What Christian Parents Should Learn from Marty Sampson Losing Faith

My blog has been quiet since earlier this year because I was finishing my next book (Talking with Your Kids about Jesus; March 2020). Now that I’ve turned it in to the publisher and my kids are heading back to school, it’s time to resume blogging!

I debated what my first post should be as I start back up, but decided there were some especially important things to address with the headlines this week about Marty Sampson of Hillsong United saying he’s losing his faith. Hillsong is one of the most popular worship bands today, and Sampson’s announcement has led to endless discussions on social media this week. Last month, a similar high-profile announcement was made by Joshua Harris, a pastor and author known for his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s what Sampson posted on Instagram:

“Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.

This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.

I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.

All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Some of the takeaways from Sampson’s announcement are obvious and have already been dissected ad nauseum this week (for example, no one should esteem Christian leaders to the point that if they fall away from Jesus, it impacts their own faith). However, there is a less obvious point I want to highlight today with implications for Christian parents specifically.

It’s not enough for kids to know that answers to faith questions are available.

As many have pointed out this week, Sampson’s claim that “no one” is talking about the various faith questions he raised is absurd if taken literally. Of course people are talking about those questions, and they’ve done so for thousands of years. In fact, they’re so common that I’ve written about every point he raised in one or more of my books. He certainly didn’t stumble upon some kind of unexplored territory.

But I’m pretty sure he knows that, and it’s not what he meant.

In fact, he later posted a list of some apologists (authors and speakers who defend the truth of Christianity) for people to check out if they have similar questions.

Sampson clearly knew that answers to his questions were available. The problem here is not a question of available answers…it’s a question of available processing.

Building a Home Where Kids Process the Big Questions

When I talk to people after speaking engagements, a lot of parents will say something like, “It’s so good to know that the answers are out there! I want my kids to know that!” There’s no indication that they have any intention of personally digging into those answers with their kids. They feel it’s enough to point them to some ethereal box of knowledge when a need eventually arises.

Sampson’s statement attests to the serious problem with that idea.

He knew answers were out there, but was apparently living in a Christian climate that never really engaged with them. That silence screamed, “The Christians around me aren’t thinking about faith as deeply as I am, otherwise they would be talking about this more and questioning too.”

For adults like Sampson, this tends to be a function of the climate in the church you attend and the believers you fellowship with. For kids, it’s in large part a function of the climate in your home.

In homes that foster a thinking climate, parents:

  • Proactively raise big questions for discussion—even when their kids aren’t asking them. (If you don’t know what those should be, there are seventy conversations to have with your kids in my first two books.)
  • Explicitly tell their kids that questions are welcome and regularly ask what questions they have.
  • Share their own questions about faith, and how they’ve searched for answers.
  • Make it clear that biblical faith isn’t blind, and that God has given us much evidence for the truth of Christianity.
  • Explore the beliefs and logical implications of other worldviews so their kids better understand Christianity in context.
  • Press kids to explain why they believe what they do, not just reiterate their viewpoints (on any topic, not just spiritual matters).
  • Engage in conversation about hot cultural topics from a biblical worldview rather than avoid them.
  • Model intellectual curiosity about faith by reading/listening to/watching content that grows their own understanding.
  • Study the Bible with their kids for understanding, not just to memorize isolated verses.

In homes that don’t necessarily foster a thinking climate, parents tend to:

  • Instill the idea that when we have questions, we just have to have more faith (but biblical faith is trusting in what you have good reason to believe is true).
  • Assume kids will learn what they need about the Bible in Sunday school (but they won’t).
  • Equate discipleship with raising kids with “good values” (but Christianity is far more than a set of values).
  • Fear their kids’ questions, believing they will lose credibility if they can’t answer them (but kids can learn just as much from exploring answers with you).
  • Believe they have no other spiritual responsibility than to pray for their kids (but we are called to be active disciplers).

Every Christian parent should take a hard look at whether they’re fostering a “thinking climate” in their home. Giving your kids opportunities to process questions (not just telling them answers are available) so they don’t conclude “no one” is talking about these things is a critical part of discipleship today.

And there’s one other related point I want to note from Sampson’s statement. He said, “Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God.”

A lot of kids today—and clearly adults, too—are looking for the worldview that “works” for them. The one that “changes their life.” The one that “feels” the best. The one that “helps.”

The problem is, that’s not the decision-making criteria we should use when considering worldviews. The question should always be, What is true? What is the true picture of reality?

If Christianity changes my life, but Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, Christianity is still a false worldview and I shouldn’t hold it. It’s not true.

If atheism changes my life, but Jesus was raised from the dead, atheism is still a false worldview and I shouldn’t hold it. It’s not true.

Kids not only need opportunities to process big questions of faith, but they also need direction on how to weigh the answers; they need to clearly understand that the search should always be about discovering what is true…not about what subjectively “works.”

I was sitting in a church group recently that was discussing the need for teaching kids these things. One parent very honestly acknowledged his doubts about all this, saying, “It just seems like one more thing we’re supposed to do.”

If that’s how you feel, I want to leave you with this thought. If your child’s math teacher only wanted to teach them addition because subtraction is just “one more thing,” you’d think they were crazy. Subtraction is an integral part of math. In the same way, raising your kids in a home that presses in on deep questions of faith is not one more thing for Christian parents…it’s an integral part of discipleship today, whether you feel like engaging in that process or not.

As you begin this school year, consider what the temperature is in your own home’s thinking climate. If it’s been cold, don’t feel guilty—just turn up the heat. If you don’t, the secular world will…before you even realize your kids have burned out of Christianity.