In June 1953, at the age of eleven, I was confirmed and became a full member of the Anglican Church of Canada. After the service, our local minister handed me a little red book, containing questions for self-examination before communion. They were searching questions and I remember taking that little red book on a Saturday night, kneeling down and searching my life as I tried to honestly answer each question. I believe that was the point when God first called me and a little spark was kindled in my heart.
But I did not follow through to allow that spark to be kindled into a living fire in my heart. I did not make a conscious decision to abandon this weekly soul-searching; it just seemed to me that no one else felt the need to go that deep, so it gradually ceased to be important to me. It took another seventeen years until that spark was rekindled and burst forth into a living faith.
In 2011 a study was conducted among a cross section of teens who had grown up in church-going families. The results were published last fall in a report entitled Hemorrhaging Faith, revealing that 60% of youth from evangelical homes abandon their parents’ faith in early adulthood. Among Catholics the number rises to 90%.
Some important points have been raised in the discussion following this report. It appears that youth programs, youth ministries and youth pastors may be doing more harm than good. Part of the problem is that they separate youth from the adults in the church, thus lessening the influence of older and more mature Christians.
However, the problem begins before youth age, among those eleven to fifteen years of age. These are the transitional years, when children are just beginning to become aware of and explore the more important issues of life. The influence of the home is paramount at this stage, far more important than church, school, or any influence outside the home. Do the parents have a living faith? Is their Bible reading routine, or a search for direction? Are their prayers an earnest search for God’s guidance and grace?
Children know if it is real or not. One boy passed by the door of a room and saw his father, his head bowed in prayer, with the Bible open on his lap. At that moment, he knew that his father’s faith was real and he wanted the same faith for himself. We cannot stage moments like that, we simply need to examine whether or not our faith is genuine. If it is, it will be contagious.
If we are only going through the motions, our children will go through the motions with us, then quit as soon as they leave home. If we scarcely ever talk of spiritual things, experiences that have had an impact on our life, verses from the Bible that have given us hope and inspiration, then our children will only have an outward form of Christianity to guide them in forming their impressions of the reality of Christian faith.
Children in this eleven to fifteen year old age group take their cues about the meaningfulness of worship, the preaching of the Word and the Christian fellowship of the church from their parents. The greatest responsibility for the spiritual life of these children does not lie with the preacher, the deacon or the Sunday School teacher, it rests on the parents and the spiritual temperature of the home.
The instructions given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 are as important today as they were then: Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.