One of my biggest fears is that my kids will become "pastor's kids."
Let me explain...
When I was a youth pastor, most of us had stories of "pastor's kids" (PK's) who attended youth group, but were usually troublemakers, and whose faith was very clearly tenuous at best. Often by college, many of these students would leave their faith behind altogether.
Almost universally, the parents of these children had a strong faith in Jesus, and did their absolute most to pass that faith on to their child. For one reason or another, it didn't take.
I think about how many similar PK's that left their faith, and I fear a similar decision by one or both of my children.
At SJCC, there are so many amazing, stellar, incredible parents that I know whose children have stepped away from their faith. It happens often to Christian parents, and it rarely (if ever) has to do with bad parenting. Rather, some children simply decide that their parent's faith is not for them, and they leave it behind when they leave the house, or even before that.
There was a great episode of the Phil Vischer podcast recently about discipling (discipling, not disciplining--similar spelling, MUCH different meaning) children. In the episode, family ministry expert Rob Rienow says that 80% of Christian families have one or more kids who have left their faith behind.
This story is incredibly common.
And yet, probably due to embarrassment, we don't like to talk about it.
But we should, because it's common to many parents.
One of the most stay-strong verses for parents whose kids have left their faith is Proverbs 22:6: "Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray." My pastor from years ago said that this was the verse that he held tightly to when thinking about his children. He said that he's seen some of his kids return to their faith, and he trusts that the others will as well, because of the truth of this verse.
You might be thinking, "Oh no. David's going to dump on this verse and tell me why it's wrong. I need this verse. It's what keeps me going."
Relax. I won't.
It's important to remember, however, that proverbs are not promises. Proverbs are general truths. They are principles. They are true sayings, but don't come true 100% of the time. We use proverbs all the time in life. "Cheaters never prosper." They sometimes do, but more often than not, those who cheat in life are caught. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Not necessarily. But in general, healthy eating leads to a healthier body.
Proverbs are truths that are noticed throughout life. The writer of Proverbs clearly noticed many truths in life and wrote them down. One of these general truths in life is that children learn from their parents. Who we become has a lot to do with how we are taught and led as a child. What our parents teach us and model for us has a bearing on who we become when we are older.
So the proverb that says "Train children in the right way, and when old they will not stray" is a true principle. Children are influenced by their parents and often follow their parent's guiding. But it's not necessarily going to happen 100% of the time.
If 80% of Christian families have at least one child who has left the faith, then it can't be true 100% of the time.
What this proverb is saying is that the teaching and training that a parent gives their child will have bearing on what they do and think and say for the rest of their lives.
A parent is their child's primary model and teacher while they are growing up.
What's more, they continue to be a model and teacher for their children after their children have grown and left the home.
So if your kids held on to their faith into adulthood, great! Appreciate what God has done in the hearts of your children, but do it humbly.
If one or more of your kids have left the faith, don't let this proverb guilt you into thinking that you did a subpar job as a parent. Remain faithful to God, and continue to teach and model Christ's love to your children. Your children are still learning from you.
If you know someone who is feeling the weight of disappointment, guilt, shame, pain, and anguish over their children because they have left their faith, support them. Build them up (Eph. 4, 1 Thess. 5).
I'm 33. I've been out of the house and on my own for 15 years. I am still learning from my parents. They continue to teach me about life, the world, and faith.
Your children are learning from you as well. Continue to "train your children in the right way." Continue to disciple them. Many children do come back to their faith later in life. You are still affecting them. You are still teaching them. Keep going. Keep at it.
And lean on the rest of us in the church for support.
We love you. We love your kids.
We're here to support you as you continue to teach and model your faith to your kids.