Well-known Christian pastor and author Chuck Swindoll has written (pdf), “Wise is the parent who understands, ‘I need to spend time with my child. I need to observe. I need to dialogue so that my child grows up knowing his or her unique, God-given design.’”
Recently, I came across a study by Jesse Smith, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, which illustrates the importance of Swindoll’s message. In the process of examining the continued decline of religious faith among young people, he noticed one particular pattern: religious conservative parents are more successful at passing on their faith than other parents who are less conservative in their faith.
These findings make a lot of sense. Children look to parents for guidance. If children see parents who take their faith seriously, who don’t waver in their beliefs, and spend time investing in their relationships with them, it’s logical that they’re likely to follow in their parent’s footsteps because they will replicate what was modeled to them.
However, if they see parents who have chosen to compromise biblical truth in order to conform to the world, have little or no interest in talking about their faith with their children, or whose “walk” doesn’t match their “talk,” they’re less likely to see the importance of religious faith in their own lives.
Smith writes, “If kids do not receive a clear and consistent message from their parents that religion is important, they are likely to simply conclude that it is not important.” He adds, “In 2022, if they do encounter religion in a serious way at home, they are not likely to get it anywhere else.”
There’s much truth in that statement. Our children are living in a world that attacks faith daily and is determined to turn them away from biblical truth. Without a firm foundation displayed and communicated to them by their parents, these children are washed away into moral relativism with little regard for religious belief and biblical values—often with tragic results.
Sadly, this is played out repeatedly when parents choose to conform to the world’s teachings rather than biblical truth. Their children see the difference and in many cases walk away from the faith and make decisions that irreparably damage their lives. In the worst-case scenarios, these children make choices that result in losing their lives, because they had no biblical and moral foundation to make good, rather than bad, decisions.
But as Swindoll emphasizes, transmitting one’s faith to your children goes beyond just laying down rules—something that religious conservative parents need to take heed.
As author Josh McDowell has been quoted, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” Smith adds, “If children feel like religion is being ‘rammed down their throats,’ this may serve to push them away.”
Thus, relationship is key. If a parent doesn’t invest in their children through time, doesn’t come alongside to help them with the struggles of life or talk about how faith impacts their everyday lives, and only lays down rules without any understanding behind them, they’re going to fail in raising faithful children, even if they adhere to religiously conservative beliefs.
But thankfully, Smith points out that most religiously conservative parents understand the importance of relationship. He writes, “What do religious conservative parents do differently? My study reveals a straightforward answer: they are more active in their children’s religious socialization. … To pass on religion, parents need to make it a part of daily family interactions.”
As a result, Smith found that around one-quarter of children of religious conservatives are predicted to say faith is “extremely important” compared to less than a fifth of other young adults. As noted Christian youth worker Jim Burns writes, “Parents are to impress the faith that God has placed in their lives into their kids. It’s all about transference.”
Passing on the faith in a hostile world isn’t an easy thing, and I’ve seen religiously conservative parents who have done everything right in raising their children and then seen the child reject that faith. But, in most instances, successful transference happens in the home, through intentionally talking about and modeling consistent faith to our children. As parents, we need to begin there, and through our walk and talk we can not only pass along our faith to our children but also launch a restoration of faith throughout future generations of young people.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.