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.