What parents’ actions often teach kids about God

Topic / Culture

Actions speak louder than words. Whether parents like it or not, kids see the priorities and values they set for the family and it makes a difference on how kids live their lives.

All the hype over the past couple years about the student drop-out rate from church seems to be focused at the church, specifically the youth workers. Almost every other week I see a new Chicken Little article about how the sky is falling and that youth ministry is failing miserably. However, the biblical structure of raising kids is through the parents, not church youth workers. Statistically, the kids who graduate from high school and stay in the church are not those who had a super-dynamic youth group. Rather, it’s those whose parents have intentionally passed on the faith. Of course, this assumes that parents have a living and vital faith that’s worth passing on. As much as we hate to admit it, we have a lot of parents who are sold out to the world and give lip-service in church, so their kids see that and do the same. Teenagers reflect what they see in the church.

According to the Family Driven Faith audio series by Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., 92% of families don’t have devotions together even once a year. He also says that the average Christian family has less than 30 minutes of spiritual discussion each week. Maybe the church should focus more on discipling parents who will in turn pass that on to their kids.

I wish we heard more Deuteronomy 6:1-9 values being passed along to students by parents, but instead youth workers hear, “We won’t be at church for the next couple weeks because Jonny made the traveling baseball team.” Actions speak louder than words! Students learn that sports trump God so they can collect trophies that will collect dust in the basement in 40 years. And then we say idolatry isn’t alive in our churches? No wonder church is often a student’s last priority.

Even our homes communicate something about priorities. In most American families, the TV is the focal point of the living room. Notice that all the furniture is arranged around the room to focus on it, as if it’s the alter of our homes. Maybe family priorities need to change, not just “We go to church once a week unless something better comes up,” thinking that will somehow teach our kids that God is important, but in integrating God into daily life and decisions.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not trying to blame parents as many have done to youth workers. Rather, youth workers need to consider parents as a vital contact for reaching students for Christ knowing that they have a much bigger impact in their lives than we ever will.

My Personal Story
My parents definitely didn’t do everything right, but one thing they did get right: they communicated by their actions and decisions that God always comes first. As kids, we noticed that and learn valuable lessons from it. When my brother was invited to join the travel soccer team, my parents made him turn it down because their games were on Sunday mornings. When we had wrestling matches on Sunday mornings, we’d always go to church instead. We often saw financial priorities when they spent money on helping other people even though we knew money was very tight at home. My dad taught us the Bible almost every day, including lots of scripture memorization (that I still use today!). Now that we’re grown and out of the house, every one of us are leaders in either vocational or volunteer ministry. Coincidence?

I understand this is all by God’s grace, not a formula with guaranteed results, but following God’s family principles definitely seems to have a better rate of return than any other alternative.

Posted on February 7, 2008

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  • Thanks for addressing what might be viewed as a sensitive sujbect. Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr’s message, “The Centrality of the Home,” is a definite compliment to your post . . .

  • Thanks for that link, Larry! I didn’t know it was available online.

  • ouch! it hits home quite a bit my friend.

  • Great post, Tim! At RVC, we’re trying to look at how we can minister to the entire family, instead of just middle school or high school. How can we better empower parents to lead their family spiritually?

  • Pingback: A plan for helping parents reach their teenagers | Life in Student Ministry()

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  • MentalRover

    a very sensible topic, so I cannot take everything of what you’ve said without differenciating it.

    First about the experience of “God comes first” and sunday mornings: I know of a family, where the children indeed made the experience, that for their parents “God comes first”, which was not a good one … they abandoned faith exactly because of THAT. God comes first, so community comes first … in the result: family and the personal interest of their children came last.

    Second: Yes, we (in Germany) make the experience too, that football matches take place on sunday morning. But this was always the case. One of my son now has only one interest: football. He wants to become a professional. So he has to obey the rules of this sports and play on sunday morning, like so many of his friends, which I would also like to see in church (or more correct: see in contact with Jesus, which is not exactly the same!).

    Making the decision between church and life a dilemma for him is in my opinion absolutely the wrong way to teach him about God. Its teaching about us christians and our traditional structure. Nothing more.
    So the church people must ask themselves if it is really adequate to keep a tradition only to keep a tradition although it is not fitting into the life of the people they want to reach. I can’t find in the bible a schedule saying that services have to take place on sunday morning at 10:00 am.

    What I try to teach my son: That God is with him and that he can trust in him and pray to him AT ANY TIME and WHEREVER HE IS. And that may be on sunday morning on the football ground. BTW: To my experience the situations where the best talks about faith took place were NOT at sunday morning in church, where one or two strangers found their way in by chance, but at places where those people we try to reach meet themselves anyway.

    That’s what I teach my son: Talk about your faith in your football club.
    And not: Let them alone and keep separated if they don’t follow your church’s traditional schedule.

  • @MetalRover: I think you misunderstood this post. I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying. The danger I’m referring to is two-fold:

    1. When a teen (or anyone!) puts anything before God in their life. The Bible clearly calls this idolatry. In this post I’m saying we need to be careful about what messages we unintentionally send to our teens by how we help them think through their priorities.

    2. When a teen starts neglecting his/her active participation in a community of believers. Hebrews 10:25 and other passages clearly command this and urge it as utmost importance.

    I’m not making an argument that kids need to be in church every Sunday as much as I’m saying it’s important that they’re connected to a body of believers and actively serving in that body of Christ as scripture commands. When sports and other activities start becoming a higher priority than that, then I think we have problems.

  • MentalRover

    Hi Tim, thanks for your VERY quick response!

    I think I did not misunderstand your post, but I view at the same topic from a somewhat orthogonal perspective. I am not speaking about the priority which God shall have in live per se, and that parents have to communicate them to their children.

    I only question if it is correct to come up with the “typical” answers which link priority of faith and sunday morning service with one another, where the first is necessary the latter only a traditional agreement.

    I see your whole point, I see the problem too. I only do not like the easy and typical answers. That may be my own problem, that I got “the traditional answers” often too quick. And in my experience this is also one fact why teens abandon church: The adults there are not willing to requestion some traditions to transport faith into the current culture.
    Once again: that may be MY problem here.

    > When sports and other activities start becoming a higher priority than
    > that, then I think we have problems.

    I totally agree! But often people prematurely stop asking what exactly the problem is! My point here is: Sometimes church traditions tend to create a dilemma which must not exist.

    Church and sports a.s.o. is not only a problem of OUR teens but of the teens we try to reach outside with Jesus’ words. And if the first thing is: Go to church and not to sport as they conflict! That’s not good – and we have a problem.

    Thanks for listening!

  • Mike

    As a father I have the challenge that my wife thinks church is highest priority above family and marriage. Over the next 11 days for example, she will be taking our 8 year old to church on five different days. Twice also to sunday school and the rest to sit with her in the pews listening to the pastor. In my view that is unbalanced, and no matter what I say or do- she is driven to take him with her to fulfill her own needs. For his part, he enjoys going if he gets to play outside on the playset afterwards, but otherwise thinks it's "boring." In my view, the surest way to sour him on church and God is to get too much of a good thing at his young age. The worst part is she won't listen or compromise in any manner- to the point where our marriage has reached a tipping point. I wish it was a simple as missing church on Sundays…

    • Sorry to hear she's putting church attendance before you and your marriage. Sounds like she may be going to church for the wrong reasons, which is unfortunate, as well. Prayin' for you guys tonight!

  • London

    i have this problem as well
    i would like to make it as a footballer but matches are on a sunday here in england and my parents do not support this as we are strong christians and the matches coinceide wit the sunday morning service however if matches are scheduled after service they let me attend
    but for the last few weeks i have been sneaking away from the service to attend matches
    however i hate my self for doing this because i am not putting God first
    please advice me i dnt know wat to do

    • London, I appreciate your passion for football, but your passion for God needs to come first, as well as your obedience to your parents. I'm not saying you have to agree with them, but the Lord does tell you to obey them while you're under their care.

      God wants to know that He's more important to you than football. If you start doing that, you can be sure that the Lord will bless you for it, and, as you know, that is so much more important and valuable than attending a couple games of football.

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