Teens and Faith

Kyle party

The Irvine Spectrum (an outdoor mall in Southern California) was crowded and noisy with holiday shoppers searching for post-Christmas deals. A storm was blowing in and rain sporadically swept through and drenched everyone in it’s path.

My fourteen year-old son Kyle and his buddy anguished in a long line to buy movie tickets for “Reacher” only to have the show sold out. Frustrated, the boys bought tickets for the next show and aimlessly wandered around with an hour to kill.

A group of high school students stood in the center of the bustling courtyard, oblivious to the rain, and motioned for the boys to come over. An athletic kid with spiky blond hair walked up to my son and stuck out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Shane. Do you mind if I talk to you a moment?” the young man inquired.

Kyle and his friend shrugged their shoulders and agreed.

Shane told them he was from Compass Bible Church and active in the high school ministry there. Then he asked the boys if they knew Jesus.

Shocked at his boldness, Kyle’s friend stuttered, “Uh, yeah, I mean sure…we go to Catholic school.”

Shane looked at him and said again, “But do you know Jesus?”

Kyle’s friend started laughing and confessed, “Well I do have a “D” in religion, so maybe not so much.”

Then Kyle’s friend walked away but Kyle remained. He was intrigued by Shane’s confidence and engaged in the dialogue. Kyle explained he was a pastor’s kid and told him about the church he had helped to start in Mission Viejo.

The boys talked for forty-five minutes about scripture and God and Shane’s passion for Christ.

When Kyle came home after the movie he sat by my bed for a long time and shared all that had happened. Kyle was visibly shaken by his encounter with Shane –this very cool kid, who was not afraid to share his faith.

I imagine Kyle feels like it’s something he has to hide to be accepted.

I asked him what they talked about and while he hinted at a few things he clammed up about his “private convo”.

I didn’t press.

Kyle shared that Shane had asked for his number to follow-up with him. He seemed excited that a kid his age was so passionate about God and confidant enough to share and evangelize publicly.

It struck a chord in Kyle and I loved the sparkle in his eyes.

I went to sleep in true spiritual comfort. I don’t know how many times as a parent I have prayed for my son to have an encounter with God –on his own terms. I don’t want it to be me forcing Jesus down his throat. I want my son to discover Christ’s love all on his own.

As a pastor’s step-kid, this dance of faith and church is a prickly path to navigate. If we push too hard my son will rebel, if we become apathetic he will have no anchor. Somewhere in between, with tears and prayers I hope my son will find his way to Jesus, not in spite of me or to spite me, but because God has become bigger than anything else in his world.

I know we pushed too hard in the past when we started the church. Church planter’s kids and missionary kids don’t always emerge on the other side singing hymns and praising God. They are forced to tag along for a rough ride they didn’t sign up for. I’ve seen many kids blow out and associate God with pain. When college hits, they turn their back on the church.

In the last year, I felt God sensing me to ease up on the forced free labor of my kids at church. They now volunteer and serve by choice and while my middle daughter can’t get enough, my son has been more reticent.

Letting him pull back hasn’t been easy.

I have forced myself to release the burden of his walk with God. It’s been both scary and simultaneously freeing. But as a parent of a teen it’s something I think we must all face if we are to allow our children to make their faith their own and not something they do to simply pacify us.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still drag his butt to church, pay for Christian school and occasionally make him feed the homeless, but I am confident that ultimately, I can release my son to Jesus -the one who loves him even more than his doting mother.

And clearly God is revealing himself to Kyle in ways I could never orchestrate -spiky hair and all.

How do you navigate faith with your teen?

The Onion

Central part of the scene The Adoration of God...

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There is a song that came out a few years that still makes me weep (It’s been played so many times on the FISH it might make you cry too).  It asks me to imagine what I will do when I am confronted with Jesus face to face.  Will I even be able to stand in his presence or will I fall to my knees overwhelmed by his grace?  It is a provocative question I don’t ask myself enough because I would rather envision Jesus pursuing me.  I am comfortable with an image of him walking alongside of me and holding my hand.  I am a little girl and he is a loving father.  But, the thought of coming boldly to the throne of God makes my knees wobble and my heart quake with fear.  Like Isaiah, I imagine calling out “woe to me, I am unworthy and inadequate.”[1]  I struggle to put together the image of God the Father with God the Son.  Jesus is accessible and near to me while the Father is Holy and immense. Somehow, I have associated God the Father with performance and Jesus with unmerited grace, forgetting all too often that they are one.  If spirituality is the means by which we develop an awareness of the Spirit of God in us and the processes, by which we keep that awareness alive and vital, then these questions and contemplations must not be avoided.[2]  My interior life demands examination if I am to minister effectively.  As the Father and the Son are not separate, my spirituality and service in ministry are also inexplicably tied together.

This last year has provided many opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation as my husband and I left our church after sixteen years to start a satellite church, under the umbrella of the mother church.  Because I have been immersed in almost every facet of the church plant, either directly or indirectly through my husband, a new obstacle has reared its ugly head…finding rest in the midst of exhaustive church planting.  Where is the line drawn from the demands of ministry and my own need to develop authentic spirituality?  How do you leave your work at the job if your church is the job?  Where do pastors and leaders go to replenish their spirits if they can’t do it at church?  Is this where the desert experience calls out to us?  Church used to be a safe and comforting setting where I could hide from the world and now, at times, it feels like a minefield of power struggles, mostly within my own heart.  It is a massive paradigm shift for me to move the church out of the place where I experience God to a place where I am simply doing God’s work.  The two don’t go together anymore.  I must encounter God on my own without the guidance or aid of an institution.  I think God allowed me to see the physical boundaries of Church as a safe stronghold while he built a firm foundation of his Word and Spirit within me.  Now, almost two decades into this journey, he has removed my attachment from the buildings I thought I needed to grow closer to him. My ability to minister effectively is dependent only on the depth of relationship I experience with him…a reflection of His transforming work in a willing spirit and my tiny mustard seed of faith.

If the extent one is willing to incorporate the spiritual disciplines or means of grace into one’s life will determine the effectiveness of their ministry,[3]  then I am forced to find rest amidst the chaos. This has meant intentional times of solitude, painful reflection and major adjustments as I look differently at the way I give back to God.  Once again, God is calling me to move out of my comfort zone and into a place of greater dependence.  Any ministry that is beyond our effort requires that we abandon ourselves to the mysterious action that God is able to work in us, and then through us.  But this involves a stripping away of the last vestige of hope that we can somehow accomplish the task on our own.[4] 

I believe the essence of spiritual growth is this-our journey is like an onion peeling.  Every time you pull off a good chunk there are more layers waiting to be uncovered.  At the core of the onion, is a tender childlike faith that has been covered over the years with wounds, pain and fear.   As we peel, tears sting our eyes, and we become raw, discarding the very things we have clung to for security apart from God.  But our reward is this…to see our Father clearly, without the veil of darkness hindering our vision, moving from blindness into His glorious light.

[1]Isaiah 6:5 NIV

[2]Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, Leading the Congregation: Caring For Yourself While Serving the People(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993) 39.

[3]Ibid., p. 42.

[4]Ibid., p. 43.

Why Christian kids rebel…


Tim Kimmel, in his book, “Why Christian Kids Rebel,” explains the number one reason that children walk away from the faith is that they never see it make a real difference in the lives of their parents.

This inspires me to use my life as a curriculum…  tracing the hand of God in my past stories, but also constantly looking for ways to exemplify Jesus today in both my triumphs and failures. I point out answers to things we’ve prayed about. I show them the many ways God provides and make sure they know where credit is due. I live my faith out loud and up front so they cannot miss that Christ is at the center of our home. He has to become too real to deny.

Where I am challenged is in making sure my attitude doesn’t discredit the reality of Christ. Not that I feel the pressure to be perfect, but I do have to be on guard when I’m tired, drained, hormonal, or frustrated by something or dare I say someone? I must press into God, ask for His strength, and allow Him to fill my emotional gaps.  Oh yeah…and get enough rest (not so easy with three kids). Otherwise, it’s easy to respond in the flesh, leaving a wake of tears behind me. But even when I fail, the reality of Jesus can be seen in how I handle my failure. Oh here it comes…my favorite catch phrase, “It’s all about the rebound!” If I am quick to humble myself, ask for forgiveness and model redemption, it speaks volumes to my kids.

I hope that someday, the things my children remember – their stories – will resemble a parable reflecting God’s hand in their lives; the reality of Christ’s presence that can be shared with their own children in the years to come.

  • Speak (anointedplace.wordpress.com)
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