’s time (Acts 17). But that’s an easy thing to say, and not so much to hear, when you’re surrounded by a deluge of “logic” – and when it now forms the walls and ceiling of your daily life.
There are many apologetics resources you can offer your children while they’re still at home. The works of C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) are a classic in this regard and have been a great help to me, as have those of Lee Strobel (The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ). Do some research; equip your students to defend their faith before sending them off.
I recently found an old collection of CD’s (remember those?) and found myself listening to Pillar’s “Fireproof”. It evoked something from youth – how Christian music had tried the strategy of harnessing the natural rebelliousness of teenagers, turning it against the world and its hostility towards Jesus, making Christianity “cool”.
I will never change my mind
Try to torch me and you’ll find
You can’t turn me or deter me
No matter how you try
You can’t burn me
Twenty years later, my generation’s faith is in tatters. Obviously, something about that approach came up way short.
It hit me that they made one crucial mistake. They left out a key enemy: suffering.
I want to take my shoes off here. It’s pretty brazen for me to tell you that your child will experience pain, and that some of it will be unfair and life-altering. The young man who goes off to war and returns unable to walk or socialize. The young woman who endures a brutal assault. Only for a few will it be that hard; it might merely be betrayal, rejection, or physical malady.
Yet in one form or another, pain will come. You’ve found this to be true in your own lives, have you not?
When the blows of life land on our kids, it saps their enthusiasm for lyrics like It’s my time to rise almost instantly. “Why am I fighting the world when God won’t even fight for me?” Disillusionment quickly follows. My faith survived my twenties and even I am still brushing off cobwebs of resentment.
Pain will come. It’s part and parcel of the Christian life. It is actually a privilege (Philippians 1:29). Please, I beg you, do not let your children fall for false teachings of how we can escape all suffering. Not even Jesus got that (Hebrews 2:10). You can either give your child a theology of suffering gradually, at home, within reach of your guidance and reassurance; or you can let adulthood teach them all at once, in some other state or country, without you around to help. I know what I would choose.
High school graduation tends to leave young Christians perched on the edge of an anticipatory high – “God has an amazing plan for your life!” – only to fall off a cliff of monotony. Amazing plan looks like jumping between dead-end jobs, no money for school, and Christian friends replaced by poor influences? For students who grew up on the stories of Asian missionaries whose lives seem to display a lot more providence, the letdown is real.
Your children need to know that just because it doesn’t look all gilded and exotic doesn’t mean they’re outside the kingdom! The amazing in God’s kingdom boils down to two things that can happen no matter where you are: finding joy in intimacy with Christ, and sharing his Gospel. As long as unbelievers are working at the mall, God will be sending missionaries there. And being a cog in God’s successful rescue of an unbeliever is exciting no matter where you go.