Investing in the next generation
Building a robust Christian worldview
Children and young people are the next generation. They live in an ungodly skeptical world that will challenge their faith in Jesus. We want them to have a robust and resilient faith that can withstand enemy attacks. But how is this possible when many young people stop attending church on a regular basis after they turn 18? And the pandemic may cause more to abandon Christianity or churchgoing. Many of these young people are leaving because the culture around them has impacted them deeply and caused them to question the truth claims of Christianity. What can we do about it?
Many homes were destroyed by wildfires (bushfires) last summer in Australia. Bushfires can attack buildings. Locations in bushfire prone areas are classified according to the Bushfire Attack Level (BAL: Low, 12.5, 19, 29, 40, Flame Zone). Close to vegetation the BAL is “Flame Zone” and the attack level decreases with distance away from the vegetation. A building in the flame zone without flame-proof protection has a high risk of being destroyed by a wildfire (bushfire).
The Christian faith of children and young people will be tested by attacks from our ungodly culture. They will claim that it’s irrational, anti-science, intolerant and based on an irrelevant ancient book. We can liken such attacks to a bushfire. If their faith is robust and resilient, they will endure the test like a building built to the flame zone standard can withstand a bushfire. But if it’s a weak faith, then it will be destroyed and probably replaced with apathy, atheism or agnosticism.
Tell the next generation
We begin with what the Bible says. The Old Testament affirms the importance of keeping alive, across the generations, the memory of God’s great deeds and His instructions for His people (Ex. 10:2; 12:26-27; 13:8, 14; Dt. 4:9; 6:6-9; 20-21; 11:18-19; 29:14-15).
The Israelites were commanded to teach God’s word diligently to their children – “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 6:6-7; 11:18-19NIV). The aim was that their children and their grandchildren would obey the Lord (Dt. 6:2). They were to impress God’s commands on their children and talk about them during their daily life (v.7). This teaching extended to their grandchildren (Dt. 4:9; 6:2) – “Teach them to your children and to their children after them”.
This is also mentioned in Psalm 78.
1 My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
His power, and the wonders He has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which He commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget His deeds
but would keep [obey] His commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to Him.
(Psalm 78:1-8; italics added)
The Israelites were to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (v.4). And “they in turn would tell their children” (v.6). What were they to pass it on to the next generation? To remember God’s acts and obey His commandments (v.4-5). And they warned against sinfulness (v.8). They were teaching from the Bible so that the next generation would know, trust, and obey God. (v.6-7).
Joel says the same thing about a plague of locusts, “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3). They were to tell them what God had done (v.4).
The same command is found in the New Testament, “bring them [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). For us, it means we seek to raise up faithful and passionate followers of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing more important than raising kids to know and love the Lord. To have a robust and resilient faith that’s sustainable. It’s better for parents to teach their children the “truth” than for others to teach them error.
The principle is that parents are to bring up their children like this. And we all have a role to play because the church is a partner with the parents in educating the children. And the church also helps equip the parents to educate the children.
The Bible says that after Joshua died, the Israelites didn’t pass on this message to the next generation, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (Jud. 2:10-12). So, the next generation adopted an ungodly worldview. In the time of the judges, the Israelites didn’t invest in their children.
How can we equip our kids with a robust Christian worldview? First, we need to be a godly example.
Be a godly example
Children naturally look to their parents as examples, and we are called to raise our children to follow the Lord. Timothy followed the example of his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). They invested in their children.
Others can also be examples. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
We need to model Christian faith to them. They need to see our faith in action. If we are not modeling faith for them, then how are they going to have reasons to believe that Christianity matters? They watch how we behave.
Teenagers need mentors outside their family. And church is the ideal place to find them. To start the relationship, have a conversation where you call them by name and say something encouraging. After you do this a few times you can ask them questions and they will respond to you.
Do you know the names of children at church? You can have an enormous spiritual influence on a child or a young person. I can remember that when I was going to university, Graham Whittaker used to often ask me about what I was doing, and that interest was encouraging.
If you are a parent or a mentor, is your relationship strong enough to reveal their level of skepticism?
But it’s not enough having godly examples to follow, the next generation also need to know what Christianity teaches.
What Christianity teaches
To understand what Christianity teaches, we need to understand what the Bible says. We have to define the Christian faith before we can defend it. The Bible tells us about topics like God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, the church, and the end times.
The core Christian belief is that through belief in and acceptance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God, and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.
Sin is anything we think, say or do that is against God’s will and anything we fail to think, say or do that is God’s will. It’s acting against God’s will for us. Separation from God is the punishment for sin.
We need to study the Bible with the next generation. This is the major shortcoming of Christian parents. Why would children care about defending God’s word if they are not reading God’s word because we are not showing them that it’s relevant and important enough to do it regularly? There’s lots of the Bible that Christians haven’t heard of. Study the whole Bible including the tough parts. Read the Bible through – then you won’t be shocked when someone says that there’s slavery, child sacrifice and rape in the Bible.
But it’s not enough having godly examples, and knowing what Christianity teaches, the next generation also need to know the reasons why to believe it.
Why believe it?
It’s not good enough to proclaim the content of Christianity – “What to know”. We also need to address the “Why” questions.
– Why is it true? The evidence that supports it and deals with the counter claims.
– Why should I care? How does it apply to me?
Why should we believe that what Christianity teaches is true? There are good reasons to believe that Christianity is true. What is the objective evidence? This is better than subjective personal experiences, which we can’t export to others. The answers to these questions are good reasons to believe that Christianity is true. Here are four big questions to look at.
What evidence is there for God’s existence? The circumstantial case for God includes: a universe that began to exist, a universe that is finely tuned for life on earth, the enormous amount of information in DNA in every cell of every living plant and animal, and the existence of objective moral truths.
Can multiple religions be true? Can they all lead to the same God? No, because when you investigate, they make logically contradictory claims.
What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus? Paul says that if Christ is not raised then our faith is useless (1 Cor. 15:14). So, it’s a crucial part of the Christian faith.
How do we know that the Bible is reliable? The Bible tells us about how God has interacted with humanity. So, it’s also a crucial part of the Christian faith.
But it’s not enough having godly examples, and knowing what Christianity teaches and knowing why it’s reasonable to believe it, the next generation also need to know what others believe.
What others believe
Every person has a worldview. A worldview is like a set of glasses through which you see, understand, and explain the world around you. Every important decision you make is based on your worldview. A worldview without God will have a way of explaining nature and moral choices.
It’s been said that there are six types of worldviews today. These are:
– Naturalism – like atheism, agnosticism, existentialism, Marxism, materialism, and secular humanism.
– Pantheism – like Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age.
– Mono-Theism – like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
– Polytheism, including Spiritism.
– Pluralism – where all views are considered to be correct.
– Postmodernism – with skepticism, and no absolutes.
These all have different views on ultimate reality, the nature of God, the origin of the universe and life, the means of knowing the truth, the nature of human beings, the purpose of human life, the basis of morality, the human predicament, the solution to the human predicament, death, and human history.
It’s good to learn about other worldviews so we can recognize them. It helps us to understand what other people believe and why they believe it. If we do this, it’s like being vaccinated so we don’t get shocked when confronted by another worldview.
And news stories usually aren’t objective, they come with a worldview. Look at who wrote it. What is their worldview? What assumptions come with that worldview? How does it affect their conclusions? Be aware.
Some reject the idea that God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible (called special revelation). But if you reject the idea that God has revealed anything to anyone, then how do you know what God is concerned with or what God is not concerned with? What He does or doesn’t do. If God hasn’t revealed anything about Himself, how can you tell us about that God? You can’t! These people are not logical if they criticize God’s behavior. And we hear that often.
But it’s not enough having godly examples, and knowing what Christianity teaches and knowing why it’s reasonable to believe it and knowing what others believe, the next generation also need to know how to answer challenges.
The next generation live in an ungodly skeptical world that will challenge their Christian worldview. Children are often not prepared for the serious intellectual challenges awaiting them, let alone the barrage of moral challenges from an increasingly ungodly culture. As soon as they can browse the internet, they are exposed to skepticism. So, teenagers are exposed to today’s skeptical world.
There are challenges from atheists, challenges from those who adhere to non-Christian religions, and even challenges from Christians who promote ideas that vary from what the Bible teaches.
It’s good to learn about these challenges beforehand so they can be ready to answer them when they arise. As noted above, if they do this, it’s like being vaccinated so they don’t get shocked when confronted by the challenge.
Earlier we saw that bushfires are a challenge in bushfire prone areas. In 1994, a bushfire went through Winmalee in NSW in Australia. But the Lodge at Winmalee Christian Conference Center survived because a water sprinkler system had been installed across the roof and gutters of the building. It was robust and resilient to bushfire attack. They were prepared for the challenge.
The Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15). All of us can do this – us and the next generation.
We can prepare them so they know what the challenge is, and know why people are promoting it, and know how to respond.
We want kids with a robust Christian worldview. If our kids are someday shocked by the claims of skeptics, we have failed to do our job. That means we didn’t prepare them for the bushfire. They should never be shocked by these kinds of claims.
A song by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young called, “Teach your children well” (1970), says
Don’t you ever ask them, “Why?”
If they told you, you would cry.
So, just look at them and sigh,
And know they love you.
This is bad advice! Questions are good, not bad. They can clarify the situation. Ask questions about what they are saying. For example, “I hate God”, might mean that they hate doing something at Kids Club! Ask how they came to that conclusion.
Here’s an example of the challenges they will face.
In May 2020, Jonathan Steingard, the lead singer for Hawk Nelson, a US Christian band, revealed he no longer believed in God and explained how he lost his faith after spending a year questioning the Bible, Christian culture and his upbringing as a pastor’s son. He said, “I have had private conversations with trusted friends about my doubts, and discovered to my absolute shock that they are shared by nearly every close friend my age who also grew up in a church”. He grew up in a church and simply adopted their shared belief. But he started to have doubts, “If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can He not do anything about it? Does He choose not to? Is the evil in the world a result of His desire to give us free will? What about famine and disease and floods and all the suffering that isn’t caused by humans and our free will? If God is loving, why does He send people to hell?”
Then he doubted if the Bible was the Word of God. “Why does God seem so angry on the Old Testament, and then all of a sudden He’s a loving Father in the New Testament? Why does He say not to kill, but then instruct Israel to kill men women and children to take the promised land? Why does God let Job suffer horrible things just to win a bet with Satan? Why does He tell Abraham to kill his son (more killing again) and then basically say, ‘just kidding! That was a test’. Why does Jesus have to die for our sins (more killing again)? If God can do anything, can’t He forgive without someone dying?”.
He had questions and doubts about the Bible. It seemed like there were lots of contradictions in it. Finally, “when I began to believe that the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am – that was when my belief in God truly began to unravel”.
These are the kinds of challenges the next generation will face.
We have seen that we can equip our kids with a robust faith by giving them godly examples to follow, and helping them know what Christianity teaches, and know why it’s reasonable to believe it, and know what others believe, and know how to answer challenges.
So how can we help them on this journey to a robust and resilient Biblical worldview?
What can we do?
Here’s a story. Once upon a time there were three little pigs. One pig built a house of straw while the second pig built his house with sticks. They built their houses very quickly and then sang and danced all day because they were lazy. The third pig worked hard all day and built his house with bricks.
A big bad wolf saw the two little pigs while they danced and played and thought, “What juicy tender meals they will make!” He chased the two pigs, and they ran and hid in their houses. The big bad wolf went to the first house that was made of straw and huffed and puffed and blew the house down in minutes. The frightened little pig ran to the second pig’s house that was made of sticks. The big bad wolf now came to this house and huffed and puffed and blew the house down in hardly any time. Now, the two little pigs were terrified and ran to the third pig’s house that was made of bricks.
The big bad wolf tried to huff and puff and blow the house down, but he could not. He kept trying for hours but the house was very strong, and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried to enter through the chimney, but the third little pig boiled a big pot of water and kept it below the chimney. The wolf fell into it and died. The moral of the story is: don’t be lazy; that’s dangerous. Instead, work to build a strong defense against the challenges that lie ahead.
Children are building a worldview day by day. The graph shows how this develops over the first 18 years of life. We want them to have a robust Christian worldview that will withstand the bushfires and the wolves that they will face. Here are some ways that we can help them:
- Pray for them. That they will grow up to be godly men and women.
- Commit to continually deepening your understanding of Christianity and other worldviews.
It starts with us. How robust is your spiritual house? Is it like the first, second or third pig? You can’t be a guide to protection against bushfires and wolves if you don’t know about bushfire attack levels and the nature of wolves. We need to have the knowledge if we are going to be equipping the next generation with that knowledge. Be prepared to answer their questions. A guide needs to be a least one step ahead of their followers. Don’t be too lazy to learn this stuff.
- Use teachable moments and create teachable moments.
Use TV, movies, news reports, current situations with family members and friends to point out God’s character and commands. Set time aside for this, otherwise it won’t happen in our busy lives. Schedule spiritual conversations – say for 30 minutes a week.
- Study the Bible with the next generation.
This is how they learn what Christianity teaches. What does it mean and how does it apply to us? Then they won’t rely on what the skeptics say. As before, set time aside for this.
- Regularly ask them what questions they have.
One of the best ways we can address our children’s questions is to invite questions about God, Jesus, the Bible or anything. Alternatively, they will go to the internet or their atheist friends for answers.
- Ask them the tough questions they don’t ask of you.
Tell them the questions that they will encounter when they will face the bushfire or the wolf. We know what they need to know and to learn, and when they need to learn it.
There’s nothing more important than raising kids to know and love the Lord. But they need a robust and resilient faith that’s sustainable in order to survive the challenges they will face from our ungodly skeptical society.
Let’s work together to build a robust Christian worldview in our children and young people. After all, what’s more important than investing in the next generation? Be an investor and pray that God will make our investment grow in the next generation.
This post is based on Natasha Crain’s material on how to address common challenges to Christianity.
Written, December 2020