Are We Raising Teens Who are Barely Christian?

According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, only 8% of American youth are considered “highly devoted” Christians, possessing a faith that makes a significant difference in their lives.

Kenda Dean, author of Almost Christian observes:

“Even if teenagers immerse themselves in youth ministry programs, are involved in churches, and manage to dodge overwhelming counter influences, they are unlikely to take hold of a ‘god’ who is too limp to take hold of them. Perhaps young people lack robust Christian identities because churches offer such a stripped-down version of Christianity that it no longer poses a viable alternative to imposter spiritualities like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

The elephant in the room in the discussion about the National Study of Youth and Religion is the muddled ecclesiology of American churches, a confusion present, not only in young people but in congregations themselves.  We have forgotten that we are not here for ourselves, which has allowed self-focused spiritualities to put down roots in our soil. (Emphasis mine.)

It would be unlikely for teenagers to develop any religions framework besides superficial Christianity if churches have supplanted the gospel with a religious outlook that functions primarily as a social lubricant, with a ‘god’ who supports teenagers’ decisions, makes them feel good about themselves, meets their needs when called upon but otherwise stays out of the way.  If this is the god we offer young people, there may be little in Christianity to which they object, but there is even less to which they will be devoted.

By contrast, the God portrayed in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures asks, not just for commitment, but for our very lives. The God of the Bible traffics in life and death, not niceness, and calls for sacrificial love, not benign whatever-ism. If the God of Jesus Christ is a missionary God who crosses every boundary–life and death and space and time–to win us, then following Jesus is bound to be anything but convenient.

We reap what we sow. We have received from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction; compliance, not faith. Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth–and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.”

In short, are we teaching real Christianity to our children? Are we living a life that has been transformed, in every part, by a faith in Christ? And are we espousing the same doctrine as the first century Christians, one that cost many their own lives? While most of us will never be required to give a fraction of that for Christ’s sake, are we willing to give up other things if discipleship deems it? Things that might cost us popularity, comforts, friendships?

Are we teaching a Christ worthy of losing all?

I would love your thoughts.



27 Responses to “Are We Raising Teens Who are Barely Christian?”

  1. I think I am teaching a faith that costs me my popularity, comforts, and friendships. I have many evil sites who would love to destroy my message and my blog. Whenever you teach God’s Word boldly, you must be willing to be hated since they hated God first, yet the Truth must be taught for it is God’s way and His ways are always best and lead to life.

  2. You got the book! :-) I loved this point she makes. I think it’s very true. If we don’t make God big enough and we’re not willing to go all out for Him, why should they? Faith is caught more often and more successfully than it is taught.

    • Actually, Bethany, I accidentally bought the “parent guide” to the book, which is the “Raising Teens”, so I haven’t read “Almost Christian”, but the book I have quotes much of AC, and I’ve really enjoyed that. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Kelly L says:

    Amen. No, most are not teaching their kids real Christianity because most don’t live it themselves.

    The Church (as a whole) has stripped God of all his power and awesomeness and made Him safe for everyone. The Church should be exemplifying Christ and the life He lived. He preached boldly with love and compassion going out to the “sinners” (not waiting for them to come into church), He healed people of physical illness and emotional damage, He cast out demons so people could live truly free away from their bondage, He even raised the dead.

    If a church does none of these on a regular basis, it is an empty shell of Christ. But that is most churches in America and why many youth want nothing to do with it. They can spot fraud a mile away; the problem is they just don’t know the true alternative so they leave Christ all together.

  4. Momtotwo says:

    I think it turns kids off when they see their parents being hypocrites.

  5. Keri says:

    Exactly right momtotwo! They will tell you right what it is also. Had to work on the hypocrasy in my own life first! Asking for forgiveness of our kids is so important when we have been wrong!

  6. Bubbles says:

    Christians continue to squabble over tiny doctrine issues. And then, come to find out, your parent..or leader, preacher, teacher, etc.. is a hypocrite..It is…disenchanting(?). I lack a better word. And there is the old saying “don’t shove religion down your children’s throats..” That just makes people rebel. And then, if you do raise them right, trust them and prove you trust them. What does it say when parents control their 18 yo calls, texts, friendships, jobs and social media obsessively? (Duggers from TLC) It says you are scared of something. They rebel. Very simple.

  7. Carolina says:

    We have to keep the good work. some of my posts in FB are critized, but I keep going. If we remain silent, we will never be an agent for change. And the world needs lots of changes.
    The starting point of everything should be the knowledge of the glory of God… and of our misery, and our desperate need of him. At any age. In any season of our life.
    I am going to try to educate myself about those areas, often preached only in reformed churches. Because if God captures our hearts, and the hearts of our children… there will be no way back.
    Very often, the starting point of every ministry, sermon or gospel presentation is man and his need of God. The starting point should just be God, by himself. Teenagers should be treated like the rest of us, like pple who desperately need God, and who need to understand Who He is.

    • amanda says:

      Carolina, this is so true. I grew up in a reformed church and am so thankful for the faithful preaching and the fact they emphasize more the fact we all desperately need God and they treat teens just as they would the rest. Teens don’t get a special worship service and are expected to live a life of faith just as anyone else who belongs to Christ. We are all sinners who out of thankfulness worship and obey Him :-) Church discipline is another topic but it’s worth mentioning that many Christian churches don’t dare go that route because they don’t feel it is ‘loving’.

  8. Jerilyn says:

    I believe that many of today’s Christian parents have abdicated the role of discipling their own children to the church and youth pastors. Most of the time, while parents think they are being “trained up in the way they should go”, kids are being entertained and then thrown a little nugget of bible, usually applied incorrectly, and then allowed to run wild with the pack until the end of service. My favorite quote is from a pastor who was asked if his church had a good youth group. He replied, “Oh, yes, we have a whole team of skilled youth leaders working with our youth.” When asked if he could show them the “youth department”, he motioned for the questioner to look into the sanctuary where the congregation was gathered. He said, “This is our youth department. The parents are taught the word of God every week, and they, in turn teach it to their children. It really is quite remarkable!” I couldn’t agree more :)

  9. Colleen G says:

    I was one of the “highly devoted” Christian teens.(homeschooled, conservative church, etc.) Yet when I was in my late twenties I almost walked away from God. I definitely walked away from the outward stuff of Christianity during that time. Why?
    The view/version of God I received growing up was a strict rule giver who tolerated no law breaking, held Himself aloof from sinners and was very hard to please. The love and the heart of the gospel stopped once you were saved because you were then on the path of hard work, servitude and walking the fine line of “being good”.
    In fear of being too liberal, too nice about sin and of creating lazy armchair Christian the true heart of of Abba-God, the love of Jesus and our freedom in Christ were swept under the rug of rules, regulation and instead I was given a frowning, grumpy father-god who might be made to smile if I could just be good enough. I reached the place where I could no longer be “good enough” and I burned out.
    The quick and easy “Teen” answer is to say more rules, more sin preaching, more sin shaming but sometimes we need to make sure that our teens are deeply grounded in the gospel of Jesus which starts with God’s love for sinners and end with our power over everyday sin and abundant new life in Christ. Without the proper foundation, Jesus who conquered sin for us, we are but building on shifting sands of human try harder to be good.

    • Colleen,

      How very true. The cross. We can never lose sight of the awful, beautiful cross. It must always begin there, and our children MUST know that they can never, ever earn God’s favor. This is hard. We too often have a “pendulum” reaction about things. It is true that our modern church does not preach repentance and the awfulness of sin in attempts to “not offend.” That is not the gospel. The gospel is PRECISELY understanding our depravity and the wrath of a holy God who cannot look upon us without the imputed righteousness of Christ. But that glorious righteousness that IS ours! That gift that prompts us to walk in obedience from our overflowing love. Good words.

    • 6 arrows says:

      Colleen — I can really relate to your post. I went to a Christian school for six years, and from paging through my bible that I used in those years, I can see from the Bible verse references I’d circled, which my classmates and I were assigned to learn, that we were given many reminders of how we fall short before God, but precious few reminders of Christ dying for us, and none outlining the reality of who we are in Christ, clothed in His righteousness, being set free from the law of sin and death, with the power of Christ resting on us.

      Just looking at the book of Romans, the circled references in my Bible are chapter 3, verses 10-12 (“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”) Also verse 23: (“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”). I’d also circled 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” At least that last verse not only showed us our sin, but also our Savior. But those verses were apparently the only ones we covered in any depth in Romans. Absolutely nothing from chapter 8, which I believe is one of the most triumphant chapters of the entire Bible, which begins so gloriously with “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

      The whole Bible is true, and we need it all — to be shown that we are sinners in need of God’s saving grace, but that through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, we are new creatures in Him. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We know the Truth, and the Truth sets us free (John 8:32).

      If the picture of God we get is a predominantly one-sided glimpse, all love and acceptance with no justice, or all justice with no love, we miss the full gospel message, to our great detriment.

  10. Alea says:

    I’m not arguing against anything in this post, but I wonder how many adults are “highly devoted” christians. And of those, how many are in a marriage where their spouse is also “highly devoted?” You can’t pass on something you don’t have yourself.

    • Excellent point, Alea. Very true.

    • Natalie says:

      I agree. This is something that I have been praying about for many, many years. I deeply desire for my husband to step us and lead us. I have shared in the past my desire for him to correct, exhort,and encourage me in the Word of God. And, to confront my “issues” with the Truth. I know I too am far from perfect, but I feel like our family cannot glorify God unless we are in order according to God’s Word.
      He told me that he figures I can take care of my own spiritual walk since I am an adult. Am I misunderstanding the Biblical role of a husband? I would not dare share this with anyone else, but since I am somewhat anonymous here, I feel the freedom to ask for advice.
      I have more “fellowship” with my oldest son and friends than I do with my husband. This does not seem right.

      • 6 arrows says:

        Natalie,

        The situation you describe with your husband’s (lack of) spiritual leadership in the home seems to be a fairly common phenomenon (in my experience, anyway, as I have friends who have shared similar things about their husbands — men who worship every week at church, but don’t read their bibles often or lead the family with devotions, home Bible reading, discussion of biblical matters, etc.).

        I don’t know your situation, whether or not your husband attends worship regularly, or how he expresses his faith, but from what you did share here, and because you asked for advice, I’d like to gently and with all humility offer you some of my thoughts on the subject. (Please know that I don’t have this all figured out, not by a long shot.)

        First of all, it is great that you are praying! That is so important for Christian wives to pray for their husbands, and to ask for wisdom and direction on how to proceed in our roles as wives, as mothers, and as daughters of the King. Keep that up and don’t lose heart, Natalie! God is hearing your prayers.

        Regarding your deep desire that your husband step up and lead you and your family, and how you’ve shared with him your desire that he correct, exhort and encourage you in the Word of God, and to confront your issues with the Truth:

        I have mixed feelings about this. Communicating with your husband is important, but depending on the personality of one’s husband, there can be a point where sharing your desires about changes you hope for might be received as evidence in his mind that you are displeased about how he is approaching important family matters. That can make some men more resistant to stepping up and doing the right thing.

        If you believe your husband might be receptive, perhaps you might ask him how he proposes he and you should help the children in their spiritual walks, since they are not adults. (I’m afraid the way I worded that sounds a little snarky. I’m sure you will come up with a more respectful-sounding way to ask it if you choose.) ;-) Perhaps he wants to take more of a role in the spiritual discipleship of the children, even though he doesn’t want to lead you as an adult (which philosophy I disagree with, BTW, but I digress). Maybe what’s standing in the way of his leading the children in spiritual matters is that he’s very busy, or forgets, or never got in the habit if he grew up in a family that didn’t conduct family devotions or scripture study. Ask him if it would be helpful to him if you reminded him with a simple “Is now a good time to sit down with the kids and our bibles?”, or something of that sort. Under those circumstances, issuing reminders when needed wouldn’t be disrespectful, but would be in keeping with your role as a help meet, helping him to fulfill his duties.

        However, if he’s not receptive to leading the children in any way, I would simply continue to pray for your husband to be led by the Spirit. Your attempting to remind him or further discuss his spiritual leadership in the home could be a stumbling block for him on his way to further spiritual maturity.

        The hard part is knowing what to do with the children’s spiritual instruction in the home when their father is not taking responsibility for it. Ephesians 6:4 is clear that children are to be brought up in the Lord, but look at how that verse starts: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Emphasis mine.)

        What is the wife’s part in this? Well, we’re each called to be our husband’s help meet, as I mentioned above. Could we assist him in carrying out his unfulfilled duties maybe by simply sharing our faith with our kids, perhaps reading some Bible stories and verses that are our favorites, telling them why they are particularly meaningful to us?

        On the other hand, if we’re not really assisting him, but are actually taking over completely, teaching Bible doctrine to our children when our husband is not, are we raising a generation of children that are getting the unspoken message that spiritual matters are left to the women? Are we making it easier for men to shirk their duties when we step in?

        These are all things I think about, and, like I said before, I don’t have the answers.

        I’m intrigued, though, by the brief mention in 2 Timothy 1:5 of Timothy’s grandmother and mother: “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”

        Paul does not mention any men in this passage who may have had influence on Timothy as he was growing up, but certainly the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother had some impact on him, or I don’t believe it would have been mentioned in Scripture. What was their spiritual influence on him? How did they share their faith with him?
        Clearly, God can use us women to accomplish His purposes in the lives of our children and grandchildren. How do we take seriously our role as a tool in the hands of the Lord as we desire to pass the baton of faith to the next generation(s)? I think it’s a matter of prayer, asking God for wisdom on where we women fit into this picture, especially if there is no man who is attempting to speak into the spiritual lives of the younger generation.

        I’m sorry that I have more questions than answers for you, Natalie. It’s a tough situation that doesn’t have clear-cut answers, IMHO. I would, though, like to answer this question you asked: “Am I misunderstanding the Biblical role of a husband?”

        No, I don’t think you are. But I think it can be easy for us women to think too much about the husband’s role, which can lead to disappointment about how our husbands may be falling short, making it difficult for us to fulfill God’s mandate for us in Ephesians 5:33 — “…and the wife see that she reverence [respect] her husband.”

        Can I share with you some hope? Regarding this statement: “I feel like our family cannot glorify God unless we are in order according to God’s Word.” You and your husband and children are a family, yes. However, your husband’s failure to act as the spiritual head of your family does not negate your or your children’s giving glory to God. We all have our specific duties, biblically speaking, as members of a family (see especially Ephesians 5:22 through 6:4). Each of us will stand before God as individuals, answering for how we fulfilled our roles. You and your children are able to give glory to God through choosing to honor Him in your respective roles, whether or not your husband does in his.

        Last thing I’d like to address is what you said at the end of your post, about fellowship with your oldest son and your friends. I’m glad to hear that you have fellowship with your son. That is a good thing, Natalie. But I know what you mean about how that doesn’t seem right, having more fellowship with him and your friends than with your husband. It is unfortunate that your husband doesn’t seem to value having fellowship in the gospel with you, but there is no human who can change that, only the Holy Spirit. So I would go ahead and continue to have fellowship with those who are receptive. Continue nurturing your relationship with your son in the way the Lord leads you.

        Likewise with your friends. The Lord has put Christian friends in your life with whom to share matters of faith. There isn’t anything wrong with this, whether or not a woman has a husband who serves in this same capacity. We all need fellowship with the saints, and I would continue to nurture those relationships in which you are exhorted and encouraged in the Lord.

        Many blessings to you, Natalie. You raised excellent questions. I enjoy reading your posts.

        • Natalie says:

          Dear 6arrows,
          I can always count on you to respond with a thoughtful post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write. Yes, I have noticed a defensiveness when I have brought up my unfulfilled desire for him to “lead” me spiritually. I need to be encouraged to keep on praying. To pray and not give up! In our culture we are so used to getting things right away, waiting on God’s timing can be a challenge.
          Also, I was rereading an former response you gave to my question about birth control (I was desiring to give over to God, but husband not in agreement). Well, the Lord worked…and I am now 6 months pregnant!
          I look forward to meeting you in heaven one day, where we will enjoy eternal fellowship face to face :) .

          • 6 arrows says:

            Natalie — Thank you for receiving my comment so kindly. I’m always afraid I’m beating people over the head with my lengthy replies! I’m not very good at cutting to the chase. ;-)

            Congratulations on your pregnancy! I’m so glad you reminded me of that conversation you mentioned we had had. I remember it now, and was praying for you for a time (not sure if I told you I was going to do that). What wonderful news to learn of this answer to prayer! Thank you for sharing that, Natalie! I’ll pray now that your pregnancy goes well, and that God would be pleased to grant you and your family the joy of new life in a few months.

            I look forward to the day I can meet you, too. :-)

            Love,
            C

      • Natalie,

        I lay thinking about this last night. My first thought is a challenging one, one I’ve struggled with myself, but am convinced is the best and even the most helpful thing. A man responds better to gratitude than anything. And often, when we are disappointed with his lack of something, he senses it, even if we don’t chide him. I have found though, that if I express gratitude for what he does do, he is so much more eager to “rise up” to the challenge of doing the hard things, things he has neglected maybe because he simply feels inadequate. Also, I’ve realized over the years that his “leading” may not look like I think it should, but is more important and that if I embrace that, it’s the right thing for our family. For example, he leads by his gentle nature, his playful nature, his honest living, his patient responses, his display of love for me, etc. That kind of leading is far more powerful for my children than a scrupulous devotion schedule. (I don’t want to misrepresent my husband here; he actually does lead us in nightly devotions. But there were years he wasn’t as consistent as I wished he was and I learned I could still be grateful for his other types of leading.) Hope that helps!

        • Natalie says:

          Thank you for your response. I found myself focusing more and more on the negative and even thinking “I should have married a more godly man”. I realized that my thinking was not God-inspired when it started to go this direction!
          I am going to try to think on all the wonderful things about my husband and pray he feels appreciated, admired, and respected. And I will keep praying that we would be more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

        • Lisa says:

          Amen and amen. Well said, Kelly.

      • Kelly L says:

        My husband WAS like that. I read, “The Power of a Praying Wife,” by Stormie Omartian. I implemented (as best I could) what I learned and He changed…A LOT! it is awesome to know God answers our prayers.

  11. Lucy says:

    It might become easier in the future, as our culture moves further away from values resembling Christian morals, what is a Christian and what is not will be increasingly defined and clear cut. It won’t be so easy to shrug and hang out on the fringes of the gospel.

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