How To Lose Faith in Three Generations (or Less)

Three Chairs

Grandparents  Chair–  they made a decision to follow Jesus Christ.   They continued to make decisions and ordered priorities to follow Jesus.  Theirs was a living, vibrant faith that influenced everything about them and their lives.

Parents Chair-  Because of their parents, they learned the language of faith.  They attended church regularly and may even have pledged allegiance to Christ.  But too often their faith was centered in the practice of religion rather than the personal encounter with God that their parents experienced.   The distinctive beliefs and practices of the faith have become muted. For this generation, faith was worked out in support of institution and works of social betterment.  They believed they could be Christians and still be full participants in the culture.

Childrens Chair– This generation has become synonymous with the culture.  More of this generation identify as having no religious affiliation.  If they have a nominal allegiance to Christianity, it is Christianity Lite, which is what they received from their parents.  Their values are that of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Their values are what they feel.   They think they know what Christianity is about and they are indifferent.  In reality, they have little knowledge of the faith and practices of a disciple of Jesus.

Do you see yourself or your family in this description?  Do you see the contemporary church in this scenario?

Can the generations go any other way?  The answer is yes.  I want to first show you in Scripture.  This is the Apostle Paul writing to his young disciple, Timothy:

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”  2 Timothy 1.5-6

Paul is stating with warm affection that faith was alive in Timothy as it had been in his mother and grandmother.  Paul is not assuming that Timothy would automatically inherit his family’s faith.  Paul says he “is sure” the faith is alive in Timothy.  In fact Paul had a hand it.  He speaks of the “laying on of hands” which is a means of prayer and the conveying of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying, “I was there when you believed.”

Timothy was blessed to be raised by a mother and grandmother who believed.  It is always better to be raised by believers than unbelievers.  I have known exceptions to this.  So have you.   Some kids have everything going against them but somehow they thrive.  They grow up into amazing, loving, godly people.  Sadly, there are also kids who have been given advantages and squander them, becoming selfish people lacking faith.  But the exceptions prove the rule – the faith of parents and grandparents are the greatest predictors of faith in kids.

We know how to lose faith in three generations.  How do you grow faith from generation to generation? 

First, you don’t assume that kids, or adults for that matter, will automatically believe just because you are nominal Christians, i.e. Christian in name.  You don’t assume that faith will happen because you live in the United States or because most of the people you know are Christian.  

You know that faith must be born anew in every person.  “You must be born from above” said Jesus to Nicodemus.  There are no grandchildren in the faith, really; only children.

You call people to make the decision to follow Christ, not just pledge allegiance to him, but follow Him.  We give the priority in the Church to intentional disciple-making.  It won’t happen otherwise.  We also make room for nondisciples and consumer Christians.  But that is secondary to who we are. 

“We would intend to make disciples and let converts “happen”, rather than intending to make converts and letting disciples “happen.”  Dallas Willard

Willard asks us to imagine the effect upon our church and families if there was even a strong minority of genuine disciples in our midst, what a powerfully transforming effect it would have!

Timothy was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Paul encouraged him to step up into greater boldness and greater grace.  Christian faith acquires credibility only as Christians faithfully live in the present the future life of eternity as disciples here and now.

The disciple lives out the promise of Proverbs 3.5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”

The disciple chooses the path of following Jesus in life here and now. 

We took our Champions for Christ elementary boys group on a hike at Canoe Creek last Sunday.  It was a gorgeous day for a hike.  We chose our path.  Last year the hike was a little short, so this year I purposefully picked a longer trail.  How did it go?  We learned some things about ourselves on the hike.  We learned that if one boy has a stick everyone wants a stick too.  We learned that if there is horse manure on the trail  the odds are good that some of the boys are going to step in it, even if they see it.  They don’t want to.  It’s just that a part of them is draw to it, like flies to. . . well, manure.  Though we told them not to go off the trail, some of them did and found themselves covered in sticky thorns and briars.  We learned that they can all howl like coyotes.  I learned how hard it is for some boys to not run ahead of you even when you have told them, oh, twenty times, not to run ahead of you.  We learned when one pees they all gotta pee.  We learned that four miles is long a way to hike.  You get hungry and tired.  So to sum up:  We took twenty-three elementary boys on a four mile hike through the woods.  Who’s idea was this?  Mine.  It was mine.

Yet it was not unlike the path of discipleship that we choose.  It is full of beauty and challenge and it’s easy to doubt the trail you are on.  But a disciple keeps walking.  The early monastic Christians developed what they called the Rule of Life.  The Rule came from the Latin word, regula, which means order or rhythm, rather than just “a set of rules”.  So “Rule” in this sense is more like what you tell the doctor when he or she asks certain questions.  You say “Yes, I’m regular.”  I am in rhythm with my body.  I am in the rhythm of life.  This happens by developing physical and spiritual patterns that will help me become what I cannot naturally become on my own.  We learn to translate our verbal commitment to Jesus into how we actually spend our time Monday through Saturday.  When we first seriously attempt to do this we may find obstacles to our faith.  Those obstacles were there all along.  We never saw them or identified them because we were never before moving in opposition to them.  It is the path, not the obstacles, that matter.

Next steps on the Path:

  • Get up earlier so I can read and pray before school or work.  (I may need to stop watching tv a bit earlier at nights)
  • Give more to church, community, and charity.  (I may need to stop so much impulsive buying.  I may need to pay down some debt.)
  • Serve others more as God directs me.  I am learning how to think about myself less often.
  • Worship and celebrate God’s goodness weekly.  I may need to say no to the subtle demands of the culture on my rhythm of life and worship.

The path matters because of the One who calls us and the person of God we are becoming.  “We are becoming what we will be forever.”

Rich Morris