A key component of discipling our children is understanding a little bit of what to expect in that journey. Paul said Timothy learned the faith as a young person and then became convinced of it. This pattern holds true for 95% of those who grow up in a Christian home.
At a conference I will ask, “How many of you heard the gospel and professed faith at a young age? Now, keep your hand up if there was a later time that your faith became your own.” And 95% of the hands stay up. This is the learning and becoming convinced process.
Read the following excerpt from The Disciple-Making Parent to more fully understand this process. – Chap
Learning and Becoming Convinced
Let’s start by focusing on what was happening in Timothy’s heart as a young man. Paul reminded Timothy:
Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of. 2 Timothy 3:14
From this passage, we can deduce that the young Timothy seemed to have a time when he was learning of the faith. Later, Timothy seemed to have a time when he became convinced of the faith. This verse suggests there might have been a time of questioning during which Timothy’s faith became an adult faith. He had grown up in a believing home, immersed in the Scriptures and learning the faith. Yet he still had to become convinced of it.
That twofold pattern aptly describes my own experience as well as that of numerous second-generation Christians with whom I have talked. As children we made sincere professions of faith at a young age. However, there was a second significant time in our lives when our faith moved from being our parents’ to becoming our own.
Sometime in our teen or college years, we began asking ourselves, “Do I really believe this?” “Is this really true?” “Am I going to follow the Lord on my own, or am I going to reject Christianity?” If we came out on the other side of that time persuaded, we had moved from belief to conviction. We were not following because we had to. We were following because we were convinced.
Understanding this progression is absolutely vital to discipling our children. As parents we will hope and pray for a genuine profession of faith and conversion at a young age. But we shouldn’t rely on it, passively thinking that our child is all set. Instead we will need to realize that the teen and young adult years are crucial years for our children to become convinced.
Like a two-stage rocket, both sections of the rocket must fire. The first section—the learning stage—lifts our child into orbit. Eventually, though, that foundation forming period is over. Next must come the second stage—the convincing stage. Unless the second engine fires, the rocket will fall back to earth. The young adult years actually prove that our child had a genuine change of heart or that a change of heart still needs to take place.
The Younger Years: Learning
This process makes sense given a proper understanding of the whole parenting process. It may begin to explain the mystery of why God gives us children who are so helpless.
When our children are young, we are given a great privilege of representing God to them. In subconscious ways, they are learning about the Heavenly Father from watching us. It is no coincidence that the first and second person of the Godhead are named Father and Son. Parents are given the high privilege of understanding and displaying this eternal relationship by having their own children. As parents of very young children, we stand in Christ’s stead. To obey us is to obey God. To disobey us is to disobey God.
When it comes to learning about God, our young children absorb all that we teach them. They naturally have a relationship of trust with us. Many seem more open to the gospel of the Savior. They instinctively understand that if they do bad things, they deserve punishment. And when they discover that Jesus died on the cross for their sin, why wouldn’t everyone embrace him as their Savior? Jesus taught, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Statistics have shown that most adults who now follow Christ came to him as children.
The Older Years: Becoming Convinced
In the teen years, our children start to enter a new stage in their lives. The only record we have of Jesus as a child was when he was twelve (Luke 2:42-52). In this divinely inspired narrative, Jesus took the initiative to separate from his parents and speak of God as his heavenly Father. He sat among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When rebuked by his mother, Mary, about Joseph’s and her feelings, Jesus did not apologize. Instead, he corrected her understanding by declaring that he had to be in his Father’s house. At twelve, Jesus seemed to assert a new independence from his earthly father and declare a new relationship with his real Father.
This Scripture records what we already realize: our children’s faith starts to change around the ages of twelve or thirteen. Their cognitive understanding and awareness of God begins to grow. They become more observant of adult interactions and hypocrisy. Questions about the faith start troubling them. The attractions of the world seem quite enticing. Sin seems more pleasurable, and the Christian faith can seem restrictive.
As a result, the years of twelve to twenty-one are absolutely crucial years in our children’s walk with the Lord. These are the years they need our engagement with them. They don’t need less conversation—they need more! But they need it in a different way. They need less lecture and more questions. They need an acceptance of their questions even while we have confidence that there are answers. They need to know that we expected this phase to come, and we are going to walk them through until they are convinced. They need to talk with trusted “uncles and aunts,” mentors in the faith. And most importantly, they need our connection to their hearts.