by JC Thompson
Kids owning their faith is the goal right? Why is it that we think that “allowing” kids to figure it out on their own is the solution?
One of the things that I begin to see happen in the dynamic between students and their parents is that students begin to fight against faith practices. Parents usually approach it in one of two ways, they fight it creatively or they step back and let kids “figure it out.”
As a youth pastor, it’s a frustrating thing, because figuring it out sometimes really means the family stops practicing faith altogether. I don’t know if it’s because parents were just keeping faith practices happening because of the kids or it’s so frustrating and painful that they stop because it’s too hard to keep pushing their students to grow in their faith.
A couple of insights into young teens when it comes to faith:
- This is the first time that students begin to see their sin as real. It’s so important that they know what to do with it. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, they hide, seek to comfort themselves, or run. All of these we see played out in the story of Scripture. They must understand, hear, see, how to properly deal with sin. Sometimes their pushback is because they are trying to hide rather than they “hate” going to church.
- Their questions go unanswered. Young Teens or preteens ask “Why?” more than any other question. It’s the most important question to answer as a family. Why church? Why Jesus? Why the Bible? Our faith is based on the gospel. Bring them back to that. God made us beautiful. We became evil. Jesus died. He came back. No one can prove He didn’t even though it’s the most important question in the world.
- Friends. They influence everything. Find good ones for your kids and invest in them. Do the most fun things with those friends. Constantly invite them places. You are responsible for helping your student make connections. Find them. Show up to their youth group and find good friends for your student.
But JC, don’t we want kids to figure out faith on their own?
Here’s 3 big reasons why I think you can’t let your kids figure out faith on their own.
1. You didn’t figure out faith on your own
Neither did anyone else in Scripture. God created us to live in community. That community shapes us. Proverbs 13:20 is something you must know and apply every day as the parent of a preteen.
“Walk with the wise and become wise;
associate with fools and get in trouble.”
We had others shape us and your students need the same thing. If you aren’t getting faith voices in your kids life, you are allowing non-faith voices in your kids life.
2. Preteens and Young Teens are Hormone-Enraged, Emotional Crazy People
They’re squirrelly. You know they are. They know they are. God actually is using this time to re-wire their brain to become functional adults. Think about what you are doing when you allow them to “figure it out” on their own. You are allowing the most awkward, emotionally focused, circumstantial thinking age to become the time they “figure it out”!
Please hear me . . . that’s crazy!
They may not be listening to you, but they are listening to someone. Make sure it’s an awesome voice and make sure that you can manage the decisions and realize it’s a season it will get better.
3. Wisdom = Truth + Experience
Your students need experience at this time. They are looking at their lack of faith experiences and feel intimidated. They don’t have the “I hit rock bottom” testimony. But they need experience because they are asking if the truth that you’ve built in is actual truth. There is “truth” out there that really isn’t true and they experience it every day:
- You are only a what have you done for me lately
- Your value is in your appearance
- Your friends in middle school and high school determine your success
- Cheaters always win
- Mean girls are the most popular
- Mean dudes are the most popular
We know that these aren’t truths, but they can feel that way to teens.
Find ways to give your preteens unbelievable experiences to see their faith grow. Push them to serve others. Take them on a mission trip. Ask about their faith, doubts, and questions.
Put meat on the bones of their faith and set up experiences for them to see their faith lived out.
Your kids need you now more than ever. It’s frustrating because they aren’t your baby anymore. They are some emotionally charged version of your child. But they need you to dig your heels in and wrestle with them. Answer why and ask questions back. Discover your child’s heart past the red faced frustration and fight for it.
Prayer works. You’ll need it more than ever when that switch goes off. Parents, we need you. Your kids need you. Prepare to have a teenager. It’s coming whether you like it or not. Read Deuteronomy 6 and see if they should figure it out on their own.
I’m praying for you.
JC is the 5th and 6th grade pastor at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. His second passion is preteen ministry, and he loves to talk about it with other leaders. His first passion is his growing family. JC and his amazing wife welcomed their first child, Cannon, in the Spring of 2012.
This post originally appeared here September 13, 2013. Used with permission from the author.