The last thing parents need is another guilt trip about how poorly this generation is producing Christian kids. I'm a parent of three young children so I understand the weight of expectation and the feelings of inadequacy that accompany the job.
We've been inundated with piles of data that show kids abandoning their faith at a faster clip than ever before. Those statistics have been debated back and forth. They've given rise to books predicting the doom and gloom for the church, the family, and America. I still rest my hope in the sovereignty of God to move in every generation.
However, I've noticed a growing trend that is slightly disturbing. It's the trend toward "kidult" behavior. It seems kids are staying kids longer and putting off the reasonability of adulthood.
I wonder if our parenting and our church culture is partly responsible.
The Dreaded M Word
Today's generation of youth leaders are reaching young people in wonderful and innovated ways. Unprecedented resources are being thrown at Christian youth. But I hear very few messages that encourage actual maturity. You know, growing up, being responsible.
I'm Jewish. I'm a Christian and was raised in the church but part of my heritage is something called a Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls). It's supposed to serve as the marking of a solemn time in a young person's life, where he moves from acting like a kid to moving toward responsible adulthood. To be fair, most of these rituals are more or less excuses by the family to party.
But the principle is sound because growing up something to be encouraged, even celebrated.
Maturity is not a popular message today. Watch a sporting event and you'll be inundated with commercials that send the message: Guys just like to party, be lazy, and look at scantily clad women. Girls just like to flirt and show themselves off for men. For everyone it's a message that work stinks, life is about playing and goofing off, and nobody is really serious about following any kind of order in their lives.
Even the church is culpable. It seems we've dumbed down the gospel and the Bible to make Christianity cool to our young people. And I'm a fan of contextualizing our faith so teens can understand it. But I think they can understand a lot more than we give them credit for. And along the way, we seem to be sending a message that as long as you pledge your life to Jesus, you can hang out, goof off, and delay maturity as long as you feel like it.
From the culture and most corners of the church, it's a loud and clear signal. Delay the inevitable, hard decisions, because living as a man or woman is about as fun as a root canal.
XBOX in the Basement
I was fortunate to grow up in a family and church culture that encouraged adulthood. For a young boy, manliness, working hard, building stuff, accomplishing something, building a career—these held up as worthwhile goals.
My dad often dragged me to the construction site, where I watched and helped him install plumbing in new homes. At thirteen I was learning the importance of dependability, hard work, responsibility.
I didn't become a plumber, but a pastor and a writer. Apparently the handy genes skipped a generation. But, even though I'm more comfortable with a word processor than a wrench, I'm so glad Dad built the virtues of hard work, responsibility, and leadership in me.
My pastor always preached to parents that "kids need to work, its good for them." At the time, as a kid, I didn't much like those words. But as an adult, I realize those words of instruction were what my parents needed to hear. That it wasn't cruel to make me mow the lawn and take the garbage out. It wasn't unusual punishment to ask me to pay for my car insurance and the fancy new basketball shoes I wanted every few months.
I learned the value of money. I learned the importance of hard work. I learned what it meant to be on time for my job.
Those don't sound inspiring and I guess they won't every make a top-10 worship song. But this is what young people, Christian young people, need to hear.
Follow Jesus? Yes, that's the first and most important thing. Do God's Will whatever the cost? Absolutely.
What does that look like? It means you'll get up early; you'll shave, shower, and go to work somewhere. That could be as a missionary. It might be as a mechanic. But whatever you do, do it well, do it with integrity, do it to the glory of God.
The message of maturity is a message of hope, because God has uniquely designed each soul for a specific purpose (Psalms 139). That purpose is to use your hands and your body to do good works that glorify God (Ephesians 2:10).
How do you find your purpose? You start by getting busy and doing stuff. I had a professor in college who was fond of saying, "It's hard for God to move a parked car. Move the car and let God steer." God works through open doors and opportunities.
We need to help our young people find their strengths and then encourage them to pursue them in any small way they can. Perhaps that means working odd jobs to support a college career. Perhaps that's learning a trade and sticking with it. Perhaps that means volunteer work.
But its not good enough, its not a wise stewardship of God-given ability and talent to sit around with the vague notion of "following Christ." "It just want to do God's will," sounds terrific and gives us older Christians chills and thrills. But until it is backed up by concrete action—filling out the college application, applying for that job, going on that mission trip—it's all just theoretical. It means nothing.
What They Want I fully realize that many kids don't discover their careers and mature until they are in their twenties. I get that. I look back at my late teens/early twenties and I think of the poor choices I made. There is a maturing process that happens both physically and spiritually and mentally.
And there are some who are late bloomers. But here's my point. We as the church and parents should encourage rather than discourage maturity and responsibility. Yes, we don't want our children to grow up too fast sexually in a culture that is increasingly pushing the envelope of lust. But that doesn't mean we want them to delay maturity, responsibility, and adulthood. We should begin at the earliest ages to teach our children the value of money, the honor of hard work, the satisfaction of a job well done, and the ethic of service.
Deuteronomy 11:9 is a verse most Christian parents know well. Here God instructed the Jewish parents to use every opportunity to implant His truth into their children. It's a principle we'd do well to employ as Christian parents.
I'm already having these discussions with my daughter Grace. Why does Daddy have to work? Why do we need to save money? Why can't I always have that toy? Why can't we just eat what we want?
Now please don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating parents be tightfisted killjoys. Legalism and lists are huge turnoffs and work to drive kids from God or build a formulaic, man-pleasing faith.
At the same time, it means we should stop making maturity and adulthood seem dull and lifeless. Maybe when we come home from work, we might find ways to praise God for our jobs of complaining about the boss, the long hours, the nasty coworkers.
And perhaps we should check our own hearts for creeping materialism, laziness, and lack of godly joy. First, because they are signs of spiritual immaturity, but secondly, because they convey to our children that work, life, and being an adult is a death sentence.
It's About Choices
If we believe the job of parenting is to do our best to send our children as ambassadors for Christ in a lost world, then it's incumbent on us to prepare them adequately for all facets of life.
It's about implanting in them biblical wisdom for the everyday choices of life. It's about preparing them to make good choices when you're no longer there to hold their hands. It's about encouraging them to act boldly and not fear moving into God's calling upon their lives.
Perhaps our churches could offer a bit more life coaching and discovery of gifts and talents. Every child is a unique package of talents, personality, abilities, and passions.
To help them along, we should be asking questions. What do they do well? What do they enjoy? What are they good at? What opportunities are available in their area of giftedness? And how can we as a family and a church move them along to their God-given calling?
This is one of the purposes for my new book, Crash Course. I noticed a lot of good Christian kids who have pledged their lives to serve God in an emotional but ambiguous way and really have no plan for moving forward. I divided this book up into 5 sections of 20, easy-to-read devotional segments. The five sections cover the five most important areas of life:
Doctrine: What I Believe and Why
Decisions: How to Make Good Choices
Direction: What Should I Do With My Life?
Devotion: Staying True in a World of Lies
Delight: Finding Joy in a Hard World.
Solomon reminds us that "to everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). The season of childhood is to be cherished, enjoyed, and treasured. Come to the Darling house at any given time and you'll hear the sweet sounds of children's laughter. I believe the laughter of children is important and warms the heart of God. I'm tickled at the things my 5 year old, 11/2 year old, and my four-month old do.
But if their still doing those at 18, nobody will be laughing. We'll be crying. Paul said, part of God's plan is to "put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Ultimately, our kids will grow to make their own decisions. They will be accountable to God and God alone. But along the way, we shouldn't be afraid to invest in them the important and necessarily tools of maturity, responsibility, and hard work.
These are assets that will serve them well as they follow Christ's calling upon their lives.
Daniel Darling is an author and pastor with a passion for young people. He is the author of Teen People of the Bible, a 100-day devotional for teens. Visit him on Facebook by clicking here, or at danieldarling.com.