“Do as I say, not as I do” is perhaps one of the most destructive phrases ever introduced to society. Although it has been adopted by many in society as an acceptable statement, it needs to be recognized for what it is: an excuse for hypocritical living. This mindset is destructive in any relationship but seems to create the most confusion and damage in the parent/child relationship.
As parents we have a responsibility to model for our children what attributes we hope they will one day embrace for themselves. When we ask them to witness us living one way yet commanding they live another, it undermines our best intentions and sows seed that will one day produce unwanted fruit. This is true in every aspect of their lives but most critical in their spiritual development. If you and I want our students to mature in their faith then we can’t just send them to church…..we need to model what it looks like to develop in our faith.
3 simple things we can do to promote spiritual development in our students:
1. Prioritize spiritual development
Most parents reading this post would say they want their students to be spiritually minded people. However, for many there is little evidence that spiritual maturity is a true priority. It has often been said that the fastest way to see what has an adult’s heart is to look at their bank statement. When an adult spends hard earned money on something it communicates value. A student’s most valuable commodity is his/her time. So the easiest way to see what they value most is to look at their schedule. If there is more emphasis, energy and attention on academics, athletics, fine arts, or video games than there is on spiritual development then there is a conflict between what we say we want for our student (spiritual maturity) and what we are investing their time toward (other things).
I recognize that the literal amount of time invested isn’t a true or accurate barometer. Purely from a logical perspective everyone understands that football practice is going to take a larger amount of time out of one’s day than a personal quiet time or youth worship service. The key isn’t the technical amount of time but rather where spiritual development sits on the priority list. If there is a conflict between your teenager’s spiritual development activities and extracurricular activities……which one wins the day? The answer to that question will be a pretty good indicator of whether or not you, as the parent, really prioritize your student’s spiritual development.
2. Participate in your student’s spiritual development
Just like a dad who loves sports will jump at the chance to go into the yard each evening with his son to throw a football, we should be eager to walk with our students along the journey that is their spiritual development. As parents we need to engage our students in spiritual conversations on a regular basis. We can, and frankly should, go well beyond the typical “So how was your day?” to questions that help our students interact with the reality of their developing faith. A few questions you might consider asking:
- Who is someone from your school that you are praying for and can we pray for them together?
- What are some of the hurdles you are currently facing that are challenging you in your faith?
- What are some things that God is currently showing you about yourself?
- How is God using you to be a blessing to others?
- What scares you about right now? What scares you about the future?
- What are you dreaming about?
- How can I pray for you right now?
Not only can we get better about asking thought provoking questions, but we can also develop alongside them.
- Read a book together and discuss from a Christian perspective
- Watch a movie together and discuss the spiritual implications within
- Go to a local ministry and serve alongside each other – putting faith into action
- Agree to listen to a particular worship song over the course of a week and discuss what it communicates about God and His people
Have you ever had someone who encouraged you to excel at something by “helping” you do it rather than simply “telling” you to do it? I had a Greek professor in college who expected a lot out of us. I have never been very gifted when it comes to languages, so it was a very oppressive and stressful time in my life. The thing I remember most about Dr. Johnson isn’t the assignments he gave us. The things I remember most are the nights he opened up his classroom to help us prepare for exams and the creative ways he helped us learn to engage the language. He got in the middle of it with us and encouraged us by participating. Our students may not express it in the immediate but will one day be grateful their parents got in the messy work of spiritual development with them.
3. Develop personally.
This is probably the most important one in my estimation. If we want our students to be spiritually mature people, we need to be continually developing and maturing in our own faith. I personally believe students need to see us wrestle with the realities of our own faith journey. It won’t hurt them to see us interact with our faith on a consistent basis. It won’t damage them to see us read our Bibles, fall on our knees in worship, prioritize our spiritual health over the health of our careers, joyfully anticipate and fully participate with the body of Christ through Sunday morning worship and small groups and grieve over the sin in our own lives.
When we drop our students off on Wednesday nights because “church is good for them” but then refuse to put ourselves in positions where we too can be fed spiritually we send a “do as I say, not as I do” message. This will come as a surprise to many parents but our students know we aren’t perfect.
- They suspect we too were tempted sexually and possibly gave into those desires before marriage.
- They suspect that we too were challenged academically and likely didn’t make 100% on every assignment.
- They suspect that we too went through seasons of doubt when it came to our faith in God.
- They suspect that we too have fears about the future.
- They suspect that we too find it difficult at times to invest in our spiritual development.
Part of helping our students develop spiritually is allowing them to see us, the real us, trudge through the not-so-glamorous parts of life. Then we need to let them see us rely on the same grace and peace of God that we want them to rely on when they find themselves trudging through their own difficulties.
I know it is easier said than done. As adults many of the patterns of our flesh are very established at this point. Another adage that has gained a lot of appreciation over the years is “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While this may prove to be true with dogs, it is errant when speaking of human beings. The grace of God is powerful enough to tear down every stronghold and redirect every unhealthy pattern. We just have to become humble enough to admit we want something for our students that we aren’t fostering in ourselves and then pray that God gives us the clarity and courage to do something about it.
So…..let’s stop dropping our students off at the church hoping the student pastor is able to straighten them out. Let’s stop instructing our students about faith while avoiding engaging them in their faith. Let’s stop pretending we have it all together and in so doing communicate that we don’t have a need for God in our day-to-day lives. Let’s stop doing all of that and let’s START demonstrating to our students that spiritual development is a top priority for us because of our faith in Christ.