When we got David Kinnaman’s book, Faith For Exiles this summer, I knew I wanted to read it, and be a part of this conversation. Faith For Exiles is the result of 10 years of research with 18-29 year old Americans with a Christian background. It’s a follow-up to his book You Lost Me, which discusses why Christians in this age group are leaving the church. I am excited that this conversation is happening, because I am in that 18-29 age group, I love Jesus, and I do feel that my friends need more from the church. But for our part, we have to step into faith with the same grit and determination that all who came before us have. Especially when we are living as exiles.
In Matthew 13, verses 3 to 23, Jesus tells this parable to his followers, that a farmer went out and scattered seeds on the ground. “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
(skipping to verse 19)
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
I usually hear this story in the context of evangelism, or in sermons to help us identify our own spiritual shortcomings. But this story has kept coming to mind for me as our team has been discussing this topic of young adults who walk away from their faith. I’m the only person on the See Hear Love behind-the-scenes team who doesn’t have children. But I have siblings, and I have friends, and I see what’s happening all around me. I think this story goes for teaching children the gospel as much as it does for preaching on a street corner.
There are things you can control and things you can’t.
You can tell your children the message of the kingdom of God, but if they don’t understand, it doesn’t matter how many times a week they go to church, or who their friends are, or what kind of movies they’re not allowed to watch. If they hear it, and receive with joy, but have no root, then when trouble comes (which it always does, and I’m sorry, but you can’t protect them forever) they won’t have strength or nourishment to persevere.
Here’s what you can not do, dear parent: You can’t make sure that your child will choose Jesus. You can never be certain that they will choose what you chose. And you can’t make them, by force of cutting off their other choices.
Here’s what you can do:
One. You can sit with your children, let them ask questions about the Bible, and help them find answers. These questions will sometimes be stupid, and sometimes very scary and very complex. Don’t rely on pat answers. Introduce them to the complex, beautiful, rich tradition of Christian philosophy, and let them see how St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Teresa of Ávila handled these questions.
Two. You can show them how you live out your faith and explain why. One of the criticisms of Christianity is that Christians don’t really practice what they preach, but I know for myself, the way that my parents loved their neighbors (who lived in poverty, had teen pregnancies, cursed and probably did drugs), supported ministry work, and who continue to take every opportunity to minister to others in times of need. The most important part for me was that they let us in on the secret; that we as Christians believe in fraternizing with the poor, the marginalized, the lonely, the bad influences.
Three. Don’t be the reason that worry chokes out their faith. How do you show them that following Jesus is more important than money, security, or a dream life?
Four. Create opportunities for your kids to talk to older believers besides just the youth pastor. People that they can look up to who will inspire them, whether that’s missionaries, business owners, or other parents.
Five. Trust God, and let go of control. Ultimately, God is the one we have to trust with the next generation. He keeps a remnant for himself, even when we don’t like the change from being kings and queens to being exiles.
One person plants the seed, another person waters it, but only God can make it grow.