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Ten Theological Topics for Parents of Modern Teens

I get dozens of emails each month from parents whose teens are leaving the church or being swept away by a false version of Jesus and the gospel. Most of these parents seem to be well-intentioned believers who are baffled at the outcome of their teenager’s faith. In many cases, their teen was a standout church kid–complete with AWANA pins and VBS nametags from years of outstanding work!

So What Happens?

There are so many variables when teenage faith gets shipwrecked (ultimately, God knows the one in each case) but overall, the parents I talk to all say the same thing: We were definitely “doing” church, but I’m not sure my teen was ready to stand for Christ on their own two feet. It happens in the church like it happens in the car all those years. Kids ride in the backseat of the car while parents drive them around, and, the same goes for their faith. They follow mom and dad, obey all the rules, but don’t end up developed much further. Once the teen is on their own with decision-making, the parents find out the hard way that their beloved son or daughter has little clue about how to make it theologically on their own. Sure, they know enough Sunday school answers to get by, but they don’t know how to put theology into practice. Like a lioness who never teaches her cubs how to hunt for themselves, many parents spoon-feed their teens for six years without ever challenging them to skin their own meat–theologically, of course.

So Where Do I Start?

In this list I’ve compiled ten critical topics for the modern teen. It presumes you will address essentials, including (but not limited to) the gospel, so don’t miss that. Also, here’s fair warning that reading is required if you want to gain wisdom here. I’ll have recommended resources at the end of each listed topic. Do your family a favor and start a theological library if you haven’t already.

  1. How to identify a biblical church?

Does your teen know how what a biblical ecclesiology looks like? You may be thinking, “too many big words…” Well those are words you need to know about. Ecclesiology is basically how the church is supposed to structured according to the Bible. Like shopping for a used car, if your teenager doesn’t know what to look for, they’re likely to get swindled by some deceptive salesmanship. Choose either 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever or The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur. Challenge your teen by asking them: Can you name at least five priorities of a biblical church?

  1. How to identify a biblical church leader?

Abusive leaders are everywhere–that’s obvious today. Study 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and discuss it at the dinner table for the week. Ask questions like why does it matter for a pastor to be those things? What are some dangers things that can occur if a pastor doesn’t match that list?Both books above will nail this one for you, but just in case, try Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. Read Part One (the first six chapters). It could save your teenager’s life.

  1. Christological heresies & other dangers in modern music movements

Music isn’t just about music these days. It’s a gateway to the famous teachers and personalities who lead movements. Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and other Third Wave celebrity bands are all teaching things that no biblically-minded parent would want their teens to believe. These bands started under (and continue to submit to) the leadership and influence of false teachers such as Bill Johnson, Kris Valloton, Lou Engle, Shawn Bolz, Heidi Baker, and many others. They teach kenotic theology which holds diminished views on the deity of Christ. This includes the belief that Jesus did His miracles as just a man in right relationship to God…not as God. Based on that, they teach a long list of other dangerous doctrines. They also charge a hefty tuition to their schools that “teach” people how to work the gift of miracles. This movement makes itself sound amazing and attractive, but it’s theological poison. Try a short book called, Defining Deception by myself and Anthony Wood. It has enough truth to arm you for the battle ahead and enough footnotes to keep you up at night watching the dangerous practices these teachers will put your teenager through if they get their hands on them.

  1. False gospels to avoid

It’s important to major in what is true, but sharpening for the growing teen to know why other gospels are false. Kids like to ask “why” when they’re young. I think we still do as adults. Get your teen educated on why the prosperity gospel is a sham even if it looks like the way to live like LeBron James in the church-world. Show them why other “versions” of Christianity are not actually Christian. Analyze the basic beliefs of Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, Mormonism, and Catholicism. Watch the DVD, Clouds Without Water II by Justin Peters. Also, James White should be helpful here. Listening to his shows or messages that center on apologetics is good for training.

  1. The assault on marriage, gender, and biblical manhood and womanhood

Every parent wants their teen to marry the right person but too many are not well-versed on what that looks like. Teens should be provided with a roadmap for understanding why gender is binary and why we can be firm in our theology while still flexible with people. Loving them doesn’t mean we sacrifice truth. For parents serious about gaining wisdom to guide their teen, this may mean that instead of watching Netflix you’re reading books five nights a week for two years. Small price to pay for a lifelong investment. Teach them about gender roles and God’s design for husbands and wives. Many adults are confused because they were not taught at teens. You get one chance to guide them. Try any of these: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Woman by Wayne Grudem and John Piper; The Grand Design by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock; Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating; Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by Kent Hughes and W. Carey Hughes; Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes; Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture

Teens are in a process of discovery and questioning things. They may hear a friend or famous teacher say things like, “God spoke to me” or “God spoke to my heart” or “I feel like God said.” This can be confusing for a teen. Help them know confidently that if God told someone something, they wouldn’t “feel” like He did, they’d know He did. Teenagers need help to understand why the Bible is enough for knowing God’s voice. They must be equipped to know God’s word is God’s will. Those who learn this at a younger age are ahead of the curve in today’s church world. Read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung; Found: God’s Will (short book) by John MacArthur; Our Sufficiency in Christ by John MacArthur.

  1. The holiness of God

God is holy, not a homeboy. He isn’t some “it” in the sky or a casual deity who lets everybody into heaven because they donated to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Teenagers should be taught why God is holy, what that means, and how they should live in light of that truth. Study The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. That will give you talking points.

  1. The sovereignty of God

Rebel hearts need training. Learning and applying truths about the sovereignty of God teaches that I am not in control, the world is not in control, and even parents are not in ultimate control! God is. Calm and assertive Christian teens are that way because they know God is sovereign. They go about their business, trusting and obeying. When fears come, they know who hold the future. Choose a book like The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink or The Invisible Hand by R.C. Sproul.

  1. The depravity of man

When our hearts get help on this topic, a humility comes over us that crushes pride and creates a dependency on God. Help your teen understand their sin and inability to satisfy the wrath of God outside of Christ. They are a sinner and hopeless without Him. Teach them how to admit deficiency and declare dependency! Make sure you’re doing this yourself too. Read A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch; The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur.

  1. Cultivating an eternal perspective

A 5-inch screen is all the perspective most teens end up with by age 15. Most don’t know a lot about biblical money management, missions, or making their lives count. If you want your teenager to have the tools they need to live with an eternal perspective, nurture their perspective on eternal things! They need to be taught about things like global missions, local church ministry, generosity, taking risks for God, and the importance of carrying on what faithful men and women started long before us. Several books can be helpful here such as Don’t Waste Your Life by John PiperManaging God’s Money by Randy Alcorn; The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson.

What is the most essential ingredient not on the list? Your life. Teenagers can smell a fake from 100 miles away. It may be wise to tackle this list yourself while you’re at it. And remember, a list like this doesn’t guarantee your teen will not struggle in the world today or even go prodigal. Prayer will always be your #1 weapon. When paired with your own faithful witness, you can trust God knowing you’ve done your best.

Five Strategies for Christ-Centered Parenting

How in the world are we going to raise godly kids in a sin-centered culture?

For two decades, social media has evolved and exploded from days of primitive “My Space” accounts that had teens glued to the family computer (under some sort of supervision?), to the now ever-present Snapchat videos and pornography in the palm of their hand. At any given moment they can watch Giancarlo Stanton hit towering home-runs, see what Taylor Swift’s wearing in her latest music video, or watch Justin Bieber act up on TMZ. Tack on the latest pressure to conform to sexuality trends in the LGBTQ community, and we’ve really got to ask the question: Will the watered down, entertainment driven children’s programming at your local mega-church help you raise godly children in this age?

Christians need to start asking the hard questions of their churches because it’s going to take more than a fancy building and feel good programming to raise a godly generation who lives boldly for Christ.

I talk to numerous parents on a weekly basis and even though they’re all different, their love for their children and desire to see them grow into strong Christians is unanimously the same. But just like anything in life, you can want the big time results, but if you don’t practice, and practice the right way, you won’t achieve your goal. Imagine two athletes training for the Olympics. Now, let’s say they both train for an equal 1000 hours to compete in the 1500 meter run. However, one of them trains for this long distance run by doing sprints and power lifting, while the other trains by running longer distances over time, pushing the pace farther and faster, until running 1500 meters is clock work. Which one practiced for the right event, the right way, and makes the Olympic team? You get the picture.

Christian parents have always had the same task and the stakes have always been high, but the game has changed. In today’s fast paced world, we need to ensure that our strategy for raising godly children isn’t viewed as a sprint, but rather, as a long distance haul that is going to need progressive training. Thankfully, our divine “Coach”, and His inerrant training program has been sufficient over the last 2000 years.

If you’ll turn to Scripture to train your children, you’ll find it is loaded with transformational truth that can take your kid from being obsessed with their image on Instagram, to being shaped into the image of Christ. What’s the catch? There are no guarantees, no days off, you’ll wear out your knees, have to put down the phone, turn off ESPN, and have to read more than just Facebook statuses and tweets. Then, after at least 18 years of hard work, you’ll be out even more money when they ask you to pay for college! Ask any athlete who’s won gold, and any parent who’s raised godly kids by the grace of God and they’ll tell you – it’s worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears.

If you’re new to Christian parenting or have been choosing a home church based on how many Xbox stations they have in the youth center or how trendy the design scheme is, you may need change your approach. Choose a church because it has a track record of qualified pastors and leaders who support families and make disciples down the home stretch. Also, before you think church relocation, pray for a renovation – the spiritual kind – at your church. Talk to your children’s pastor, ask them what their discipleship strategy is for your kids, ask them for resources to help you become a better Christian parent, and ask them what the long-term vision is for ensuring your kids know their Bible and know Christ. Finally, make sure you’re taking responsibility by putting into practice these 5 Christian parenting strategies every chance you get:

  1. Teach them how to read their Bible.

This starts with you, parent. Ask yourself, “Do I know how to read my Bible and do I actually do it with joy?” If so, make sure you model this for them. It’s mostly caught not taught so ensure that they see you do it before commanding that they do it. Passion for the Word is contagious!

  1. Pray with them daily.

This one isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most rewarding things to watch progress. Lots of parents pray, but make sure you’re praying together too. I remember my wife insisting that we begin to kneel around the bedside and pray with our newborn son when he was barely 3 months old. I scoffed, “He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at this age, we already prayed plenty today, why can’t we just put him to bed and go relax?” My wife persisted, and I learned a valuable lesson about forming early habits with kids. Now some years later, when my son folds his hands and joins us in prayer, I realize that starting so early was good training for us as parents too.

  1. Teach them about sin and how it separates them from God.

Just the other day I overheard a parent tell their child at church, “You need to be obedient and stop lying. That’s sin that needs to be confessed to God.” The pre-teen replied arrogantly, “God loves me anyways, so it’s ok.” The parent proceeded to explain that God does love them, but sin is what separated man from God in the beginning and must be rightly understood. Antinomian attitudes towards the topic of sin need heart training, and biblical teaching. Teach kids that sin ought to be confessed and share with them the joy and freedom that comes from Christ’s work on the cross! They don’t need to just know that are reconciled to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ – they need to know why. The gospel is good news, because we repent and turn from the bad news.

  1. Teach them about God’s loving mercy through His Son Jesus Christ.

Love and mercy isn’t just giving to the poor, helping a friend, or giving someone a hug. Love and mercy is Christ giving life to dead sinners. Your kids need to be taught that good deeds without Christ are useless in the long run. One strategy that can be a huge blessing to their life is to help them articulate the Gospel in their own age-appropriate way. It could be as simple as 2-3 year olds learning to sing “Jesus Loves Me”, or helping your 4 year old understand John 3:16 by explaining that God sent His Son so we could be with Him one day. Of course, the sky is the limit as kids progress in age. I know of one 10 year old who studies doctrines as complex as the hypostatic union and Kenosis. This can seem intimidating to some parents but remember that kids don’t need to be systematic theologians by the age of 12, but they need good theology. Theology is an exciting part of life because it is literally helping kids know their God.

  1. Teach them to examine their own salvation.

The American church has got into some troubling times because for decades we’ve told people they’re saved if they “prayed the sinner’s prayer.” What followed for many people was the same old lifestyle, but with a little “church on Easter” sprinkled here, and a little Christian radio on the way to work there. We need to teach our children that true salvation bears lasting fruit, and true followers of Christ are known by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in their life, and their obedience to Christ (John 14:21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20)

In the end, no parent can be certain that their child will follow Christ and no parent can guarantee that their parenting methods will produce the next Charles Spurgeon. We simply have to obey the Bible as best as we can, love them sacrificially, and trust God with the results. Doctors and opinionated experts will tell you how to create nap schedules, and whether to attachment parent or let them “cry it out”. This can be helpful to information to study but ultimately is useless for the spiritual development of children. If parents desire to be experts in anything, they ought to be experts in God’s word on parenting. There is no substitute for the peace in the heart of a parent who knows they’ve done their best as a steward of God’s little ones.