An alarming number of young adults are leaving the Christian faith even though they grew up in a church-going household.
Kurt Bruner, the pastor of spiritual formation at Lake Pointe Church, teamed up with Steve Stroope, lead pastor of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, and other experts to respond to the crisis. They concluded that faith should primarily be nourished in a God-honoring family rather than just within the church.
Their new book, It Starts at Home: A Practical Guide to Nurturing Lifelong Faith, discusses God's purpose for the family and strategies for spiritual formation at home.
Bruner, who is also executive director of the Strong Families Innovative Alliance, shared his thoughts about building strong Christian families with The Christian Post this week via e-mail.
CP: Can you explain when and why the trend started of young people who grew up in Christian households abandoning their faith?
Bruner: I first became aware of the trend about fifteen years ago when the early reports on declining faith in the next generation created a buzz among church leaders. Some of those reports, it turned out, lacked veracity and exaggerated the situation. What is clear, however, is that we are losing more of our own children to the world than we are winning un-churched people to faith. We dedicate one section of our book to summarizing the most reliable studies on the topic which, when considered together, paint an alarming picture. Perhaps for the first time in church history those most included toward belief (our own children) are rejecting the Christian faith. And the problem, in our view, is not what is happening at church but what desperately needs to happen in our homes.
CP: What is God's purpose for marriage? What is God's purpose for parenthood?
Bruner: Both marriage and parenting are the primary context of our spiritual formation, for better or worse. That's why we need to remind ourselves of the purpose of each.
Marriage: God designed every marriage to be a picture of THE marriage between God and His people. Paul calls it a mystery in his letter to the church at Ephesus. It is no wonder Satan hates marriage. A God-honoring marriage is an icon reflecting the gospel itself.
Parenting: Those blessed with the gift of children are called to inspire and nurture the faith of the next generation as life's greatest priority. The vast majority of those who ever come to faith do so before age 14. We know that God's primary mechanism for faith transference has always been the home – so we should not be surprised that his primary strategy has been parents modeling and reinforcing Biblical truth in the every-day circumstances of life.
CP: What are children supposed to learn from the relationship between their parents?
Bruner: It's not so much what they learn as what they experience. When parents become intentional about nurturing a strong marriage the children encounter a glimpse of who God is and what it means for someone to sacrifice himself or herself for another. As we say in the first chapter of the book "If you've been part of a loving, happy family you have smelled the sweet aroma of heaven. If you've lived in a troubled, broken home you have breathed the foul stench of hell." Marriage and family should be a little bit of heaven, rather than a foretaste of hell. Nothing robs children of that gift more than unresolved marital conflict.
CP: What is the most common mistake you see Christian parents making when raising their children, in terms of instilling the faith in the next generation?
Bruner: Lack of intentionality. God designed the home as the green-house nurturing strong faith. That's why, in the context of healthy relationships, children tend to embrace the values of their parents. We don't need mom or dad to become their child's pastor or Sunday school teacher. But a small amount of intentionality can dramatically increase the odds kids will want to adopt the parent's beliefs.
CP: Many parents may feel they are not strong enough in the faith to teach their children, although they want their children to be better Christians than they are. What is your advice to these parents?
Bruner: When I first became a dad I avoided doing "family devotions" because that model never worked in my family growing up. I preferred going to the dentist to sitting through a boring "devotion" with my parents. That's why we recommend many other spiritual formation methods, including several that have worked for us such as mealtime conversations, family night fun activities, and movie night chats. We offer a variety of practical ideas in the book to help jump-start parents who might be intimidated by the process. Again, parents don't need to become Bible scholars or saints to inspire faith in the next generation. We are only asked to talk about the things we believe in natural, everyday contexts.
CP: What do you mean when you say teach your children "with the grain"?
Bruner: A one-size fits all approach to faith-training doesn't work because every child is in a different stage of development and has a unique personality bent. It is important to find a method that works for your specific child to avoid frustrating (or boring) both of you.
CP: What role should grandparents play in raising grandchildren?
Bruner: Grandparents dramatically underestimate their spiritual impact. That's why we call them to become intentional about regular connection with the grandchildren, even when they live apart. We provide a list of ideas such as a monthly ice-cream date, a periodic text blessing, or an annual "Camp Grandma and Grandpa" routine.
CP: How can church leaders create a culture of intentional families?
Bruner: We spent two-years facilitating dialogue among leading churches on that very question. You can download a free executive summary at www.DriveFaithHome.com