I received a letter from a father, who wrote, "One of the goals I had for my son in attending your Honor Academy was for him to make his faith his own. He grew up in a Christian home and he's a great kid, but sometimes when teens leave home, they try new things."
This father's goal is probably not too different from that of many Christian parents. We want our sons and daughters to leave home with something more than just a good Christian upbringing. We want our teens to have a personal faith rather than just a family faith. But how do we encourage that kind of ownership?
I want to offer some hope, wisdom and personal insight to encourage you as parents. It's never too late to build and maintain the essential bridges to the heart of your teens so that they continue to establish a personal relationship with Christ as they mature.
Be aware of who owns his heart
When our kids were very young, it was easy to see that we as parents still owned their hearts. If we are not careful, however, friends or media will begin to own the heart of our teens. And the bottom line — whoever owns a teen's heart will have the most influence on him.
Somewhere in the process of moving from the influence of parents to the influence of peers and the culture, kids may decide that they don't want to hear anything their parents have to say. In this situation, we may need to woo our teens back to relationships at home, watching for signs that we are once again the ones to whom they go for direction. We will need to spend time with them individually, talking about issues they might mention and discussing why our values may differ from those around us.
Let's not forget to spend time doing fun things with our teens, creating opportunities to talk and letting them know we care. Depending on how hardened or influenced by friends and culture a teen may be, it could take a significant investment of time to win his heart back. But it's absolutely possible.
We need to clarify for our teens that with more freedom comes more responsibility. They need to know we trust them to make right decisions, even though limits may be set on Internet and iPod use and time spent with friends. Allow for family meetings, pray together about making big decisions, and ask them frequently how they are doing.
Teach core values
What are our core values? Many of us would say, "I just want my family to live according to the Bible." But if we don't emphasize individual character qualities, we may end up not emphasizing any biblical qualities.
My wife, Katie, and I wrote down a list of qualities we wanted in our family and presented them in a list to our kids: honor, respect, honesty and responsibility. Together we agreed that this was the kind of family we wanted to be, and although we knew we were never going to be perfect, we committed to living by these four core values.
As parents, we need to model the values we choose to emphasize in our home, letting our teens confront us if they notice we are in violation of these values. Even if we make a big mistake, we can turn the situation around with a heartfelt apology.
It's imperative that we actively work with our teens to create a family culture that builds stability, sets expectations, ensures security and encourages faith. Here are some specific ways we can encourage teens to grow in their faith:
• Maintain a close personal relationship with the Lord that our kids can see and emulate.
• Encourage them to spend time with the Lord in a daily devotion.
• Challenge them to keep a prayer journal.
• Ask them what God is speaking to them on a daily basis.
• Take time to worship together and talk about whatever comes to mind during this worship time.
• Make time before bed to say a five-minute prayer together (or pray in the car as you go to school each morning).
Our home and the living out of our faith should be one deliberate faithful act after another. Through the purposeful time we spend with our teens and our modeling of prayer and devotion to God's purposes, our kids will be encouraged to grow in their own relationship with God. Our teens will be intentionally challenged to have a personal faith — not just a family faith — as they launch into adulthood.
Ron Luce is the president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries and the author of several books, including Live God Loud.
Copyright © 2013 by Ron Luce. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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