My new book, Talking with Your Kids about God, comes out in just two weeks! If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, NOW is the time (you can order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lifeway, ChristianBook.com or Direct2Church).
Today I’m sharing the introduction from the book right here on the blog so you can get a better feel for what it’s all about…and hopefully get excited about having the book in hand. 🙂 If you’d like to read even more, my publisher has made both the introduction and first chapter available for download here. And if you haven’t yet visited the book page here on my site, you can click here to learn more, read the table of contents and check out the endorsements.
I hope you enjoy the introduction! And if you’re excited about the book, would you take a moment to share this post with those you know? I would so much appreciate your help in getting the word out to your friends, pastors, children’s/youth ministry leaders, teachers, and anyone else you can think of!
Introduction to Talking with Your Kids about God
My backyard is where plants go to die.
Each year when spring rolls around, I think I can grow a few potted plants outside and enthusiastically head down to the local nursery. I buy plants with beautiful green leaves, already starting to produce fruit, and drive home ready to take on the world one homegrown tomato at a time.
Within a month, my plants die . . . every single time.
I can’t pretend I don’t know why—I’m the world’s laziest waterer. I start off strong but soon fail to water the plants until they’re almost dead. Feeling guilty, I then drench them with buckets of water one last time, but it’s too late. They can’t recover, and soon they’re in the trash.
Last year I was determined to do things differently. With my characteristic spring enthusiasm, I picked out pepper, tomato, and basil plants. I meticulously watered them every day. But despite my discipline, the tomato plant soon turned yellow, the basil plant was burnt by the sun, and the pepper plant was devoured by caterpillars.
Not knowing what to make of all this, I finally purchased a gardening book to learn more about keeping plants alive. I couldn’t believe how much there was to consider! I thought gardening was simple—dirt, seeds, and water. In reality, it’s a lot more complex.
- Each plant has unique needs. Even if I remembered to water each day, my discipline wasn’t going to keep my plants thriving, because different plants have different needs. The tomato plant turned yellow because I watered it too much.
- Plants need more than one ingredient and in the right amounts. I had assumed that plants simply need water to grow. I hadn’t considered the amount of sunlight each one needs, nor the type of soil or fertilizer. The basil plant died from too much sun.
- The environment plays a major role. Not only did I need to proactively give my plants what they require, but I also needed to proactively protect them from predators. Caterpillars were able to eat my pepper plant because I hadn’t warded against them.
One afternoon as I thought about my failure as a gardener, I was struck by the resemblance between what plants need for physical growth and what kids need for spiritual growth.
But how much more important is the care of our children’s souls?
If I really cared about growing plants, I would have educated myself on gardening much sooner. It just wasn’t a priority. But as parents called to the all-important role of leading our kids to know Jesus, we can’t afford to just “give it our best shot” and see what happens, with a possible do-over next spring. Too much is at stake, and good intentions are not enough. We have to know what we’re doing.
We need both direction—the knowledge of what to do—and discipline—the commitment to doing it.
Discipline and Direction: A Key Relationship
To better understand the importance of discipline and direction for Christian parenting, consider these three scenarios:
1. When we have no discipline and no direction, we’re leaving our kids to wilt spiritually. This happens when we’re inconsistent in “watering” their spiritual lives (no discipline) and when we don’t understand all that they need to thrive (no direction). It’s an easy trap to fall into when we’re busy. Our spiritual training ends up being a mealtime prayer here and there, a wishy-washy commitment to church, and occasional references to the Bible thrown in for good measure (especially when someone’s behaving badly). If guilt takes over, we may “drench” our kids with more church activities or devotionals for a while, but for many kids, it’s too little, too late.
2. When we have discipline but no direction, we’re working hard but not necessarily doing the work our kids need most. I had this problem when I faithfully watered my plants each day, not realizing how many other factors were involved in helping them grow. Despite my intentions, the plants still didn’t have what they needed to survive. Similarly, some parents are very disciplined, in that they’re consistently mindful of their kids’ spiritual development, but they’re not knowledgeable of the many “ingredients” that go into a strong faith or the “environmental factors” that will challenge their efforts today. Research has shown repeatedly that at least 60 percent of kids from Christian homes turn away from faith by their early twenties. Clearly, the hard work of many well-intentioned Christian parents is not resulting in thriving spiritual lives for their kids as adults. Discipline without direction can be dangerous.
3. When we have discipline and direction, we’re confident. We know we’re doing what we should to help our kids develop a deeply rooted faith. We’re setting aside time each week for our family to grow together spiritually and weaving faith throughout our daily lives based on our knowledge of what our kids need. We know we’ll never be perfect parents and that, ultimately, God is sovereign, but we rest in the comfort of knowing we’re being as faithful as we can be to our calling.
I think it’s clear which scenario we should want for our homes.
This book will help get you there.
It won’t give you discipline—you’re the only one who can prioritize your kids’ spiritual development—but it will give you direction.
What Kind of Direction?
When I started my Christian parenting blog, NatashaCrain.com, in 2011, I was a discipline without direction parent. I was committed to raising my young kids in a Christ-centered home, but I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. I started the blog simply thinking I would meet like-minded parents and exchange ideas about raising faithful kids.
But as my readership grew and people started sharing my articles with friends online, something unexpected happened: my blog began attracting a stream of challenging comments from skeptics of Christianity—comments I had no idea how to answer.
There were challenges about how I knew God existed.
About the relationship between science and the Bible.
About God’s actions in the Old Testament.
About the plausibility of miracles.
About the amount of evil and suffering in the world.
About contradictions in the Gospels.
About the reasonableness of hell.
About everything you can imagine.
Despite having been a lifelong Christian, and despite having spent hundreds of hours in church and Sunday school, I was not prepared for this onslaught. I realized that my kids were growing up in a very different world than the one in which I grew up. Teaching them about Christianity wasn’t going to be as simple as “dirt, seeds, and water.” My kids were going to need a lot more from me, and I had to find out what that was.
It was time to become a more educated gardener.
I launched into an in-depth study of Christian apologetics—how to make a case for and defend the Christian faith—and over time transformed my website into a place where I help equip other parents with the same knowledge. It’s become my passion, and today more than 250,000 people each year read my blog.
Eventually, I had the opportunity to write an apologetics book specifically for parents: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith. It covers conversations across the major subject areas of God, truth and worldviews, Jesus, the Bible, and science. To follow Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I wanted to write books that dig into one of these major subject areas at a time, delving into many more questions than was possible in a book covering multiple areas.
That’s what Talking with Your Kids about God does. This book is a resource for Christian parents on thirty of the most important subjects kids need to understand about God in light of challenges from our secular world. Whether you’ve read Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side and are looking for the next step in your learning or want to jump directly into this in-depth resource on the subject of God specifically, you’ll find the direction you need to have thirty important faith conversations that will benefit your kids for a lifetime.
How to Use This Book
First and foremost, Talking with Your Kids about God is designed to equip you, the adult, with the knowledge you need to have these conversations with your children. In other words, don’t hand this book directly to your kids—it’s not written for them! This is your guide.
That said, it can be intimidating to figure out how to talk to kids about tough subjects even when you understand those subjects yourself. It helps to have guidance on how to break down the content into manageable pieces of conversation centered on the most important points—so that’s exactly what I’ve provided at the end of every chapter.
Each “Conversation Guide” has three sections: “Open the Conversation,” “Advance the Conversation,” and “Apply the Conversation.”
In “Open the Conversation,” you’ll find one or two questions intended to get your kids thinking about the subject. Resist the temptation to dump a chapter’s worth of knowledge on them at that point. Instead, listen to your kids’ answers and ask follow-up questions to learn more about their thoughts.
In “Advance the Conversation,” you’ll find two or more questions to help you probe the key ideas from the chapter. These questions will not cover every detail you read. They’ll give you the opportunity to highlight the most important points, then it will be up to you to decide how deep to take the conversation. Discussion tips are offered with most of these questions.
In “Apply the Conversation,” you’ll find a quote from a skeptic of Christianity that pertains to the subject. Most are taken from conversations between Christians and skeptics online. They’re the kinds of comments your kids are most likely to run into on their own eventually. After reading the quote together, ask them to respond to it based on what they learned from the chapter. Don’t shy away from doing this, no matter how old your kids are. If you help your kids apply their learning by responding to these quotes, I have no doubt you’ll find this activity to be one of the most valuable parts of this book.
Are you ready to become a more fruitful gardener and help your kids thrive spiritually? I know you are. “Plant” yourself in a comfortable chair, and let’s dive in.