Young People in the Church: Parents Matter Most

Chapter 6 of Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church is so far my favorite.  My sense with this chapter was that this highlighted an area within which the Reformed Tradition is thoroughly equipped to succeed, even if it often fails to do so.  This is the area of family worship and family catechism.

Family worship and catechesis, however, can easily be treated as the parenthetical “spiritual time” in an otherwise fairly mundane home life.  Dean notes in other chapters that these practices should serve as the foundation of a much more lively and frequent “spiritual tone” in the Christian home – one in which talk of God, reading the Bible and praying together is not simply reserved for “special devotional times” or pre/post meals.

After noting Martin Luther’s motivation for writing his Small Catechism, Dean observes:

Luther would not have been surprised by the National Study of Youth and Religion’s conclusion that the best way for youth to become more serious about religious faith is for parents to become more serious about theirs.  (Interestingly, in the NYSR’s longitudinal interviews, parent religiosity during the teenage years was an even stronger predictor of young people’s faith in emerging adulthood.)  Research is nearly unanimous on this point: parents matter most in shaping the religious lives of their children.  This is not to say that parents determine their children’s spiritual destinies.  Even the Bible has apostate parents with spiritual children, and vice versa, which only underscores the importance of supplementing teenagers’ religious formation with congregational education – consistently the second most important variable on adolescent religiosity.  Yet there is no doubt that teenagers’ appreciation of a life-orienting God-story, and their ability to discern God’s ongoing movement in their lives and their communities are heavily influenced by adults’ appreciation of such a story, and adults’ ways of discerning and responding to the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives.  Proximity matters.  Teenagers’ ability to imitate Christ depends, to a daunting degree, on whether we do.

Almost Christian, Pgs. 111-112. (Bold emphasis mine.)

Fellow parents out there – we must model love for Christ and the gospel!  Failure to do so will not necessarily result in children who apostatize (nor will obedience in this matter necessarily guarantee the opposite), but failure in this matter will place a terrible stumbling block in front of our children.

Oh God, have mercy on us all!  Give us the strength and wisdom that we need to show our children how glorious you are and how grateful we are for your abundant mercy which you have lavished upon us in your son, Jesus Christ!  Amen!

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Andrew