5 Regrets You Don’t Want to Have If Your Kids Walk Away from Faith

5 Regrets You Don’t Want to Have If Your Kids Walk Away from Faith

Regret.

It’s something I often hear from parents who are heartbroken that their teen or adult kids have walked away from Christianity.

Whether it’s through one of my online book read along groups, private emails, blog comments, Facebook messages, or at speaking events, when parents reach out to me about their kids walking away from faith, their words are laced with painful sadness and a sense that they in some way failed.

My kids are still young (ages 9 and 7), so I haven’t faced this myself, but I relate to these parents because I have so often experienced my own sense of parenting failure.

I haven’t shown enough patience, and I see them exhibiting their own impatience.

I haven’t given them enough conflict resolution skills, and I see them argue constantly.

I haven’t spent enough time showing them how to serve others, and I see them lacking perspective on how to live out their faith.

As a parent, there are so many I haven’ts. And there will always be, because none of us are perfect. We cannot flawlessly deliver all that our kids need. But there’s something about I haven’t that implies opportunity.

I haven’t implies I haven’t yet.

When our kids leave home, however, those I haven’ts will cement into regretful I didn’ts.

As Christian parents, there should be nothing more important to us than raising our kids to know and love Jesus. How could there be something more important if our kids’ relationship with Jesus has eternal implications? Yet we have to recognize that we don’t control whether or not our kids become Christ-followers. The heavy burden of I didn’ts that so often comes with a child’s rejection of faith must be tempered with grace and placed at the foot of the cross.

At the same time, parents with kids still at home can’t ignore the fact that there is much we can do to help our kids develop a lasting faith. We are called to actively disciple our kids (Deuteronomy 6)—not to sit back and see what happens. We should focus on what we can control and give the rest to God.

With that in mind, there are many regrets we can purposefully avoid. They are things that we largely have in our control and that we should be able to reasonably identify as responsibilities long before I didn’t becomes a reality. Here are five you don’t want to have if your kids walk away from faith. Unfortunately, they are five I hear from parents far too often.

 

1. You didn’t give them a deep enough understanding of Christianity.

Research has shown time after time that at least 60 percent of kids who grew up in church walk away from their faith by their early 20s (here is an excellent summary of the studies). Don’t be jaded by the numbers—that is a crazy statistic.

Young people often turn away from Jesus, however, with a flawed understanding of the nature of truth, what Christianity even is, and what the Bible teaches.

They think that Christianity requires blind faith; that a person must choose between faith and science; that Christianity basically boils down to living with “good values”; that Christians think they’re better than others; that Christians aren’t loving if they declare something is sinful according to the Bible; and much more.

How sad to think that many turn away from what they think is Christianity, but is actually only a caricature of it based on layers of misunderstandings built from popular culture over time.

One of the most important things we can do as parents is ensure our kids deeply understand what, exactly, Christianity is—and isn’t. This requires us to 1) study the Bible deeply with our kids and 2) be educated on how the world gets Christianity wrong so we can proactively correct those misunderstandings with our kids.

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that they accurately understand what they’re rejecting.

 

2. You didn’t expose them to the claims of skeptics.

A lot of parents are overwhelmed at the thought of helping their kids learn the case for Christianity and how to defend their faith against the seemingly ubiquitous challenges today.

Where do you start? Where do you end? How can you cover it all? How can kids ever really be sufficiently prepared? How can we even be prepared ourselves?

But here’s what you need to know: Helping your kids develop a faith that’s prepared for today’s challenges is not a nebulous, impossible task.

Skeptics make a predictable set of claims, so we have a pretty specific agenda we should be covering with our kids over time. Think of it like helping them study for a test. You might not be able to anticipate every conceivable question they’ll get, but you can make sure they know what major subject areas they’ll encounter and how to think through the most important questions in those areas. They’re not venturing out into a completely wild blue yonder. This test can be studied for.

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that it’s not because they were taken aback by shocking claims they hadn’t heard first from me.

 

3. You didn’t make enough time for conversations about faith.

In their research for the book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark surveyed 11,000 church-going teenagers and asked how many of them talk with their parents about faith. They found that only 12% of kids talk regularly with their mom about faith and 5% with their dads.

What a devastating fact.

How can we help kids navigate the complexities of faith in a challenging world if we’re having zero or few conversations about it with them? Let’s be clear: This is completely in our control. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing the time needed and learning what conversations need to be had.

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that it’s not because I didn’t invest time consistently and continually in having meaningful and relevant spiritual conversations with them.

 

4. You relied on the church to develop their spiritual life.

Being part of a fellowship with other believers is an important part of the Christian life. But there’s no question that simply getting your kids to church each week is not enough to prepare them to be independent followers of Jesus—especially in a challenging world like this. Parents must accept responsibility as the primary spiritual influencer in the life of their child.

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that it’s not because I delegated the responsibility of spiritual discipleship to the church.

 

5. You focused more on raising kids with “good values” than raising kids with Jesus.

This might be one of the mantras of this blog given how much I repeat it, but it’s so important, I need to say it over and over: good values are not the same as Christianity. None of us want to raise kids who are little terrors in the world. We want them to be pleasant people who generally exhibit what the Bible identifies as fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s easy to forget, however, that those qualities are fruits of the Spirit, not fruits of how hard we try. They are the outcome of a Spirit-filled life: the fruit, not the root.

If we focus on raising kids who are simply “good people” (by whatever behavioral definition you want to assume), and not on raising kids who love Jesus as the root of the fruit, we’re just raising future secular humanists.

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that it’s not because they believed good values were pretty much the same as Christianity and eventually decided they didn’t Jesus.

 

If these points raise some I haven’ts for you, take a moment to consider right now what needs to change. Know that they don’t have to become I didn’ts. And rest in the peace of knowing you’re not responsible for your child’s ultimate decision to follow Jesus, but rather for being obedient to your calling as the primary spiritual influencer in your child’s life.

 

If you need a resource to help you with these points, you’ll find what you need in my latest book, Talking with your Kids about God. You’ll get equipped to help your kids understand Christianity more deeply; you’ll know specifically what claims skeptics make about God that you need to expose them to; you’ll learn how to have those conversations (every chapter has a step-by-step conversation guide); you’ll see what it means to take responsibility for their spiritual development rather than delegating to the church; and you’ll be prepared to teach why good values depend on the existence of God.  

19 Comments

  1. ARSnyd on January 24, 2018 at 9:07 PM

    Interestingly written as I would have written it with children still at home. But the real heartbreak occurs when our children walk away and we did ALL of those things you list—carefully, intentionally and regularly. You are correct we must rest in God’s grace and be careful that our pride is not what is truly hurt the most.
    My warning would be to beware of the underlying thought that it will not happen to you. And if you follow all the rules and leave nothing out, it will turn out right.
    You have no guarantees.
    Watch the heart of your children and let nothing slide. Heart issues may be more important than what you think is most important now. Demonstrate and lead toward love. Show them how much you love Jesus and why. Show them your struggles to be obedient and the consequences when you fail. And how to enjoy faithful living. Inoculate against Satan’s schemes.
    Pray intentionally to know each child thoroughly so that character can be developed exactly where it is needed. Pray for their future. Pray not to miss any critical heart attitudes.
    It is strenuous work requiring more diligence than you have ever imagined.
    Never give up. Disciple beyond cultural adulthood.
    But when you release them, what they choose to build is theirs.
    Their building brings joy when they choose to walk seeking God.
    But it may bring sadness if they do not. Pray and never be passive.



  2. Sergio Parsi Jr on January 24, 2018 at 10:08 PM

    I cannot thank you enough for this blog. My son, who is wayward in faith, is a sophomore at college. He seemingly left the faith as soon as he concluded his senior year of high school. I want to say that I don’t blame him; it was we, the parents, who did not set forth the Spiritual platform from which he would be able to draw on an enlightened and hopefull commitment to the Faith. We bare much blame, and are saddened by his refusal to even attend church.

    I’m hopeful that my son, and our precious daughters, will learn to value the presence of God in their lives, but we know fully that this will take much effort on our behalf. I believe we have failed our children in this respect, however, I am fully confident that placing this dilemma at the foot of the cross is the beginning we so need. Thank you again for a powerful message!!

    Sergio



  3. […] 5 Regrets You Don’t Want to Have If Your Kids Walk Away from Faith: http://christianmomthoughts.com/5-regrets-you-dont-want-to-have-if-your-kids-walk-away-from-faith/ […]



  4. Joanna on January 25, 2018 at 11:48 AM

    I love this blog. I have been encouraged for a few years now. This article is the centerpiece to why I read your thoughts. Thanks so much.



  5. Tony McCargar on January 25, 2018 at 1:52 PM

    It is hard for me to condense my thoughts in the space of a “reply” however, let me attempt. I am; father of 4, grandfather of 5, married to my wife 45 years. Years can sometimes give perspective and so let me comment. All 5 of your “haven’t(s) are true and right however, we need to recognize our own sin nature and that we won’t always do them faithfully as we should nor do we always reflect the image of Christ in our lives and conversations. That being said we need to remember that it is Christ who saves, it is He … 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved ; 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2) This is how God worked in your life and it will be how He works in our childrens…it is His Work! Not that we don’t follow His word to be faithful to impart it but we can’t and won’t do it perfectly. We have one daughter who has remained faithful through her life and one whom God faithfully rescued from that “walking away” you mention. The most comforting thing she said when she called to have us pick her and her two little children from a wrong lifestyle choice was..”I always knew I could call, I always knew you loved me” I can think of nothing greater for a father to hear. While we still have 2 more adult children who refuse Christ, I take great comfort in that most often what we find in the Bible is that God saves through his covenant family. It may never happen in our lifetime but Salvation is of the Lord. We need to comfort ourselves and one another with this. Lastly, prayer. I cannot encourage enough that we pray for our children each and every day (or more per day). God desires us to pray and we are called to pray for our children. Take courage parents, trust in God alone, repent of our weakness and failure to obediently teach our children, pray for them and most of all love them. They are His gift to us!



    • Tara broome on May 18, 2018 at 8:23 PM

      Thank you for writing your comment. I am so burdened for my unbelieving son. I have such great sadness that take holds in the discouraging times. It is overwhelming.



  6. RangerKwii on January 26, 2018 at 4:14 AM

    There seem to be a lot of parents commenting here with sadness about kids who have left the faith. I want to offer my positive story. Myself, followed by my husband, left the faith around 6 years ago. It was a considered process, and boils down to “atheists had the better arguments.” For 4 years I studied and considered and I felt pretty angry that I had been lied to in church. I really truly internalized the belief that Christianity is false. After 4 years I developed a more apathetic outlook and was no longer angry, but was far from being a believer. My husband’s journey was along a similar trajectory. In the last year, my husband and I have both come back to the faith, and we feel like our beliefs and faith are so much stronger this time around.

    It was a process that we had to go through ourselves, and we both believe we went through this process in order to strengthen our faiths. My parents raised me as a Christian but couldn’t possibly have forseen the cultural shifts that would happen. No parent can raise their kids with a bulletproof faith, but it’s also true that atheists can become believers–even the well researched sort that seem like their hearts will never change (as we were).



  7. Bruce on January 26, 2018 at 5:26 PM

    My wife and I became Christians late in life (40s/50s). Neither of us raised as Christians. In fact my mother had a professed hatred of Christianity all her sad life. My brother too became a Christian a few years ago. Of course there is deep regret that our kids were grown up and out by then. But, sometimes in deep pain, God is still working on us all. It’s never too late and always right to keep praying.



  8. Lenny Matthews on January 28, 2018 at 8:01 AM

    I believe one of the most important things we can and must relay to our children ( even if they’ve grown and left home) is that we are failures (sinners) to when it comes to God. We need to be honest and share our faults (sins) and the hope we found in Christ. We as parents tend to place our children under the law when they see us so discouraged by their behavior or choices in life as if they can make the right choice or produce a godly character through proper training. It’s not too late to point them to the grace of Christ, His unconditional love, His mercies that are NEW every morning (for us parents because as saved sinners we are in need of His mercy every morning) and their is no condemnation for those in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. Do we show them grace upon grace or our disappointment in them time after time because they have failed ( just like us).



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  10. Travis on February 1, 2018 at 6:05 PM

    Great post! Very insightful and thought-provoking. I teach Christian apologetics to high school students, and their experiences mirror the statistics given and sentiments expressed. As a father of a 6- and 3-year old, interaction with my students drives my determination to be there for my kids in this way. As one who grew up in church and struggled with doubts throughout high school, numbers 2 and 5 resonate with me.
    Thank you for the post!



  11. Margie on February 3, 2018 at 8:43 PM

    I am the mother of a faith prodigal. She’s 31 and left the faith sometime around age 26 while in grad school at Savannah College of Art and Design. It was a rather sudden departure for no stated reason. The only reason she says is “I saw things differently.” My heart has been broken ever since.
    There are a number of reasons people walk away. Sometimes it is intellectual doubt. Sometimes it is experiential or emotional pain. Someone (especially someone Christian) has hurt them or done something that is wrong. Sometimes it is a choice they make for their own reasons. Sometimes it is a poor understanding of the Gospel. And sometimes it seems to be a spiritual attack.
    I know I did many things that were far less than ideal a parent. I tried to bring my kids up to know Jesus. To attest to this are shelves full of children’s Bibles, Bible story books, devotionals, Adventures in Odyssey CD’s, Christian books on parenting, and Psalty videos that saw heavy use. We were heavily involved in our home church and I taught in the children’s ministry. We played Christian music in the car. She and I went to a Life On The Edge seminar. (In hindsight, I see that I could have done much better.)
    As you know, when you are doing God’s work, Satan targets you. We had several big blows during her formative teen years.
    1. My late preteen girls were devastated when their grandpa left their grandma for another woman as they were very close to their grandpa.
    2. Some ugly divisive factors raised their heads in the church we had attended for almost 15 years and we ended up on the receiving end of some of the uglies. We talked about those instances as a family and how God wanted us to act. Because of that, we changed churches, but it took a while to find another one which seemed to “fit”.
    3. Their father began his medical misadventure with sleep apnea, but that wasn’t diagnosed or treated for another 12 years, so he was drained all the time. Compound this with a not-where-she-needed to be spiritually, too weak mom who lost the spark and fire of her youth.
    4. When she was in high school this oldest daughter had her first major depressive episode. We discovered she had been cutting for over a year, that she had suicidal thoughts, and the surliness we had attributed to her being a teenager was actually depression driven. She spent a lot of time with a questionable and strange young man “C” who seemed to feed her dark side. She went thought treatment of medication and counseling and seemed to be doing well her senior year of school. “C” wouldn’t have anything to do with her when she was well. We saw that as good since he was the face of her depression in my mind.
    She did well when she was attending a Christian University, made a dear male friend named “S” whom I think she hoped would be more, but that didn’t happen.
    My prodigal found a good job very quickly after her college graduation and she attended the church of a former pastor of ours. She became active in the praise band and part of the young singles group. She seemed solid and doing well. Two years later, she suddenly decided to attend Savanah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah Georgia. She resigned from her job, took out huge student loans and moved to Savannah, sight unseen.
    After about a year there, things rapidly and inexplicably began to go south. She stopped attending church. She said she wasn’t comfortable with the first church, calling it a spectator event, and then unexpectedly and suddenly dropped the other smaller second church she had attended where I strongly suspect something went terribly wrong. At first it was “I don’t have time for church”. Later, she began ragging about how evil Westboro Baptist was and demonstrating against them. Sometime around the age of 26, she became militantly antichristian and saw all churches as bad as Westboro. She was also having extreme trouble with anxiety and insomnia.
    She then lived with us for two years until she finally found a job across the country. After moving to the West Coast, she has adopted the new philosophy which is becoming very prevalent especially in California and among college students, with the attitude that she is on the cutting edge of the new society that must take over the dinosaur of the current one which is doomed. She thinks the world owes her. She has turned into a modern social justice warrior taking up such causes as gay rights, abortion rights, racial “equality”, anti-white privilege, rape culture, anti-gun, police brutality, the Dakota Pipeline, free college tuition, socialism, guaranteed jobs and income….She hates Christians, Midwesterners, Southerners, conservatives…. lumps them all together and thinks they are all equally bigots, haters and hypocrites, and should be shut down. However, she never sees that other groups have worse records…..it’s only Christians who are the bad guys with these things.
    And guess who lives out there and she sees frequently? “C” with his boyfriend (as in sex partner) her friend “S” from college! She introduced them not knowing their orientation.
    I have no idea how to deal with this person who took my lovely, kind and caring daughter away from me and replaced her with this angry hateful bitter person. She is a stranger in my daughter’s body. She says she doesn’t understand us anymore, we’ve changed from the people she knew.…..
    I have expressed to her that when she says all these hateful things about Christians, Midwesterners …. I hear her saying, “I hate you, Mom. I hate everything you are and a few things more.” Then she says “Mom, I love you.” Not logical. Congenial conversations with her can unexpectedly go weird. One minute we’re having a nice conversation and then it takes an unexpected sharp left. I don’t know what might trigger a tirade. I have caught a number of logical disconnects in several subjects. She does a lot of parroting of the antichristian themes with no real filters or critical analysis or comparison of multiple sides. There is not another side in her mind. The Texas church massacre – they deserved it because they pretend to be innocent victims and they think they are right all the time and have the only way to heaven. They put gays into torture camps.
    None of us know if there was a precipitating event or whether she is merely reflecting the people she is with or whether it is her depression talking. Possibly, she only wanted to fit in with her new companions at SCAD. Her former pastors don’t have a clue either. They said they saw no signs of this world view when she was in their young singles group.
    I don’t know where I have gone wrong. I was told that if I raised a child right, she’d never depart from it. However, the fact that she was 25 before this change happened and it was a sudden sharp turn leads me to believe a precipitating event may have occurred.
    The other possibility is one we often don’t think about. It could be a big spiritual battle and something she opened in her life let in demonic/satanic forces.



    • Steph on March 20, 2018 at 4:26 PM

      Margie, I will include your daughter in my prayers. Also you and your husband, for the strength to continue to be encouraging to her.



    • R on November 30, 2018 at 2:01 PM

      Margie, you are not alone. Many of us are facing this exact issue. My daughter has significantly changed since meeting a young man her last year of college who was raised with no religious upbringing. 3 years later she said she cannot tolerate our religious remarks and judgmental, hateful attitudes. We are not like this. We try hard to avoid saying anything of this nature (politics, religion, etc). We pray at meals and that is frowned upon, because it makes her boyfriend uncomfortable. I was a stay at home mom, we were involved in a non-denominational evangelical church for all our lives. I have 2 grown sons who also now reject their beliefs. All of them accepted Christ and were baptized as teenagers and I hold onto that. Another dear friend of mine is experiencing this as well. Never stop praying and never stop loving your daughter.



  12. Pat Mingarelli on March 5, 2018 at 9:13 AM

    Great insights. Raising kids to follow God seems like an uphill battle these days. Your posts always offer valuable ideas to think about and to put into action to help our children walk with God.



  13. Veronica Mitchell on June 14, 2018 at 12:10 PM

    I feel restored after reading this entry. And I’m happy I read the comments. I learned from the entry and I also learned from the comments, too. Thank you for this.



  14. John Clark on October 15, 2018 at 2:49 PM

    I think the number one reason that adult children walk away from the faith of their parents is they look at what’s being taught vs. the contradictory actions of many: their parents at home, family members who say they’re Christians, and church members who say they’re Christians. They see all the hypocrisy and say no thanks.

    Teach youngsters all the truth you want but if you as a parent aren’t living the truth then chances are children are going to listen more to your actions than your words.

    It’s been my observation that many parents in church all think they’re just fine with their actions towards their children but as an outside observer it’s obvious they weren’t going along with biblical teaching. When those children became adults and left they were surprised. Wasn’t surprising to me.



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