Parenting: An Unbroken Line Of Christians
Passing On Your Faith to the Next Generation
Seventeen years ago, Canadian Hockey Legend, a true friend, and a man I so look up to, Paul Henderson, gave me this challenge. He said, as I recall, “Currie, you have got to join me in this prayer that we’ll have an unbroken line of Christians in our family until the day that Jesus comes.” What was Paul referring to? That we, as leaders in our homes, by God’s grace, would do whatever it took to pass our faith on to the next generation so that our families — our entire downline — kids, grandkids, great grandkids and beyond would all choose to follow Jesus until His return — an unbroken line of faith. That is a very worthy prayer and we took his challenge.
When I asked Paul today, when did he begin praying this prayer, he promptly said “38 years ago!” Here’s the backstory. In discussing what they wanted their own legacy to be, Paul and his wife, Eleanor, decided that this goal would be a big part of it. That they would have an unbroken line of Christians in their family until the day that Jesus returned – generation after generation — who would clearly follow Him with their lives. It’s a brilliant and God-honouring target for all parents as I see it.
When Paul first shared this with me, we only had two of our kids married and no grandchildren. How things change. Now all four of our family are happily married and we have 13 grandkids. I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated Paul’s challenge passing on his words to my own family, to others in giving personal advice, and in speaking publicly. It is one of my ongoing personal prayers as well.
There’s another serious reason why his challenge is so important in passing on our faith and doing family right — God’s way. The sad truth is that most families are not doing a very good job at passing on the faith to their kids. Depending on the source, the statistics range from as low as 64% to nearly 82% of youth walk away from their faith after they leave home. Those numbers are gut-wrenching and sobering. The dangerous reality is that we, as a church, are only one generation away from extinction. Ouch.
Because of my deep love for all things faith and family, for nearly three decades, I have made my own ethnographic observations by looking closely at any teenagers who have continued following the Lord after High School. When I would see a young adult at 18, 19 or 20 years of age, whose faith was alive and well, I would start looking for answers. I wanted to know what is true of THOSE parents and THOSE families where these children kept going on in their faith after leaving home. It almost goes without saying that every parent of faith deeply wants their children to own their faith volitionally — that their relationship with Jesus become personal, transformational and lasting. What I discovered in my observations, every parent should understand and incorporate.
I have used a merger of Paul’s challenge, these discoveries and my grasp of God’s principles to be a springboard for what I teach people on how to pass their faith on to the next generation. I will share six Biblical conditions that are central in transferring your faith to your kids and grandkids. I believe that living out these non-negotiable factors in your lives and homes will almost guarantee that you will have an unbroken line of Christians until the day Jesus returns!
The truths are anchored by two keywords: authenticity and intentionality. Authenticity is a parent actually being who they portray they are. It’s about genuineness — being real versus being fake. Hypocritical parents are not followed.
Intentionality is a parent taking specific steps to live out their faith – to actually incorporate the transformation that a Christ-commitment implies. Talk is cheap. Parenting is so hard because you don’t get time off to be carnal. It’s a 24-7 life commitment that makes the greatest impact. Read on for the details on my best advice on doing this right. Here’s what wise parents will do:
Condition 1: Make a Commitment to Keep a Soft Heart Toward God
Ezekiel 11:19, 20 says. “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
We need to allow God to remove the heart of stone within us — that hard, unresponsive stubborn nature within us – and give us a heart of flesh. That’s a soft heart — one that’s sensitive, responsive and open to change. We listen to God’s voice; His truth penetrates our minds and hearts and we are receptive and willing to make life adjustments. You can’t hide this responsive, soft heart in the home. It is evident in all we do. Children can sense the genuineness of our love for Jesus. And it’s not about perfection — it’s about the direction. Kids have to see that our love for God is real and the way our life is heading! Both husband and wife must be individually responsible to keep growing with the Lord. Make this commitment. We have.
In every wedding that I officiate, I give this advice to the couples getting married. “The greatest gift you can give your spouse is to keep a soft heart towards God because if you do, you will become the person, the partner and down the road, the parent the Lord wants you to be.” You see, the true litmus test of your faith is what happens inside the four walls of your home. It all starts with a soft heart that is evidenced in the primary relationships of your life. You simply can’t say you are sensitive to God and somehow be insensitive to those closest you! If you know the Lord — you treat people right — and it starts with your spouse and kids!
It’s God’s ripple effect of transformation. With a soft work, the Lord works in concentric circles creating, first of all, massive change in us and then clear and positive impact on those closest to us — spouse first, kids next, and then extended family and friends. It is really hard for our kids to rebel against something that they clearly see and so real in you.
Condition 2: Keep the Passion Alive in Your Marital Relationship
The convincing nature of how you love your spouse is a reflection of God being in you and in control of your life. Song of Solomon 8:6 reads, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love.” That is powerful. God has to be at work in your marriage. That’s what the kids see every day. Work to stay in love with your mate. Keep your marriage a priority.
The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother. When kids see the strength of mom and dad’s marriage — if they sense their parents are tight and close — it translates into stability, strength and security in the lives of those observing children. Remember too that the best premarital counselling that your kids will get is what they receive from you in the 20 plus years they are at home.
Ten days before my mother died, my dad was extolling the virtues of his 57-year soulmate. He was facing the stark reality that his Dorothy would soon succumb to the cancer battle. I remember dad’s words that evening as he broke down into tears, “I just wish the Lord would let me go with her now.” Then he sobbed so deeply because he knew she wasn’t coming home again. There’s one thing more beautiful than “young love” that’s “old Love” — a love with history. It is seen when arthritic and gnarled hands can still naturally clasp together like each other’s twisted counterpart have found a way to weave together for life.
Modelling this love to my kids and grandkids was so important that when our first grandchild’s prenatal existence was announced, I began to pray that my Grandkids would say this about me. “That Gpa (Jeepah) is CRAZY but does he love Nana and does he love Jesus!” That’s all I want. That they all would see the difference that my faith makes at home.
Condition 3: Practice Perpetual Re-engagement with your Spouse and Family
Most people wonder what perpetual re-engagement is. I can understand that. I deliberately put these words together to beg the question. Perpetual re-engagement is the decision to continuously and repeatedly coming together again to reconcile and reconnect with those closest to you. Jesus called it forgiveness. That’s over and over again determining to release a person from the mistakes they have made and the hurts they have caused. And how many times did Jesus say we should perpetually re-engage with someone — including your spouse and children — 70 x 7 times. There is not much room for excuses to not forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” That’s a tall order to forgive those closest to us like Jesus has forgiven us! If you don’t forgive, bitterness and resentment will eat you alive like a cancer. Breakthrough those walls of hurt and anger and realize that forgiving someone — to perpetually re-engage — is to free yourself. Forgiveness and releasing the hurt, no longer holding it against the other person, is how you reconcile and remain close.
Face the fact that all marriages have what I call “splatter”. You know, the kind of splatter like when you drop an egg. Bang. It splats all over the place. Your spouse is going to let you down — whether it is their mistakes or unmet expectations, intentional or accidental. Keep coming back to work things out. Keep short accounts with each other. Remember that a great marriage isn’t a problem-free marriage. No, a great one is measured by how quickly you can resolve the issues that arise. And men, step up here. If you really want to take “head of the home” seriously, you are the one to willingly and humbly always bend the knee first — be the 1st to apologize — be the 1st to forgive.
What does perpetual re-engagement have to do with passing on your faith to the next generation? Everything! If your kids see forgiveness and feel forgiveness in the home, they know that God is real. Let me tell you a story. Some years ago, I was speaking in a church in Southern Manitoba. After a passionate message carrying the heart of this article, I gave a challenge for people to publicly recommit their lives and marriages to the Lord. God moved hearts and the altar was lined with people seeking Him. It was then in this post-service aftermath that I happened to observe a man back on the far right get up and walk over to the opposite side of the church to a man on the far left. They stood. Faced each other. Exchanged some words. Then embraced each other in a serious, man-sized and not a short bear hug. Later, I asked the pastor what was that all about. He said that we had witnessed a miracle. As the story goes, 12 years earlier, two brothers who had been business partners, had a falling out, split up their business with really hard feelings and hadn’t spoken since. Their families were not allowed to interact. Cousins could no longer see cousins. Family gatherings didn’t happen. The division was deep. One brother’s family would literally come in one side of the church and sit together while the other brother’s family would come in the other side and sit isolated and separate. They would not interact and would leave week after week never interchanging but attending the same church. That day, when the two brothers reconciled, faith in God became real again. All the cousins knew that the Lord was at work. That step of re-engagement that so honoured God’s plan, was a testimony to all those kids that Jesus does make a difference.
Condition 4: Let Your Love Flow Freely and Fully with your Family
Your faith is shown by the love that you express. Your kids can see and sense the reality of your care for others and themselves or the lack thereof. You see, if you know the Lord, you need to treat people right — especially those closest to you. In Ephesians 5:1-2, we read, “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” As a much-loved child imitates their father, we too are to live a life of love just like God does. We are to copy Him!
After all, to love clearly is the mark of a Christian. Jesus own words say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34,35). We need to maintain a solid, caring relationship with each family member. We need to protect the belonging of all – that we are all safe in our home. Love needs to flow through support, encouragement, hugs, laughter, acceptance and more. And for parents, remember, the greater the relationship — the greater the influence. This kind of love -seen and felt by the kids — validates the Christ-difference and is clearly one of faith’s anchoring points.
When our youngest, Mitch, was about age six, the loving experience in our home had already made an impact on him. His nightly prayer almost always included, “Thank you that we love each other.” But why is it sometimes that we are hardest on those that we say we love the most? Be sure to show love where it counts most — at home!
One of the greatest ‘across the board’ demonstrations of love in our family happened when Keldy, our youngest daughter, felt she needed to break up with a boy she had been dating for over two years. Though she knew it was the right thing to do, it was likely the hardest thing that she had to do to that point in her life at age eighteen. When I got word that she had “done it”, I decided to come home early that Friday just to comfort and console my amazing daughter through this good but hard step. Problem. When I knocked on the door of her bedroom and peeked in, she was in bed with her sister-in-law, Carly, who was already there listening, caring and praying with her. Fine. I will step in as Dad later that night. Problem. Our older daughter, Jody, had called and had invited Keldy over for the night just to be an encouragement to her little sister through a hard time. Well, that is great. I am looking forward to caring for her but I will have to wait until the next day now to do it. My son-in-law, Chris, loved in his own way too by vacating their bedroom to let Jody and Keldy hang out, talk and crash in the same bed. I looked forward (finally) to taking Keldy out for dinner the next night — or so I thought. PROBLEM…again. By the time I talked to her Saturday afternoon to line up our dinner date of encouragement, she told me that Mitch (little brother of age 16) was taking her out for dinner and a movie. How can I love? When is it my turn? The point is — love had won the day. Christ was validated by the love that was being expressed at every turn amongst family members.
Condition 5: Model the Difference Jesus Makes in your Daily Life
When it comes to passing on your faith, if you want your kids to bleed spiritually, YOU have to haemorrhage. You can’t be flakey as a Christian and expect your kids to be on fire. Your faith has to be lived out at home. You need to model what you want your kids to become. They will have very little chance of becoming what you say but will have a fighting chance — by the help of God — of becoming what you do! It’s pretty simple and straight forward, “If you claim to live in Him, you must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Kids will become like you are more than what you say.
Live the difference that Jesus wants to make in you. We need to conduct ourselves in a manner that is in keeping with the Gospel (Philippians 1:27). Let there be no doubt what your life is about. Your life is a GOD thing. Get your priorities straight – live them clearly. Kids will see and sense the difference. That is how the faith get passed on. They see so clearly how it has shaped you as mom and dad.
Over the many years of working with youth, I would often ask the question to teens just to try to get what is really going on in their lives at home. One of my favourite questions was, “What is important to your parents?” Interesting responses. What would YOUR kids say they were if asked that? Here are some of the answers I got. What’s important to your Dad? His New Escalade. How do you know? You can’t go near it because you might scratch it. Your Mom? Her new rug. Why? Cause you can’t walk on it – it’s just for company. Your Dad? His job, I guess. Why? Cause we never see him. He’s always there. What’s important to your mom? OPRAH.Oprah, why? Well, don’t try to watch anything else at that time and be quiet or get outside.
Here’s the sad truth. Never once in over 20 years of posing this question to teenagers did one of them say, “My parent’s faith in God.” Not once. Are you clearly living the difference? What would your teens say?
Condition 6: Be Intentional about Transferring Your Faith and Values
We know that more is caught than taught when it comes to faith. That’s why if you review these conditions, the first five of them are about who you are and how you live and only this one is about “saying” something. The point is intended to be obvious. Let your life speak five times more often than your mouth opens. And yes, it’s true, very true in parenting; actions speak way louder than words. Your changed life is the platform upon which your words can have meaning. Here’s the 5 to 1 ratio. Let it sink in: LIFE, LIFE, LIFE, LIFE, LIFE then LIPS. Problem: most parents talk five times more often than they should and don’t always have a consistent Christ-centered lifestyle as a living example of how to live. I have seen how the LIPS, LIPS, LIPS, LIPS, LIPS then LIFE fails over and over again. Be wise.
Determine what spiritual lessons need to be taught. What is important to you? What do your kids need to know about GOD, faith and life? Determine what you want to say on any of the major areas of life; values, work, school, friends, honesty, relationships, serving others, sexuality, finances and more. Talk it through as parents and then write it down what it is you would want to convey. That’s right. Write down what you believe and want to pass on to your kids. Try not to “wing it!”
The Scripture gives a great approach, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). We must love the Lord fully with everything in us as parents. Then His word and His ways need to be on our hearts — genuinely understood and embraced. Then, you intentionally, passionately and consistently teach them to your children. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY.
We are to use teachable moments all day as they arise. We should include God’s perspective on things in a wise, winsome and perspective-giving way, not in a top-down, guilt-ridden, demanding way.
Remember: truth is transferred best through relationship; the greater the relationship, the greater the influence. And your life is the platform for your words. Your tone is the microphone that your words are delivered through. Then be sure that your message matches what God would want for your kids.
Frankly, I love the truth contained for parents in 2 Timothy 2:2. As parents, we teach our kids (2nd generation) in a reliable way so that they will teach their kids (3rd generation) how to pass the faith on (4th generation implied). Here’s my paraphrase in context of the family, “And the things you heard me say in the presence of the rest of the family, entrust to your family in a reliable way so that they will be qualified in turn to teach the next generation…and so on and so on and so on…” Be sure to pick the right times to share these truths. They will go deeper and last longer.
At one point in my parenting, when my oldest was just hitting Junior High, I really felt led to try to simplify our faith as a family down to a very short but Biblically accurate statement. Once determined, it became the anchoring mantra of our family. You discuss and decide what yours would be, here’s ours: PUT GOD FIRST, LIFE GOES BEST! Talk about it. Refer to it. Put it on your walls. Pray it into their lives. I’ve even put it on our building where the Doing Family Right office is.
Where does that leave you? How authentic is the climate of your marriage? Are you authentic with faith, authentic with the friendship between you, and authentic with your forgiveness?
How intentional is the environment of your family? Are you intentionally loving the people in your world, intentionally modelling the difference Jesus is to make and intentionally teaching His truth on life in a warm and winsome way? What do you need to do as a couple to have an UNBROKEN LINE OF FAITH until the day that Jesus returns?
©Dr. Dave Currie – January 2019