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Teaching Kids About God, Authority, and Values

  • Jim Liebelt Contributor
  • Published Jul 23, 2009
Teaching Kids About God, Authority, and Values


Many parents today want their kids to grow up possessing a vibrant faith in God. They hope that this faith, in turn, will impact their kids’ lives in such a way that they become strongly moral people, embracing values that can carry them through their adult lives. But, this is not an easy goal to achieve. Today’s culture, and in some cases, today’s parenting approaches both conspire to make raising kids to embrace Biblical, healthy morals and values a huge challenge.

A recent sports-related interview reflects the current state of moral standards in our culture. Reporter Dan Patrick interviewed driver Danica Patrick in the days before the 2009 Indianapolis 500 race. Dan asked Danica "If you could take a performance-enhancing drug and not get caught, would you do it if it allowed you to win Indy?” Danica replied, “Well, then it's not cheating, is it? If nobody finds out?” Dan then asked a follow-up question, “So would you do it?” Danica answered, “Yeah, it would be like finding a gray area. In motorsports we work in the gray areas a lot. You're trying to find where the holes are in the rule book.”  

Many people today have simply abandoned the notion of “moral absolutes,” that there are definite standards of what is right or wrong. This notion has become obsolete in our culture.  We live in a postmodern world where truth has become relative.  

George Barna noted in his book, Generation Next, that about 75% of all adults reject the idea of absolute moral truth. So, three-quarters of adults in our country embrace some form of amorality, which the dictionary defines as lacking a moral sense and being unconcerned about the rightness or wrongness of something. With amorality, no behavior is immoral or off-limits, in and of itself. Everything, within a certain context, might be permissible. Society places limits on what is permissible and not permissible, as a social compact of sorts. And, society can and does redefine morality as it sees fit.

This amorality throws the long held concept of God as supreme lawgiver and judge into question. Christian Smith, lead researcher for the landmark, National Study of Youth and Religion commented in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers that most American adults and teenagers adhere to an eclectic, quasi-religion he called, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It is a religion that piggybacks upon existing Christian beliefs but ultimately changes them so that historic orthodox Christian beliefs become largely unrecognizable.  

Briefly, here’s what Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) looks like: 

Moralistic refers to the concept that most Americans believe in right and wrong.  In MTD, people get to decide for themselves what those things are. For example, a person might believe that there is nothing wrong with telling “white-lies” (like “Sarah’s not home right now,” or “I can’t come to work today because I’m sick.”) So, as long as people live consistently according to their own list of rights and wrongs, they can call themselves moral people.  

Therapeutic refers to the fact that most Americans believe that God exists for our happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment.  God’s job, according to MTD, is to solve people’s problems and to help them get what they want out of life. God is reduced to the proverbial “genie,” who grants wishes to people.  

Deism refers to the idea that most Americans believe in God, but that He cannot really be known. In MTD, God watches people play the game of life and doesn’t get involved much, unless of course, when people need Him to fix a problem or help them get what they want.  

For these reasons, kids today are less likely to have a high view of authority—whether it’s the authority of God, the Bible, church, the government, or the school.

This is consistent with the postmodern view that holds “truths” are simply the means to control or oppress others. According to this view, whether the “truths” come from the Bible or a history textbook, they are to be treated with suspicion and questioned. It’s okay for something to be true for you, but this doesn’t mean that it also has to be true for me. Any attempt to impose “truths” upon others is viewed as one of the highest forms of intolerance.  

Consequently, today’s parents who desire to raise their kids against the grain of the culture face what amounts to a new challenge. Previous generations of American parents did not have to face this challenge when the culture largely embraced historic Judeo-Christian values.  

Complicating matters today is the role, or lack thereof, that parents are playing when it comes to being proactive in teaching their kids values.

A study from LifeWay Research found that:

            • While nine of 10 parents say they need encouragement in their parenting roles, 61% said that they completely ignore parenting seminars, and 53% “have no use for books by religious parenting experts.”

            • Less than a third (31%) of families surveyed have devotions or studies together at least once a month.

            • Over 80% of parents say they have an excellent family life, but a third rate their family’s spiritual life as only fair or poor.

            • Spiritual growth is often trumped by other priorities when it comes to parenting.

Having been involved in presenting parenting seminars over the years, the research has been borne out by my own experience. Churches have often reported disappointment at the numbers of parents attending parenting seminars. A common reflection from pastors has been that the parents they serve say they want help and are happy that the church is offering seminars, but in the end, many choose not to attend.

It’s also been my experience that when families are well-connected in their local church and when these churches have solid children and youth ministry programs, many parents wrongly believe that the work of building strong, spiritually-minded kids is being handled by the church “professionals.” But, church ministries should never be viewed as the primary means where kids’ spirituality is nurtured and where healthy morals and values are established. Instead, church ministries should be viewed as partners to assist in this process.

It’s not that parents should bear the entire blame for passing the buck to church professionals. Many churches have contributed to the problem by positioning themselves as the primary source of Christian and moral education. Too often, churches have provided little or nothing in the way of equipping parents to become primary spiritual and moral leaders in their homes.

Still there’s good news afoot. A fresh breeze of comprehensive family ministry is blowing through the Christian community today, based upon the concept that churches must make partnering with parents a priority, providing specific and comprehensive skills which encourage, empower and equip parents to fulfill their roles as the spiritual leaders in their homes.

Despite the challenges today of raising kids to embrace a Christian worldview, there are steps that parents can take to instill healthy understandings of God, authority, and values.

Teach kids Biblical truths while they are young. In Deuteronomy 6:4-7 we read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you lie down and when you get up.” Further, Proverbs 22:6 tells us to train children in the way they should go, and when they are older, they will not turn from it. Scripture passages such as these provide parents with clear marching orders.

The younger kids are when parents start this process, the better. When begun early in life, kids grow up understanding that learning about God and the Bible are simply part of the family’s home life. Getting started later in a child’s life, can be challenging, but it’s really never too late to start.

Make God’s Word the ultimate authority in the home. Parents can uphold the authority of the Scriptures for faith and life in their own lives and within their homes. As they consistently demonstrate that the Bible is relevant and trustworthy to provide direction in everyday situations, kids will learn to do likewise.

Demonstrate a healthy respect for authority in general. Parents should understand the power they have to influence their children’s perception of authority through their role modeling. When parents live with a general disrespect of authority, their kids are likely to follow suit. On the other hand, kids who see their parents living out a healthy sense of authority are more likely to learn to embrace the concept of authority themselves.

As kids get older, parents should practice more and preach less. As kids enter into the adolescent years, they listen to parents less but watch them more.  In these years, parents begin to trade authority for influence. Parents can strive to live lives of integrity and authenticity. Kids don’t have to see parents as perfect, but as Christ-followers who are authentic and demonstrate a life of faith, even in failure, and in times of crisis.

Introduce kids to older, wiser adults, mentors and role models. While parents hold the most influence upon their kids’ lives, other adults who interact with kids have influence as well. Parents can seek to foster healthy relationships between their kids and respected adults, who kids can look up to and pattern their lives after.

While the challenge of passing on faith and values to today’s kids in a culture can be daunting, parents should remain hopeful. Don’t allow fears of not being able to make a difference in the lives of kids turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Be encouraged by the Biblical examples of those who overcame despite the challenges they faced (Joseph, Caleb and Joshua, David, and Daniel, to name a few.) Be proactive. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. And, keep in mind the words of the Apostle John, “…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) There is hope!

Jim Liebelt is a 20+ year youth ministry veteran and is the Senior Editor of Publications for HomeWord, including oversight of the "Good Advice Parent Newsletter," Today’s HomeWord daily devotional, and HomeWord’s Culture Brief. Jim is also a presenter for HomeWord's parent seminar, "Building Healthy Morals and Values." Jim joined the HomeWord staff in 1998, and has served over the years in various pastoral ministries, as a youth ministry and parenting seminar speaker, an adjunct youth ministry instructor at Gordon College, a national presenter for Group Magazine Live, and has served on the council of the New England Network of Youth Ministries.