Psalm 145:4 “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts …”
A family had a priceless family heirloom – a vase – that was passed down one generation to the next generation. One day, the parents of the family who had possession of the vase, left the teenagers at home while they went out shopping for the day. When they returned home, their children met the parents at the door, with sad faces, reporting: “Mother, Father … you know that priceless heirloom our family passes down one generation to the next … well, our generation just dropped it.”
Each generation has memories, stories and values it wants to pass along to the next generation; this especially includes the spiritual values of our faith – and we don’t want their faith to be dropped after they leave the home.
However, there are some myths about passing on faith to the next generation:
Myth #1: It happens by osmosis – that our children will catch our spiritual values by simply being around the parents and the Church. While it is true that values are more caught than taught, if we are not intentional about teaching the WHY behind the value, they may not understand why Faith matters. And let’s be honest as parents, our children don’t always see our best side; they may catch the wrong values, displayed in our moments of weakness.
Myth #2: It’s the job of professionals – that’s what the church is for. Some parents take themselves out of the game, feeling as if their lack of knowledge or their prior mistakes disqualify them from being the primary spiritual influence in their child’s life. However, if you know enough of the Gospel to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you know enough to begin influencing your children to believe Jesus, too. And the reality is that you are present much more in your child’s life than any church leader can hope to be.
Myth #3: It’s not worth the effort. It is true, adolescence is a season of transition into independence, which can bring “push-back” and rebellion against a parent’s wishes. But we must recognize the long-term impact of allowing a spiritual vacuum to exist in your house; young adults will struggle to make wise decisions according to God’s desires. It is worth the effort (I can testify as a dad); no greater joy than watching your child worship God because they want to. My family is no different than yours, my wife and I have to continually make efforts to pass on our faith to our children.
One young man who understood who God is and was able to fully grasp what God had for him was Joshua, Moses’ young assistant. Joshua learned how to stand upon his convictions of God’s provisions as a spy in the minority, and later declared his obedience in leading the people of Israel to take possession of the Promised Land. Joshua declared that he and his “household” (family) would serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15). The impact of this leadership was that the people of Israel continued to live faithful to God even after his death:
“Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel” (Josh. 24:31).
However, the passing on of faith broke down after that generation died. Somewhere along the line, parents failed to instruct their children and the larger spiritual community failed to honor God; “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10).
We cannot assume past faithfulness will continue or that future generations will be aware of the great historical legacy available to them. The passing on of our faith must continue to be refreshed with each generation.
Each generation must be taught who God is, and what He has done for mankind.
Through studying the life of Timothy, we will discover God has given us a model of how to pass on our faith to our children.
Timothy was a young man when Paul revisited Lystra on his second missionary trip, approximately five years after the first. It may be that Timothy’s family became Christians during that first visit. During those five years, Timothy matured in his faith under the spiritual guidance of his mother and grandmother. In Paul’s last letter to Timothy, Paul notes the family spiritual environment in his last epistle writing, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice …” (2 Tim. 1:5).
Children mimic their parents’ religious experience: they pray as you have prayed in their presence, they may raise their hands in worship when they see you raise your hands. Timothy was no longer acting a part as the “good” child, he had taken ownership of his faith, as Paul had seen the evidence of this faith in Timothy’s actions.
Passing on our Faith begins in the family home as spiritual practices.
What can parents do?
Pray: Timothy was on Paul's "prayer list." Paul made it a regular practice to pray with a list and to at least mention in prayer those who were precious to him.
Pray for more than just blessings and protection …
Pray for them to grow in wisdom – applying difficult experience to life choices
Pray that they would experience the fullness of Christ
Pray for their friendships to be healthy and positive influences
Pray for their future spouse and your potential grandchildren
And pray for yourself to have wisdom to what and when to say something
Look for the Teachable moment: Teens learn through experiences. Use TV, movies, news reports, current situations with family members and friends to point out God’s character and commands. Deuteronomy 6 highlights the continual nature of passing on our faith.
Create Teachable moments: Take the initiative to talk about God at Family devotions, using this time read Scripture and debrief the various Bible studies each has participated in during the week. Hint: use this time to read ahead of what will be discussed at church in the Sunday sermon or youth Bible study.
Acts 16:1 gives us more context to the beginning of Timothy’s spiritual journey. Timothy's mother and grandmother were believers, but his father was not (at least not at first). All we are told is that his father was not Jewish, but a Greek. While we don’t know the spiritual environment in Timothy’s home due to his dad’s lack of faith – Timothy’s mother and grandmother provided a foundation that continued to blossom in the larger community of faith. Timothy was an active part of the church in Lystra, of which “the brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him” (Acts 16:2). This larger spiritual community had spent time with Timothy and found him teachable and faithful. They saw great benefit in Timothy joining Paul’s team and recommended Timothy to Paul.
Passing on our Faith begins in the family home as spiritual practices; and adds knowledge through the larger community of faith.
The larger community of faith is needed to help the passing of our faith “stick." Recent studies show that for a teen’s faith to become “sticky” and continue into adulthood, a youth needs 5 significant relationships. 1 is parents; 2 is a youth pastor or youth leader who knows them very well… but they need an additional 3 adults who know their name, who will approach them when they are with the Community of Faith and ask about Life and school, who will speak blessings and encouragement over them as they grow and pursue a vocation and family. For more information on this trend, check out the website: www.stickyfaith.org
A youth group is not enough – at best a youth group can provide significant relationships with good peers and youth leaders, but it is not the larger community of faith. However, at its worst, a youth group can be an island for students, isolating the youth from the larger community of faith.
What can the community of faith do?
Seek out a teenager you don’t know and introduce yourself. Then remember their name and the next time you see them at church, approach them – call them by name and say something encouraging. If you do this 3 times, you will have a relationship with the teenager where you can start to ask them questions and they will respond to you.
Provide a consistent message of love and truth. Mentor a teen through youth ministry programs. These programs are tools to connect students with adults, a context for mentoring to happen. They need to see our Faith in action and its relevance for life through the mentoring relationships.
I can only imagine Paul reflecting back on the day that he first selected Timothy, “Paul wanted to take him along on the journey …” (Acts 16:3) And what a journey they had. Paul had chosen others and was disappointed; the sting of Demas’ betrayal stayed with Paul (2 Tim. 4:10), so he must have been proud to see Timothy’s faithfulness until the end. Paul had chosen “in effect, that Timothy is his heir in ministry and his representative to the church in Ephesus” (Arnold, Vol. 3, p. 449). Paul could finish strong knowing that the ministries he birthed would continue under the leadership of Timothy and others (i.e. Titus).
Paul writes to Timothy about the end of his journey: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Timothy’s faith (that began in his family home) blossomed in the larger community of faith, and reached maturity through the mentoring Paul provided. Timothy is an example of what God can do in the life of a young adult who plants deep spiritual roots in the family home (mother and grandmother), is encouraged and strengthened through the local church (in Lystra) and mentored by a godly leader (Paul).