Is your teen struggling with faith?
Or are you, perhaps?
It’s definitely not an easy topic or one taken lightly.
Most adults, if they’re going to be honest, will admit to going through periods in their life where they questioned what they believed.
He shared a few of his insights into what parents can do if they find their kids or themselves struggling with faith.
Recognize that Struggling with Faith is Normal
“I think it’s okay for them to struggle somewhat. I think this is what’s happening with kids today and their own faith it looks a little bit different than it did when you and I grew up. I mean, you grew up at a time that it was more expressive…
They are now saying that in today’s culture, if somebody attends church 17 times a year, that they would consider them a regular. Well, I tell you what, when I grew up, it had to be that you were at church 52 times, at least once a week, to be considered a regular attendee…
Parents, all the time your kid is growing up in a different environment….
I think the struggle is not necessarily bad. I think during those adolescent years, as opposed to the earlier years or ages 1 through 12 where you teach a child, now you’re training the child and you have the opportunity to help a child embrace their faith.
Not your faith.
Where they can come to a conclusion about what they’ve been taught the first 12 years of their life and make decisions based upon what they long for in their life and their relationship with Christ. And it just looks different. It means they wrestled more.
There’s more information.
They don’t understand about, ‘Okay, well what about this gay thing that the church is yelling and screaming about, what is it? Where does marijuana fit into this thing? What about women in the church?’
You look at all these issues that were pretty much black and white. Because we lived in a world where you didn’t challenge everything.
Well, now they live in a world where you do challenge things.”
Switch from Teaching to Training
“The greatest point of encouragement that I’d give to families [is that] your role as a parent during the adolescent years is to help them put actions to what they’ve learned. You can keep teaching and teaching and teaching during the early years, ages 1 through 12.
But when they are 13, 14 years old, now your job is to train them so that when they’re older they won’t depart from what you’ve taught them. But the problem is people keep teaching, and if you are… you’re going to fail as a parent because what that child wants is training.
They want to know, not just information, but the wisdom of application of scripture, and ‘how do I apply [it], where is this relevant in my life? How does it fit?’
And so it means that you have to share, as a parent, more wisdom than information.
You have to start training rather than just teaching and that means you let them make some decisions instead of you making decisions. You let them become responsible for their life instead of you always being the one that is doing everything for them. You quit having lectures, and you start having discussion. You quit telling them everything and you start sharing things. You quit giving them all the answers, but now you’re the one that’s asking questions.
And it means that this shift in a parenting style that says ‘my role during the adolescent years is to help take all those seeds that have been planted in their life and during the adolescent years I’m going to cultivate that, which means I turn the soil.
Let them observe what it’s like to be a man or a woman of God. I let them reflect on things that are important… I also give them opportunities for experience, where it’s not just me telling them things, but it’s me showing them things and saying, ‘okay, this is how you treat people, this how you love people. This is what Grace looks like. This is what forgiveness looks like.’
I think our kids are dying to see the examples before them, rather than performance or more teaching. They’re wanting to see examples, they’re wanting to connect in a world where they haven’t been connecting with one another. They want to engage in such a way that they see the validity… of why they are needing to engage this faith that they have in the world that they live in.
It’s quite the challenge for parents because it’s a little bit different. I mean the internet has taken everybody by surprise, but I think it’s important for parents to make that transition into sharing not only information, but wisdom that they’ve gained through observation, through reflection, and through their own experience.”
Admit to Not Having All the Answers
“I tell kids all the time when they say, ‘I’m confused about how scriptures applied to the homosexual.’
I go, ‘you know what? I’m confused as well.’
I have a little bit of difficulty in trying to figure out how to take what I believe to be true and apply it to a world that has shifted so much and by saying that to a child what I’m telling them it’s okay to struggle through this.
It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to maybe realize that you don’t have to have all the answers all the time that there are arenas that we don’t know…
We don’t know everything and I think when we try to come across that we do know everything, then we’re a know-it-all.
And that’s what they deal with all the time on the internet, just a bunch of know-it-alls.
I’m going I want to give kids permission to wrestle through and struggle through things because I find in the long run, when they wrestle through it, then they come to a conclusion about what they believe and they come to a conclusion about how to apply what they know to be true to the world that they live in, rather than what I know will be true in a world that I’d like for them to live in. And there’s a distinct difference between those two.”
Love Them No Matter What
“I’m not so sure we were told the truth in the past, and I’m not so sure how I’m supposed to engage, but I know this: I’m supposed to be loving people and that’s my goal. Whether they’re gay or what I don’t care. That’s their deal.
Now as a teen, I’m going to help them through that and walk through it with them and spend some time discussing, but you know what? By the time they’re 15 or 16, they don’t answer to me any longer, they answer to God and so my role is to maintain the relationship, offer them sound advice and great wisdom and help them through their process. And if they’re choosing to live a lifestyle different from what I would choose for them, then my role is to continue to love them no matter what, letting them know there’s nothing you can do to make me love you more, and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less…
I tell parents this all the time, you’ve got to love your child more than you hate their behavior… because that’s the way that they will see who this God is and who Christ is as we become to them who God has become to us.”
Summary: Children Struggling with Faith
So remember, as Mark said, your teen questioning their faith is completely normal and even expected in today’s world.
There are, however, some things you can do to help them during what could be a challenging time:
- Switch from Teaching to Training
- Admit to Not Having All the Answers
- Love Them No Matter What
Have you teens struggled with their faith?
What advice did you give them and does this advice from Mark Gregston resonate with you?
Let us know in the comments below!