Dec 12, 2017

Kids Who Grow Up to Follow Jesus Have Parents Who Do These 7 Things

In a day when we are seeing an alarming number of kids walking away from the faith they grew up in, the good news is there are still many, many kids who are serving Jesus for a lifetime.

The question we often ponder is "What makes the difference?"  What are the factors, seen and unseen, that contribute to a child engaging in a genuine relationship with Jesus and then go on to passionately follow Him as an adult?

Some of the factors that people have identified are...
  • They had a clear salvation experience.
  • They had friends who loved Jesus. 
  • They learned to spend time with Jesus through prayer and reading the Bible.
  • They had caring leaders at church who knew them personally and invested in them. 
  • They were able to avoid getting trapped in major temptations like premarital sex, drugs, alcoholism, etc. in their teenager years.
While all of these are important factors, there is another factor that I believe carries the most impact.  What is it you ask?

Parental influence. 

You see, no one has more influence in a child's life than his or her parents.  Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults normally have parents who influenced them to do so. 

Throughout Scripture, we see examples of children who were influenced by their parents to follow God. 
  • Hannah influenced her son, Samuel.
  • Abraham influenced his son, Isaac.
  • Mordecai influenced his adopted daughter, Esther.
  • Eunice influenced her son, Timothy.  Timothy was also influenced by his grandmother, Lois.
  • Jochebed influenced her son, Moses.
  • David influenced his son, Solomon.
We also see examples of great Christian leaders who were influenced by their parents to follow Jesus.
  • Melvin Maxwell influenced his son, John.
  • Crawford Loritts influenced his son, Bryan.
  • Billy Graham influenced his son, Franklin and his daughter, Anne.
  • Tony Evans influenced his daughter, Priscilla.
  • Susanna Wesley influenced her sons, Charles and John.
  • Charles Stanley influenced his son, Andy. 
  • Ed Young Sr. influenced his son, Ed Jr. 
The National Study of Youth and Religion backs this up as well.  The study shows that parents are far and away the major influence in kids keeping their faith into their adulthood.  Just 1% of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid-to-late 20s.  The study compared this to children who were raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations.  82% of these kids grew up to be religiously active as young adults.
No other conceivable causal influence ... comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth.  Parents just dominate.   -Christian Smith, Yale University
What are some of the key things that parents do whose kids grow up to follow Jesus as adults?  Let's look at 7 of them.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who prayed with them at home.  They prayed with them at meal time.  They prayed with them at bedtime.  They prayed with them before they left for school.  They prayed with them in times of crisis.  They prayed with them about important decisions.

I mentioned Susanna Wesley earlier.  Her sons, John and Charles, grew up to make a major impact for Christ.  They were the founders of the Methodist church.  Susanna's husband, shared this story about her influence on her children through prayer.

“I opened the door and was surprised to find none of the children about the hall.  Going quietly upstairs, I heard my wife’s voice.  She was engaged in prayer with the children; I heard her pray for them one by one by name.  She came to Charles, and specially prayed for him, for he was of high spirit and daring temper.  I listened till she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, ‘Lord, I will go on with Thy work. The children will be cared for.’”

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who read God's word with them at home.  The Bible didn't sit on the dashboard of the car all week collecting dust or it didn't remain an unopened app.  It was used during the week.

Eunice and Lois, who raised Timothy, infused Scripture into his life.  Look what it says about this in the New Testament.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15
William Borden, the heir of the Borden milk company fortune and missionary, had a mother who made reading the Bible with her children a priority in their home.  Look what is recorded about this.

"Mary responded to William’s zeal by putting even greater effort into teaching and training her son along with her other children. It became her habit to gather the children for Bible lessons. During one of these lessons, she asked them to write down what they would like to be when they grow up. William’s answer showed both childlike enthusiasm and remarkable maturity: 'I want to be an honest man when I grow up, a true and loving and kind and faithful man.'  God would bless and grant this desire."

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who take them to church consistently.  We live in a day when parents are taking their children to church less frequently.  The average family who attends church only shows up once every three to four weeks.  Sports, activities, weekend trips and the general busyness of life creeps in and crowds out many families' consistent church attendance.  But this is not the case for families whose kids grow up to love Jesus.  They make attending church the top priority of their weekend.

Research from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health backs this up.  It found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending services are most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.  Teens whose parents attended worship with them are especially likely to be religiously active as young adults. 

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who create a place where questions are welcomed and encouraged.  One of the strongest factors associated with kids keeping their faith as young adults is having parents who talk about religion and spirituality at home.

Parents welcome dialogue about the hard questions kids need to work through as they are grappling with faith and making it their own.  In fact, they initiate faith conversations to help prepare their kids for the questions, temptations and cultural pressures they will face as they grow up.  They also look for teachable moments that can spark faith talk in the course of every day life.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who emphasize relationship over rules.  This doesn't mean they don't put boundaries and consequences in place.  But what it does mean is they focus more on helping their kids fall in love with Jesus and having a personal, growing relationship with Him.  As they do this, their kids begin to obey and "keep the rules" not out of fear or duty, but out of a heart of love and surrender to Jesus' will for their life.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who live authentically.  Simply put.  Their parents are the real deal.  They practice what they preach.  They live at home just like they live at church.

This doesn't mean the parents are perfect.  Yes, they make mistakes along the way.  But when they do, they humbly admit it and seek forgiveness.

Kids can sniff out hypocrisy.  And when they know what their parents are saying doesn't match up with what they are doing, it damages their faith and they can become disillusioned with following Jesus. 
Kids don't always do what their parents say, but they never fail to imitate who they really are.
I mentioned Priscilla Shirer earlier.  She is the daughter of Pastor Tony Evans.  She is a Christian author, motivational speaker, actress and Christian evangelist.  Look what she says about how her parents influenced her as she was growing up.

"Daddy and Mommy constructed a bubble of sorts for us to live in. Home life was padded with instruction in God’s Word, discipline in life lessons (like saving and tithing our money), manners ('No elbows on the table!') and good work ethics.  We had lots of fun with our friends, but we did it mostly at our home instead of theirs, my parents careful about the kinds of influences we might encounter somewhere else.  Sure, that meant taking on the exhausting work of having a dozen sweaty teenagers track muddy prints in and out of the kitchen for snacks and Kool-Aid during games of basketball and ping-pong.  But our parents did it for a reason.  And they did it for us.

When we weren’t at home, we were at church or at school—a simple, quaint, Christian school that reinforced the lessons taught at home.  Public school came later, during the high school years.  But even then, my parents were very involved in our studies and our friendships.  Watching.  Stewarding.  Shepherding.

They just seemed to have this knowing inside—a deep, inner consciousness about the culture.  They knew their job as parents couldn’t be passive.  They knew they needed to fight aggressively against the low values and standards of the common crowd, the crude lasciviousness that was trying to creep into our minds and hearts, our attitudes and opinions, our actions and emotions."

What a great example of being intentional about influencing your children through words, actions and example.

Kids who grow up to follow Jesus as adults have parents who actively serve and involve their children in serving.  Research shows that kids who get involved in serving are much more likely to carry their faith into adulthood.  There is something about serving that activates a child's faith and increases their passion for the things of God.  When a child understands that God has a purpose for their life and that they can be used of God to impact others for the kingdom, he/she engages wholeheartedly. 

And where do kids get a heart for serving?  From their parents.  When they see their parents serving others, it inspires them to serve.  One of the best things churches can do is provide opportunities for kids and their parents to serve together.

As church leaders, we must turn our primary focus to helping parents do these seven things.  Especially parents who have younger children.  After age 12, the role of parents can begin to recede, as kids are influenced more heavily by peers, media, music, social media and the culture as a whole.

We must help parents realize the key role they play in transferring faith to their children by encouraging, equipping and empowering them to embrace the responsibility God has placed in their hands.

If we can influence children's primary influencer, their parents, we can see kids love and serve Jesus for a lifetime. 

Will you give yourself and your ministry to this?  The spiritual future of the next generation depends on it.

Dec 11, 2017

5 Great Christmas Illustrations to Share with Kids

Christmas is such a great time to share God's Word with kids and families.

There is a heightened awareness of spiritual matters.  Even with the secularization of Christmas, there is still much more proclamation in the culture of the story of Jesus' birth compared to other times of the year.

Children form many memories during the Christmas season that will stick with them for life.  As an adult reading this, I'm sure you remember things from your childhood Christmas experiences.

It's obviously very important to teach kids the true meaning of Christmas and even more important to equip parents with stories, object lessons, etc. that they can share with their children during the Christmas season.

One of the best ways to help kids remember Biblical truth is to tie it into something they are already familiar with.  Each of these illustrations uses familiar Christmas items to teach kids God's truth.  If you will use these illustrations, it will stick in kids' long term memory and each Christmas, even into adulthood, they will remember what you taught them when they see the object you used.

These are great to use for children's services and classes, family services, Christmas eve services, family devotions, Christmas morning, family dinners and more. 

The First Christmas Tree Lights
Did you know Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 1500's, was the first person to add lighted candles to Christmas trees?  He did so in order to represent Christ, Who is the light of the world.  Martin Luther wanted to point people to Jesus.  Jesus said in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life."

The Christmas Candy Cane 
There is a legend that the candy cane was first created in the 18th century by a candy maker.  He wanted to share the true meaning of Christmas with the children in his town.  He prayed and ask God to help him find a way to do this.  His prayer led him to an idea - the candy cane.
  • He made the candy cane in the shape of a shepherd's staff to show kids that Jesus is the good shepherd.  (Psalm 23:1, John 10:11, Isaiah 40:11)
  • If you hold the candy cane upside down, it forms the letter "J," which stands for Jesus.  (Isaiah 9:6)
  • The candy maker chose hard candy to remind children that Jesus is our "rock."  He is dependable and strong. (Psalm 31:3)
  • The red stripes on the candy cane were added to share about the crucifixion and blood that Jesus shed for our sins. By Jesus' stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
  • The candy cane was made white to represent the purity of Jesus.  He was sinless. (1 John 1:7)
  • The candy maker gave away the candy canes as a gift.  He wanted the kids to understand that salvation is a gift that comes from Jesus. (John 3:16)
The Christmas Wreath
Christmas wreaths have been used for hundreds of years.  They are hung on doors, over mantles and in windows. 
  • The wreath is made of evergreens, most often pine branches or holly.  This symbolizes growth and everlasting life.
  • The wreath is circular.  This also represents eternity, for it has no beginning and no end.
  • Holly branches have thorns.  When used in the wreath, it represents the thorns in Jesus' crown when He was crucified. 
  • Holly branches also have bright red berries.  This symbolizes Jesus' blood that He shed for us.
Gingerbread Men at Christmas
Kids love gingerbread men at Christmas.  They like to bake them, decorate them and of course, eat them.  But did you know Gingerbread men can have a spiritual meaning for kids as well?
  • The gingerbread men is created (mixed, baked, etc.)  This reminds us that God created us.  Adam and Eve were the first two people created. 
  • Gingerbread men are the color of the earth.  This reminds us that God created man from the dust of the earth.  
  • Gingerbread men don't last forever.  We are mortal here on the earth.  But if we know Jesus as our Savior, one day we will live with Him forever in heaven
Christmas Gifts
Of course, one of the biggest parts of Christmas is the gifts.  Buying them.  Giving them.  Getting them.  Returning them (ha).  There are many ways you can use Christmas gifts to show kids the true meaning of Christmas.
  • Christmas is about Jesus being born.  God gave Jesus as a gift for mankind.  (John 3:16)
  • Jesus is the gift of salvation.  Eternal life is not something that is earned through our own works.  It is a free gift that is based on Jesus' righteousness.  We accept it through faith in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.
  • The wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus to honor Him.  We can also honor Jesus by bringing Him gifts of our time, treasure and talents.
Your turn.  What are some other Christmas illustrations, object lessons or teachings that you have shared with kids and families?  Share them with everyone in the comment section below.

p.s. If you are looking for a Christmas lesson that shares the Gospel, check out "The Christmas Gift."  It tells the heart-warming story of a boy named Andrew who discovers the true meaning of Christmas and is given the greatest Christmas gift ever...Jesus.  It includes teaching videos, games, activities and other elements that will capture the attention of the kids in your ministry.  You can get more information at this link.

Dec 8, 2017

Cool New Game App Helps Kids Memorize Bible Verses

I am excited to tell you about a cool new game app that helps kids memorize Bible verses.

Today's kids spend hours each day engaged with games on their phones, tablets, computers, etc.  If we want to see them memorizing and living out God's Word, then we must bring it to them through this avenue.

Noah's Elephant in the Room was developed by my friend, Joel Carson.  Joel is a gifted developer who has worked in animation and video games for over 15 years in companies like Universal Pictures and EA Games.

Noah's Elephant in the Room is a pac-man style game where the player rides an elephant around Noah's ark.  To upgrade the elephant, the player must memorize 25 Bible verses that have been fully illustrated.  The game's Bible memory uses the memory palace technique which has been a proven memory tool for hundreds of years.  Here's a look at the game.



And here's the trailer featuring the Bible memory aspect of the game.


I highly recommend this game and I'd encourage you to share it with the kids and families in your ministry.  Kids get hooked on games.  If that's the case, then this is a great game for them to be hooked on, because it can help them memorize God's Word.

The game app is available for free on both Android and IOS.  Download it today and spread the word!

Dec 7, 2017

Preparing the Way for the Next Generation

This week I've been meditating on Proverbs 22:6.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Like me, I'm sure you've read this verse dozens of times.  It's one of the key verses we use to encourage parents and church leaders to lead children spiritually.

As I've been meditating on this verse, these words have been jumping out at me...

"in the WAY he should go."  

I have been reminded that we are called to prepare the way for the next generation and point them to it. 

But what is the way?  What does the way look like?  What does the way sound like?  What does the way believe?  What does the way require of us?  What is the way comprised of?

Let's think together for a few minutes about this.

What first comes to my thoughts is this.  First and foremost, we are to prepare the way for the next generation by pointing them to the Person who is the Way. 

We must point kids to Jesus.  He is the WAY, the truth and the life.  If kids are going to develop a faith that goes the distance, they must fall in love with Jesus.  We must help them see that it's not about the rules...it's not about religion...it's not about rites...it's about a relationship with Jesus.

Kids must understand that people will fail them.  There will be hypocrites that confuse them.  There will be people who lie to them.  There will be people who aren't a good example.

But Jesus will never fail them.  He is the Way.  He is the Truth.  He is the Life.  They must find their joy and assurance in Him and Him alone.

Bottom line.  If we are going to prepare kids for the way they should go, then we must point them to Jesus. 

Secondly, as we think about preparing the way for the next generation, I believe we must prepare the way by pointing them to the Word.  Look what it says in Psalm 119:9...

"How can a young man keep his WAY pure? By keeping it according to Your WORD.

We prepare the way for the next generation by helping them know the Word.  We prepare the next generation by empowering them to defend the Word.  We prepare the next generation by helping them memorize the Word.  We prepare the next generation by empowering them to discern false teachings, misguided worldviews and patterns of thought that don't line up with the Word.  We prepare the next generation by helping them know how to rightly divide the Word.  We prepare the next generation by showing them how to apply the Word to their lives.  We prepare the next generation by showing them how to measure lifestyles, choices and behavior not by what the world says, but by what the Word says.

The third way we prepare the way for the next generation is by showing them how to make wise decisions.  Here's what Proverbs 4:11 says...

"I have directed you in the WAY of WISDOM; I have led you in upright paths."

Knowledge alone will not help the next generation find the way.  It will take wisdom as well.  You see, wisdom is taking the knowledge you have been given and using it to make right decisions.

As we prepare the way for the next generation, we must understand that kids are facing issues, pressures, problems and temptations that we never faced as kids.  And this will only increase as they grow older and our culture continues to drift.  We can't fully prepare kids to face things we have never even faced ourselves.  But what we can do to prepare the way is to give them the tools they need to make wise decisions, no matter what they face or what situation they are in.

Another way we can prepare the way for the next generation is by showing them how to WATCH out for pitfalls.  

Here's what Proverbs 4:26 says...

"WATCH the path of your feet and all your WAYS will be established."

There is a real enemy who doesn't want the next generation to walk in God's ways.  He is waging an all out war on them.  He is laying traps, snares and pitfalls in their way.  Pitfalls like postmodernism, political correctness at any cost, relativism, plurality, evolution and sacrificing truth in the name of tolerance.

We must prepare kids to be on watch for these pitfalls and know how to navigate through them.

It's time the church focuses its time, attention and resources on preparing the way for the next generation.  It's time parents prepare their children to walk in the way they should go.  No one else is going to do it.  And in fact, no one else is called to do it.  It's up to the church and home to get serious about our responsibility to prepare the way for those who are walking behind us.

The older I get, the more I must realize that it's not about what I want.  It's about preparing the way for the next generation.  If that means not hearing my style of music in the church so the next generation can connect in worship, then so be it.  If that means continuing to serve even in my older years, rather than sitting back and expecting to be served, so be it.  If that means changing things in the church that I like so the next generation can find the way, so be it.  If it means making ministry for the next generation the top priority at the church, so be it.

There is a poem I once heard that speaks so powerfully to preparing the way for the next generation.  As you read, it I pray God will speak to you and encourage you to give yourself like never before to preparing the way for the next generation.

The Bridge Builder

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

-Will Allen Dromgoole