The college years can be hard on students’ spiritual lives. They are in a time of transition from the “faith of our fathers” to a living faith that they own and live out every day. Learning to put their faith into action is one of the major tasks facing Christian college and university students.
Research with Christian college and university students, using the University Spiritual Life Survey,* has revealed four key parental activities that make a critical difference in the spiritual life trajectory of your kids. Here’s the key…nobody else can do this. It’s up to you!
In analyzing survey responses from over 11,300 Christian college and university students across the United States, we have found that students with spiritually involved (we call them “Helpful”) parents are significantly more likely to enter college higher levels of spiritual maturity than those with spiritually uninvolved or “Passive” parents. So, as a father of two daughters, I wondered, how can I be “Helpful” instead of “Passive”? What can I do to give my children a spiritual foundation that they can build on in their emerging adult years?
1) Ask your children how you should pray for them.
The idea that the heart of God is moved by the issues that concern our children is a key point in a young adults spiritual growth process. Emerging adults who do not believe that God cares if they pray, does not notice if they are sad, and is not involved in their lives, will struggle to develop an intimate connection with their Savior.
Parents model this concern not only by listening to their children and talking about their concerns but also by taking those needs, concerns, and issues to God in prayer.
As helpful as “now I lay me down to sleep” is when your children are very young, rote prayers only go so far. Ask your tweens and teens where they would like God’s help, and then join them in prayer.
2) Talk to your children about your life with God.
The “faith of our fathers [and mothers]” is better caught than taught.
We live in an era of spiritual specialists. Even if you’re part of a typical church-going American family, you probably arrive at the door of your church together and then scatter to different parts of the building. We have children’s ministry experts, youth ministry experts, worship experts, care ministry experts, church leadership experts, and teaching/preaching experts. There are good reasons for having these ministry area specialists, and I am thankful for them. However, no ministry expert can model life with God for your children. That’s up to you.
Talk to your children about your prayer life. Tell them what you’re reading in the Bible. Discuss major decisions you’re considering (at an age-appropriate level), and teach your kids that you have a life with God. If you don’t talk about your walk with God, your kids may never learn that they can.
3) Discuss how scripture guides your family.
Christian families have always faced a myriad of decisions that mark the intersection of faith and daily life.
- How do you decide for whom to vote in the upcoming presidential election?
- What should your budget priorities be?
- Where will you choose to worship? When and why?
- How will you care for your body and mind?
- What is your perspective on Truth and its sources?
- In what ways does our culture obscure the gospel, and how should we live?
- What kinds of friendships will we choose to nurture?
- How should we invest our limited time?
As you grapple with each of these issues, you probably rely on the Bible for examples, insights, and explicit instructions. Don’t make these decisions on your own. Instead, teach your children to search scripture for guidance. Study the Proverbs, and talk about how to apply their wisdom to contemporary life.
Nobody gets these things right every time, but teaching your children that scripture is a reliable source of wisdom for daily life and conduct is essential. If it’s good enough for you, they’re more likely to decide it’s good enough for them, too.
4) Participate in service projects as a family.
Every child begins life with an astonishingly narrow world view. Part of growing up is realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around me.
Serving others is a biblical antidote to the self-centered society in which we live. However, the research shows that it’s not enough to send your children on that cross-cultural mission trip. It’s not sufficient to cheer as their youth group serves a hot meal to homeless people in your community or in the nearest urban center. Instead, do it with them. When you participate in service projects as a family, you reorient your child’s heart and teach them to minister, to care.
Ephesians 2:10 is one of the first verses I ever taught my daughters. It says, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We each have a purpose that is larger than ourselves. Go beyond memorizing this wonderful verse and show your children that a lifestyle of service is worth pursuing. In that way, they will make the connection between faith and living.
Four simple things
That’s it. Just four simple actions: Ask, Talk, Discuss, Participate. You can do this!
When you do, you’ll set your children up for success in their life with God. Having faith is good. Living your faith “out loud” is far more effective.