18 August 2022

Sharing Jesus with your teenagers.

I’ve known people who became Christians late in life. They were on the fence for years; then the Holy Spirit decided it was time they stopped waffling and pick a side, so they did. And now they wanna share Jesus with their spouse and kids, and bring ’em all into God’s kingdom… and they’re having a rough time of it, because the family isn’t interested.

I’ve also known people who made the mistake of never really teaching their kids Christianity. Oh, they raised ’em Christian; they took ’em to church, did church-related and Christian things as a family, and demonstrated various outward signs of the faith. But they never sat the kids down and said, “Here’s why,” and largely expected the kids to pick up Christianity by osmosis. And that didn’t happen. The kids are pagan. Or maybe one kid is Christian, but the rest are pagan; sometimes two kids; sometimes the few kids who are still Christian are only so because they’re young, but wait till college.

So either they didn’t have any Christianity to pass down, or they did but sucked at it. Either way, they wanna pass it down now, and are finding it’s really hard to.

Well, yeah.

Teenagers aren’t impossible to evangelize. Definitely not. Youth ministers do it all the time—and lots of them came to Jesus as teenagers, so they know from personal experience! The Holy Spirit works on people of all ages.

The problem is, as their parent, getting ’em to listen to you. That’s not gonna be easy. You’re at a significant disadvantage.

When they don’t care to listen to you.

Teenagers are usually, fumblingly, trying to figure out who they are as people.

In their childhood years, parents were the ones largely telling them who they were. Or not; some parents suck, and never gave any input, so the kids picked it up from teachers, friends, and popular culture. In the case of sucky parents, teenagers are no longer interested in any input their parents might have now; where were they before? And in the case of involved parents (or worse, helicopter parents), they’re tired of all the parental input, and wanna figure things out on their own.

This is generally true of American teenagers. There are always exceptions. In some cultures, everything is geared to encourage people to always seek their parents’ input. And of course there are always kids who love their parents and naturally want their input. But for the most part teenagers want to learn to do this themselves, and that means stepping away from the parents to strike out on their own. It’s how they think they have to demonstrate independence.

So when this is the phase they’re going through, they don’t wanna listen to their parents. They’re seeking any other authoritative source than their parents. And sometimes they’ll intentionally seek out the opposite advice their parents give ’em, because they wanna make it obvious they’re doing this on their own. You give ’em your opinion, and they’ll deliberately do the opposite on principle.

And let’s not forget the motivation of their own personal desires. I won’t even touch upon how the teenager’s new, frequent onrushes of hormones have seriously addled their decision-making processes.

If you’re used to approaching your child as their authority figure, you’re gonna find, as teenagers, this doesn’t work so well anymore. This isn’t easy for most parents to discover. Some of them never do get beyond the mindset of being in charge of their kids. Even when their kids have been adults for years, a lot of parents automatically assume they’re in charge, or they’re the authority; they don’t even think about it. They try to mandate things, forgetting their kids stopped obeying ’em decades ago.

So when it comes to sharing Jesus, too many parents try to mandate Jesus. Which is never appropriate in evangelism, but even less appropriate when you’re dealing with teenagers: Mandating Jesus simply causes teenagers to react, “Who d’you think you are?” and reject him on principle. It’s pretty much guaranteed to drive the kids away.

Demonstrate. Don’t mandate.

So if you’ve got teenagers you want to lead to Jesus, your very best course of action is to be Christian. Be a better example. Demonstrate a lifestyle which your teenagers will immediately recognize as authentically better than what they see among their peers and influencers.

It’s to stop being a jerk. (Especially towards them!) To work on developing spiritual fruit and Christian maturity. To do the usual practices of prayer, bible-reading, and church-going; but more importantly to be blatantly, openly loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, loyal, gentle, and self-disciplined around your teenagers.

Once they see this in you, then they recognize you as an authority when it comes to Christianity.

Remember, teenagers are trying to figure out who they are. In the process, they’re trying to figure out which of their role models are real and fake. If your Christianity is in any way fake, they’ll understandably dismiss the whole thing as hypocrisy—they don’t have the time to pick through it and say, “This part’s real, this part’s not.” They don’t care about nuance when there are so many different worldviews to try out.

So you cannot afford to fake your Christianity in the hopes you can get your kid to Jesus faster. The only thing to do is grow Christian faster. Which is doable, though definitely not easy! You gotta get super religious—and you gotta try extra hard to remain humble lest your newfound devotion freaks ’em out.

The other temptation is to make your new devotion not about Jesus—it’s ultimately about winning over your kids. That ain’t healthy. It bollixes your Christianity, because if Jesus isn’t the goal—your kids’ salvation is—then what happens if your kids never do turn to Jesus? You gonna ditch Jesus in frustration?—“You promised me, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ but I’m not seeing anything! When’re you gonna pay up?” Some parents have let go of their Christianity in despair—and that just reveals the fact their real devotion was towards their kids, not Christ.

Also remember: This stuff applies to sharing Jesus with everyone, not just your kids. That’s right: You evangelize your teenagers exactly the same way you evangelize adults. It’s much tougher with your kids, because they’re very familiar with your failures. (Even when you think you’ve carefully concealed them from the kids. Don’t be naïve.) Jesus famously commented prophets don’t get a lot of respect from their families, Mk 6.4 and not even he was able to convince his brothers to follow him till after he arose.

Most of the time, all parents will ever do with their kids is lay groundwork. Some other Christian will more than likely be the person who leads them to Jesus. Which is fine; hey, they’ve come to Jesus! Meanwhile you’d better get busy laying that groundwork.

Do otherwise and you’ve given your teenagers a strong argument in favor of rejection: “You say Jesus will change my life, but I don’t see him doing a whole lot with you.” They should never be able to say that. Start producing fruit!