In this episode of TGC Q&A, Dave Harvey and Michael Lawrence discuss the question, “How can I help my child persevere in faith?” They address:
- Helping children preserve their faith in an ever-changing world (:00)
- Praying for your children as a starting point (1:12)
- Moving beyond profession to spiritual maturity (3:27)
- Conversing about difficult things like suffering (4:22)
- Making your home a place to discuss questions and doubts (5:49)
- Being a factor in your children’s interpretive process (6:28)
- Framing their faith with a worldview (8:32)
- How the local church helps (10:55)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of parenting.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Michael Lawrence: So Dave…
Dave Harvey: Yes.
Michael Lawrence: I guess, one of the things that would be on a lot of people’s minds is this question of how do you help preserve your children’s faith, if they have it, in a world that’s really different than the world most of us grew up in? A world in which lots of kids are growing up in the church, but then walking away from the faith. What do we do?
Dave Harvey: You and I were laughing when we walked in that we somehow drew the lot on the parenting questions.
Michael Lawrence: Yes, because that’s so easy.
Dave Harvey: I don’t know that there’s any area of life or ministry where I feel my weakness, my limitations, my humanity more than in this area of parenting.
Michael Lawrence: Which probably then brings up the very first thing that we would both agree on is, you need to pray. You need to pray for your kids. I remember there was a season when one of my kids was going through a really, really difficult time spiritually, but also physically. And it not only drove my wife and I to pray, to actually fast and pray, but we pulled together a whole team of people, literally around the world, that were praying for him. It convinced me, if I needed convincing, of just how important it is, because at the end of the day, it’s beyond my pay grade to ensure that my child believes or even lives.
Dave Harvey: Similarly, we went through a season where one of our kids was not doing well. We tapped another couple that had a child that was struggling in a similar way. We just decided that every day for 15 minutes we were going to get on the phone and pray together. So he had, through his business, a conference line and we all called in and we just immediately jumped into prayer. We did that for a month. And we saw God move in some really important ways. It’s not like it’s too obvious. Prayer is where you start when you think about parenting.
Michael Lawrence: Yeah, that’s right. Think about that, the way the question has been put to us about children walking away from the faith, it makes me wonder if there are not lots of kids growing up in the church who think they’re Christians and they’re not, actually. So perhaps one of the problems that parents need to address is just the problem of conversion. And are we assuming that our child is a believer just because at some point, maybe at camp or in Sunday school, they prayed a prayer, they made a decision and we’ve put all of our hope and faith in that decision that they made or that prayer that they prayed. And it turns out actually, maybe they were never believers in the first place. They just raised their hand.
Dave Harvey: It’s a front door issue in that there are so many programs in so many churches that seek to lead kids towards a profession. That’s a wonderful thing.
Michael Lawrence: Yes, we want our kids to profess faith.
Dave Harvey: We do. We do. But we also want to orient to the fruit of their life and to get them thinking about the fruits of their life and to be measuring and evaluating that.
Michael Lawrence: Yeah, for sure. We don’t want to teach our kids that they are Christians because of some action they took in the past, but that they are Christians because they are today walking with Jesus. Today they are repenting of their sins. Today they’re putting their faith in him and the fruit of that is increasingly evident. Childlike maybe, appropriate to the age, but evident.
Dave Harvey: One of the things I was thinking about when I read the question is, and this would go to an area where I don’t think I did a great job, and that is that I think that the… If we read about the Christian life in scripture, that we should assume that while it’s a beautiful, spirit-filled, God-exalting experience, there’s also a lot of suffering involved. I think there are ways that Kim and I suffered in ministry or ways I was personally suffering and wasn’t as intentional to try to convey that to the kids, to bring context to that, to help them to understand. I think there was an orientation that I brought. I don’t know if it was because I’m a boomer or what, but in an orientation that I brought that you deal with that as the parent and you protect them from that [crosstalk]. That’s right.
Dave Harvey: Now, when I look back, I think I wish I was more conversant with them and we were having conversations around that and I was inviting them into that. Even letting them see more of where I was struggling and even things that were unresolved that were just open-ended. Yet I was going to try to trust God and let them walk alongside of me more in the suffering.
Michael Lawrence: Exactly, and not just suffering, but doubts, questions. Do my understand that, boy, if they’ve got a question, if they have doubts that, hey, home is a great place to talk about that. It’s a safe place to talk about it, because they’ve even watched my wife and I deal with our doubts or our questions. I think we do our kids a disservice if we try to present this picture of the Christian life that’s just always all put together and perfect and they never see us wrestle with these things.
Dave Harvey: One of the things this implies is that you’re walking in relationship with the kids. And not just a relationship where you’re a father or a mother towards the child, a parenting relationship, but that you are really intentionally engaging them, so that you’re a factor. You’re a presence, regardless of the seasons that they’re walking through, regardless of the folly that they may indulge in, that you have a relationship. The emphasis is on building and maintaining the relationship. So with doubts come and other things come, you’re rolling with that. You’re part of the interpretive process.
Michael Lawrence: I think that’s exactly right. I often find myself, reminding myself, and then saying to other parents in my congregation, “Parenting is a long game. It is a long game. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And so maintain the relationship.” Hard things will come along. Maybe your child will raise serious questions or doubts. Maybe they’ll even begin to walk away from all the things that you’ve taught them. They might make decisions that are very distressing to you. And yet you got this unique role to actually be in a relationship with them for as long as you live. Other friends will come and go, but you’re mom, you’re dad. So keeping that relationship open so the conversation keeps happening.
Dave Harvey: I think it can be very disillusioning to parents when they feel like they have invested a certain amount of time and effort and they find that they’re not seeing the fruits in the season that they expected-
Michael Lawrence: That they wanted to see it.
Dave Harvey: Yeah and so that’s where your comment on the long game is really so important, because it’s not a transaction we’re making with God. I punched the clock here, God. You have to deliver the fruit here. We’re engaging God. We’re engaging our children. And we’re trusting God. But we’re emphasizing being faithful before God as parents.
Michael Lawrence: Exactly. One of the things that I have been thinking about a lot lately, because I’ve got two teenagers in high school and then two young adults in college and I’m realizing that maybe one of the most important things that I can do for them is certainly not answer all their questions, but give them a way of thinking about the questions that are going to come. They need a worldview. They need a set of categories. Maybe they agree with them. Maybe they don’t. But it gives them a structure within which to think through the questions that are going to come, the doubts that are going to come. As opposed to just saying, “Well, no. This is what the Bible says. Believe it.” That works for a while, because they believe everything I tell them when they’re young.
Michael Lawrence: But later, all sorts of things are going to come and challenge them, professors, high school teachers, friends, et cetera. If I haven’t taught them how to think about the Bible, how to think about the world from within side a Christian worldview, the simple truths that I give them will likely fall by the wayside.
Dave Harvey: I think that’s one of the challenges in the phenomenon, or I should say, one of the features in the phenomenon of kids being raised in Christian homes and professing. And then going away to college and rethinking. There’s a part of that where they need to make it their own. But there’s also, for a lot of them, their faith and their convictions and their beliefs have been unchallenged. It’s been an unexamined faith. So when it’s being challenged, there’s a part of that where they’re disoriented. They don’t expect that. There’s always been so much of a buffer in the parenting that they haven’t had to think on the level of actually articulating why they believe what they believe and how to think about that. I think that’s where what you’re saying about offering a worldview is so important for parenting.
Michael Lawrence: What about the local church? How does the local church, in your view and your experience, how has that helped with parenting, with forming faith in kids?
Dave Harvey: Well, I mean, the first thing that jumps to mind is our example as parents in our commitment to the local church and just embodying for them someone that recognizes the priority of the church, the importance of involvement in the church, service in the church, the formation and shaping that teaching does in the church. Then I think the other thing that jumps to mind is just how I think there is a way that parenting could be understood where almost everything that our kids get, need to come from the parents. Parents are so… We want to do such a good job. We take our roles very seriously before God. We have a sense of the responsibility that it represents. But that can ultimately lead you to think that everything, all the shape and form is going to be up to you. And we don’t realize how significant teaching at the local church can be, the fellowship, the relationships that are involved.
Michael Lawrence: I think the relationships that some of my teenagers have with other adults in the church, some of them young adults, but some of them almost like adoptive grandparents, has had a really profound impact on their faith. It turns out it’s not just mom and dad. There are other adults that are speaking into their lives. But there are other adults that are also demonstrating for them the plausibility, the truth of what mom and dad have been teaching. It’s been super helpful.
Dave Harvey: It’s not just your family, it’s a community.
Michael Lawrence: It’s great to know that we’re not on our own in this, which then just makes me want to pray more. It brings me back full circle to prayer.
Dave Harvey: It does. It all comes back to prayer.
Michael Lawrence: Yeah.
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