A colleague came to me recently after she had noticed a somewhat surprising trend: millennial parents are far more likely than previous generations to raise their children without a focus on religion.
I write it’s only somewhat surprising because, by now, we have all seen the numbers showing a steady march away from religious identification in our country. Millennials are not immune to this trend; however, they appear to be bucking the previous pattern of generations coming back to celebrate and practice their religion after they have children. Many parents want to instill values and morality in their children and in times past recognized their faith as a reliable vehicle to help.
Today, many millennial parents do not believe there is any benefit to an organized religious environment or whether their kids need any spiritual influence at all. Here is why I think that is unwise.
Through my 15 years of ministry experience on four different continents, I have seen one principle that spans cultures: everyone deals with fear and anger, many times resulting in resentment, bitterness, blame against ourselves or others, rage, and hostility. I have also noted the root of all fear and anger issues is spiritual. It is only by helping someone recognize that God, who is spirit (John 4:24), is their true creator and trustworthy parent, that change from fear and anger to peace can happen on a foundational level.
When parents believe they can raise children without religion, they misunderstand the real benefit of the Church’s biblical training. The Bible isn’t simply a moral rulebook that provides precise definitions of right and wrong. If that is a parent’s approach, it is unsurprising their children reject the Church when the world offers a much more flexible set of rules. Within American and other rapidly growing melting pot cultures, there are a variety of moral codes available to parents, and many think they should pick from the variety that feels best to them.
When I counsel parents, however, their biggest concerns are not about finding the best moral code. Much of the time, they’re afraid to impose a moral code that a child can later reject.
No, the thing that scares parents is themselves. The parents I speak to are either worried they are not doing enough for their kids or that they’re doing too much for them and their children will resent them later. They are worried about the effects of the stress and frustration they cannot control within themselves.
Often, parents do not worry about what to teach their children. They worry that they won’t be able to teach their children how to be successful, how to be healthy, how to have a better marriage, and how to avoid the traumas their parents have experienced in their lifetimes.
Like other parents, I struggle with wanting better memories for my children. I want my children to live a pain-free life altogether. Though I am aware it’s not possible, I want them to have a life that is free from the influence of my flaws.
The only solace I find is in a trusting relationship with the God who created my children to also be my kids’ true parent. He alone can guide my children and help them find new pathways to freedom. He alone can turn the painful events in their lives into something good. As I have learned to trust Him, I must trust that if I point my children to the God who loves them more than I ever could, they will find the emotional security that an imperfect father, like myself, can never provide.
In my opinion, the best argument for raising kids in a strong and open Christian environment at home, supplemented by well-rounded training in godliness and obedience that includes a Church community, gives the best possible chance for them to start a relationship with God. They can experience the opportunity to trust in our living God who is better in every way than an earthly parent.
God gives more grace than we have to give, loves more unconditionally, guides in ways we cannot, and sees the world and the future in ways that we do not. I want that God to guide, direct, and ultimately parent my children, because I know that I am not enough for them on my own.
It’s true that as parents, we must provide discipline and instruction to our children. If we don’t teach our children spiritual truths, they will inevitably experience feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and helplessness. Religious training takes persistence and practice on the part of a parent. Recognizing we cannot shield our children from the troubles of the world can free us from unnecessary anxiety. Ultimately, we want to lead them to an Advocate who is always present, never changing, and is aware of what is always best for them now and forever.
“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.” Psalm 143:8
Craig Constantinos is a former chaplain at Medi-Share/CCM. He is also a missionary and third-generation pastor who has worked in three different denominations and has a Master’s in Counseling from Asbury Seminary. Craig lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and four kids.