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Connecting Families to Christ

by Nate Bostian
former student pastor, Apostles, Coppell; current chaplain, Canterbury, SMU

I love being a youth minister and college chaplain. One of the most amazing things I am privileged to do is watch as young men and women give their lives totally over to the Lord — to see that “light bulb” go off over their heads when they realize that Jesus is real, He does have a purpose for their lives, and they can know Him personally. That is an incredible event. But, do you know what is even better than that? When it happens to whole families!

When teens come to know Christ apart from their families, it may be real and permanent or it may be the “thing” to do this week. I hate to be pessimistic, but the unconnected teenager is a plant growing in very shallow soil. It is hard to keep that plant alive because it does not have enough support. But when a whole family is devoted to the Lord, then I know that the young person will have roots. It doesn’t matter if I stink as a youth minister or walk on water. Statistics reveal that if youth are disconnected from faithful families and the Church, they have a drastically lower chance of staying committed to Christ as they grow up.

Most studies tell us that between 90 – 98 percent of those who accept Christ do so before the age of 21. If they don’t accept the Gospel before they leave high school, chances aren’t good they will ever come to faith in Jesus. Now, here’s a surprising statistic: Who do you think would have a better chance of remaining devoted Christians when they become adults? — teens who attended youth group regularly or teens who attended regular old Sunday services with their parents? You would think it would be those who had the super-cool youth minister who could present the faith in ultra-hip, totally relevant ways, right? Wrong.

Teens whose parents regularly bring them to Sunday services (even if they drag them kicking and screaming) are statistically about twice as likely to become committed adult church members. However, teens regularly involved in Sunday services and youth group are even more likely to remain committed Christians. But, if you have the choice between dropping your kids off at youth group or actually attending Church with them, regularly attending Church as a whole family is the best option.

There is a perennial idea out there among some that youth group is like a “spiritual dry cleaners establishment.” You drop your kids off for a couple of hours and have them returned stain-treated, pressed, and morally clean. But it just doesn’t work like that! The Barna polling agency (www.barna.org) reports that adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to attend a church today as their peers who avoided church during childhood (61 percent to 22 percent, respectively). A 1994 survey in Switzerland showed that if both father and mother attended church regularly, 33 percent of their children became regular churchgoers, 41 percent irregular attendees, and 25 percent non-practicing. If the mother was regular, but the father irregular, only 3 percent of their children became regular churchgoers, percent irregular attendees, and 38 percent non-practicing. This is a strong call to parents to be active in the spiritual formation of their kids. The priest can’t do it for you, and neither can the youth minister, no matter how “cool” he is. It is an especially strong wake-up call to fathers. Spiritual headship of the family begins, not with a man’s “authority” as a husband, but in being a servant-leader involved with the spiritual growth of his children — especially by taking part regularly in the worship and service of the Church. There is simply no substitute for parental involvement in spiritual development, and that goes double for fathers.

Here are some common sense ideas for connecting your family spiritually to Christ on a regular basis.

1. Attend Sunday worship together regularly as a family. Nothing is a better predictor of Christian commitment later in life than this and nowhere else can we participate in the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the strengthening of our souls.

2. Make sure every family member is involved with a growth group outside of Sunday worship. They provide support, encouragement, prayer, and Bible teaching on age-appropriate levels. In addition to Sunday school, adults can attend “small groups,” “care groups,” or in-home Bible studies. For teens, there is youth group or youth Bible studies aimed at their age level. (If your Church does not have a youth group, you might seriously ask God if He is calling you to start one.)

3. Make Sunday a day that is off-limits for other activities. This goes with #1 and #2 above. God gave the Israelites the Sabbath for a reason: for rest and recuperation — but mostly as a lesson in priorities. If Sunday worship and growth groups are always put last place so that every game, practice, and special event knocks them out of place, then you are sending a strong message to your kids about how unimportant Jesus Christ is to you, and you are inviting them to model that attitude. But if you keep Sabbath times holy for God and His Church, you are sending an even stronger message in the opposite direction.

4. Make a practice of blessing your kids whenever you can. When you say goodbye or drop them off, don’t just say “Bye.” Say “May the Lord bless you and keep you and fill you with His Love,” or “May the Lord bless you to be a blessing to others,” or come up with your own. But whatever you do, bless them!

5. Say grace at meals. Take turns and have the kids say grace as well. Let them know that the gifts you are about to receive are from God and it is important to give Him thanks. My favorite blessing is “Lord Christ, bless this food to our nourishment and us to your service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

6. When you talk about decisions with your kids, do not be afraid to bring Christ and prayer into the discussion, especially if they deal with moral choices. You can ask, “What do you think Jesus would think about that?” or “Have you prayed about it?” Also, do not hesitate to pray with your kids. Prayer is a great way to end a discussion. Simply ask God to give both of you wisdom about your concerns.

7. I know this might sound crazy, but watch TV or movies with your child. Watch one show or movie a week that you both enjoy. You probably should pick a drama or something with a plot that is easy to discuss. Then ask questions like, “What scenes do you remember most? Why?” “What was the message this show was trying to get across?” “Is this message good or bad? Why?” “What do you think God thought of this show?” “Which character was most like Jesus? Which was least like Him? Why?”

8. Create a daily time of prayer as a family. It might be in the morning before school (I know …probably won’t happen) or at dinner time or before bed. Gather everyone together, and follow this simple plan.
• Read a Psalm (or part of a Psalm if it is long).
• Ask everyone to pray at least one thanksgiving.
• Ask everyone to pray for their needs and concerns.
• End with the Lord’s prayer.
If you need more structure, grab a Book of Common Prayer and follow the “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” on pages 136 – 140.

9. Have you ever thought of studying the Bible together as a family? I know … sounds weird. But, if you want to try it, here is a quick and painless method. Start by going through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Choose small readings that are marked off by section headings, such as “Jesus feeds the 5000” or “Jesus tempted in the wilderness.” Stick to the parts where Jesus talks, which are interesting to discuss. Reading genealogies can kill a Bible study! Now, when you gather, follow this pattern:
• Ask Christ to speak through the reading.
• Read the passage and ask, “What word or phrase caught your attention? Why?”
• Read the passage again and ask, “What does your word or phrase mean to you? Why is it important?”
• Read the passage a final time and ask, “What is God calling you to do or change based on this passage?
• Ask God to help all of you do whatever He has shown. You do not have to be a Bible scholar or know ancient history to do this type of Bible study. You need only to be willing to explore with your kids.

10. Pray and ask God for other ways to invest in the spiritual growth of your kids. The possibilities are endless!

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