How long has it been since you had a Bible study with a non-Christian? Months? Years? Never? Evangelism is an increasingly neglected work, and the church is showing signs of it. But on the good side, many of us are unwittingly involved in evangelizing a most important class of people.
Youth! The greatest evangelistic opportunity in the church! In a time when denominations are commercializing the gospel (2 Peter 2:3), snatching up those who show the least bit of interest in religion, and turning the rest off with their greed, emptiness, and hypocrisy (2 Peter 2:2), it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to talk about God. But right in our own houses are people with open minds, innocent hearts, and a great capacity for learning!
The youth in the church today are falling away in record numbers. We are seeing serious holes in our children’s faith, and astonishing ignorance of the Bible. There is almost universal lack of participation in Christian activities, anything that is not “fun,” especially in good works. Youth activities have digressed into little more than glorified babysitting. Our children are so involved in the world (school, sports, etc. – and we are pushing them to do it!) that they just honestly don’t have time for God.
The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of these children’s parents.
I was once preparing a lesson for a retreat on the topic of young people being faithful to the church. The more I tried to figure out what I was going to say, and the more I studied, the more I found that I wasn’t talking to the children at all. For instance, when I read this one: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:12-16). We usually key in on youth in this passage, but the main point of this passage is not youth. It is influence.
Several years back, a study was done on the percentages of children who remain faithful to God after they leave home. According to this study, the major factor was NOT:
- more youth ministers and youth deacons,
- more youth programs, or
- more youth activities.
It was found that
- Where both parents were actively involved in the church and were faithful in attendance, 93% of the children remained faithful to the Lord.
- If only one parent was faithful and active, 73% remained faithful.
- When both parents were only somewhat involved in the Lords work, 53% remained faithful.
- When both parents attended infrequently, only 6% of the children remained faithful to the Lord.
It is amazing what a major difference the parents’ active involvement made in these children’s lives. Church attendance alone could not make up for it. It takes faithfulness. And when I say “faithfulness,” I don’t mean just attendance. If our “faithfulness” is nothing more than regular attendance, we don’t have any more real religion than the pews we are sitting on. Faithfulness includes growth, changing the way we think, changing the way we live!
Granted, children have their own personalities and their own character. Eventually, they will make their own decisions about whether they even believe in God. But they don’t make that decision in a vacuum. Our attitudes and actions have a profound effect on theirs.
Environment plays a crucial role in the forming of a person’s heart. There are few evangelistic opportunities where we can control the environment of the potential convert, but with our children, we do have that opportunity to a great extent. And yet we are throwing that opportunity away! We are neglecting to provide a God-centered home and example, while allowing them or even pushing them to spend more time with the world. And all in the name of “career,” “social life,” and “fun.” If you wonder whether you have a God-centered home, what percent of your time do you spend on what? Most likely you spend time with the kids on their homework; have you ever spent time showing them how to do a Bible study, or even rake a widow’s yard?
We can undermine our children’s faith:
- by allowing them or even encouraging them to become involved in the world to the point that they don’t have time for God,
- by just doing nothing to strengthen their faith, or
- by living a life that says, “I don’t have time for God!” And they have an incredible ability to sense these things. Dad, you sang, ‘Oh, How I Love Jesus,’ but you didn’t come back to see Him Sunday night. Mom, you sang, ‘Love One Another,’ along with everybody else, but you sure can talk ugly about these folks at home. In spite of how hard we try to train them better, our children usually turn out just like us.
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Christ thought example was so important that He willing came down here to this earth and become just like us, and be tempted in all points like we are (Hebrews 2:16-18; Hebrews 4:15, 16), so He could leave us an example (1 Peter 2:20, 21).
If we neglected our children’s education, hygiene, nutrition, or emotional needs, most of us would call this abuse. Spiritual neglect is the worst possible form of abuse. Neglecting physical needs will, at the most, affect a child for 80 years or so. Neglecting spiritual needs will most likely affect them forever! And in a much more horrible way!
Paul commanded the Ephesians and others, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). When I was young, I always keyed in on the provoke not your children to wrath part. Now that I’m on the other side, I keep thinking, There’s got to be something in here about, “‘Children, provoke not your parents to wrath, least you be beaten within an inch of your life!’” But seriously, it is not:
- the Bible class teacher’s responsibility,
- the preacher’s responsibility,
- the youth program’s responsibility,
- the church’s responsibility, or
- the youth retreat teacher’s responsibility
to teach your children. It is the parent’s responsibility – period! And a child’s growing up to be a faithful member of the Lord’s church doesn’t just happen! I can’t stress that enough. It takes:
- thought, and
- discipline, and
- talking in normal conversation about the Lord – as soon as they can talk.
Neglect any of these and you are almost certain to bring up spiritually dead or anemic children. We may find that we have to change the whole way we think and live. And if that is the case with you, please start now, before it’s too late!
Preachers, elders, and teachers, start encouraging the parents to start doing some of the things they already know they should do. Get the parents to start thinking about preparing their children to love, know, and understand God, and to put God first in their lives in a very visible, practical, and money-where-your-mouth-is kind of way.
We also need to educate ourselves on the forces that are shaping our children’s lives. We need to be realistic and disciplined (even sacrificial) about the influences and forces that help shape our children’s hearts (1 Corinthians 15:33). For instance, how reasonable is it, really, to deny that visual images have a strong influence on our minds, when big business bets billions on 60-second ads?
Above all – spend time studying the Bible with your kids! Several years ago, my 3-year old was riding in the car with me while I was listening to the Bible on CD. After a short silence, she suddenly asked, “Why does it say, ‘rejoice?’” I don’t know if she understood my answer or even her own question, but she was listening and asking questions! If I hadn’t been playing that Bible CD…
We’ve got to get into a habit of spending time with our children, studying the Bible. (That may be bad grammar, but it’s good doctrine.) Do it whenever it is most convenient, and you can involve your whole family in this, in the morning, or at suppertime, or before bedtime. Don’t just read a perfunctory verse or two and then forget about it. Even if you only spend 5 minutes, make sure they understand what you studied. Ask questions. Discuss it. Get them to tell it back to you. Sing Bible songs, or devotional songs, or hymns on a trip (even to the store). If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, something is wrong! And don’t let awkwardness stop you. Get used to being Christians all the time – as a family!
You’ve only got one shot at this.
from the Siebels Road bulletin (09-08-2001)