Last week during our Bible time with the kids, we were talking about God’s love for us and what exactly that means. As the conversation progressed, I asked my kids (ages 6 and 5), “And how do we even know God loves us?” For purposes of that particular conversation, I was simply expecting them to answer that the Bible tells us about God’s character. Instead, my daughter said, “Because you told us so.”
My reply left my lips before I could ponder the full implications of what I was about to declare.
“Oh, no, no, no. I never want you to believe things about God just because I told you so.”
Internal gasp. Did I really just cast a shadow of doubt on my parental credibility? Did I just make my kids think they should take my spiritual guidance with a grain of salt? Did I just lead my kids to stop caring what I have to say about God?
My daughter looked at me with a bit of impatience.
“Mommy, what I mean is that God told the people who wrote the Bible, then they told people, then eventually your parents told you and you told us.”
At that moment, I had a choice. I could have taken the easy road and bought back my statement by saying, “Oh, OK. In that case, yes”…or I could have committed to the underlying value in my original statement by pushing her to think more critically about what she had just said.
I chose the latter.
“I like how you’re starting to think about this. But what about kids who have parents who don’t believe in God, and their parents are passing down that teaching? They don’t believe God exists because their parents told them that’s what’s true. God either exists or He doesn’t, but we can’t determine that just based on what our parents say…different parents say different things. Do you see the problem?”
She nodded tentatively, then I landed the plane in what I realized to be a pivotal moment in my daughter’s spiritual development.
“Honey, there’s nothing more important in this life than what you believe about God and Jesus. But people believe lots of different things about whether or not God exists and who Jesus was. If I let you grow up to believe in Jesus just because I spend the next 12 years telling you over and over that what I’m saying is true, you won’t know what to think when other people tell you something totally different. God has given me the job to not only teach you the truth, but to teach you what excellent reasons there are for believing in Him so you can discover that truth yourself. If someone asks why you’re a Christian when you grow up and all you can say is, ‘because my parents were Christians!’ I will not have done my job well. I need to make sure you know all the good reasons for trusting in Jesus so you can make that decision yourself. Don’t believe just because I do.”
My daughter’s eyes twinkled with an unspoken delight in the trust and responsibility I had just handed her. Even at age six, I could tell she thought that was a big deal.
Six Things That Will Happen When You Tell Your Kids Not to Believe Just Because You Do
So that’s a pretty scary conversation to have with your kids, right? We may internally want our kids to believe in Jesus for their own reasons, and not just because we believe, but it takes things to a whole other level when you verbalize that desire to them. It’s easy to fear that you’ll lose spiritual credibility or that your kids will care less about what you have to say.
But, in retrospect, I believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, after pondering it a lot this week, I think those six words are a vitally important declaration every Christian parent should explicitly make:
Don’t believe just because I do.
When you commit to that conversation, six things will happen.
1. You’ll demonstrate the importance of your kids developing a personal, owned faith.
As I’ve written about before, it’s very easy to raise kids who leave home with a “borrowed faith”—one that mimics the external behavior of those around them but never becomes part of their internal identity. A borrowed faith leaving home can be just as dangerous as an already broken faith. The result is often the same, just delayed. By having this conversation, you are effectively putting the faith ball in their court and explaining to them how important it is that they own their faith…something many (if not most) kids would never otherwise consider. Their need to make an active decision about their beliefs will be made obvious.
2. You’ll demonstrate how confident you are in what you believe.
By telling your kids you want them to discover the truth of Christianity on their own, you’re effectively saying, “I’m so confident that what I believe is true, I don’t want you to take my word for it. I’m going to help you discover that yourself so you can be as confident about your beliefs as I am.”
That is powerful.
3. You’ll intentionally open their eyes to the fact that faith is not a simple belief.
By virtue of the fact you’re telling your kids that you’re going to teach them over time how to discover the truth of Christianity themselves, you’re naturally introducing them to the fact that Christianity is based on good reasons for belief that they can learn about and isn’t a simple belief system based on blind faith (a common assertion from the secular world).
4. You’ll give them implied permission to seek, question, and discover.
When you have this conversation, you’re setting the whole tone for spiritual development in your house. You’re letting your kids know that you expect their childhood to be filled with seeking, questioning, and discovery rather than automated acceptance of handed-down beliefs. You’re opening a very important door for future faith conversations.
5. You’ll enable long-term confidence that they believe in Jesus for the right reasons.
One of the most common tactics atheists use to make young Christians rethink their beliefs is to claim that they are only Christians because they were born in a Christian home or in a Christian country; in other words, they’ll tell your kids they were indoctrinated based on the situation they happen to have been born into.
But guess what happens when your kids know that’s not why they believe in Jesus?
They’ll be completely unfazed by it.
6. You’ll put yourself on the hook for following through.
All of this assumes you actually follow through and mold your Christian parenting efforts accordingly. It means committing to working on your kids’ spiritual development regularly at home. It means learning how to make a case for and defend Christianity yourself (you can’t teach it if you don’t know it). It means being willing to engage in those conversations with your kids. If you tell your children you don’t want them to believe just because you do, you make yourself accountable for taking your efforts to the next level. That’s a good thing.
Take the Challenge
If you haven’t had this conversation with your kids, pray about it. Then do it in the full confidence that you’re shaping their view of faith in a way that will benefit them for life. If you’re willing, come back and share here in the comments about what happened in your conversation!