Passing Down the Faith
About the Guest
About half of young people drift from God and church after they graduate. Is there anything parents can do to prevent this spiritual slide? Youth expert Kara Powell talks about three phrases parents can implement that are especially helpful in building "sticky faith" in their kids.
Kara PowellDr. Kara E. Powell is an educator, professor, youth minister, author, and speaker. She is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary (see www.fulleryouthinstitute.org). Kara also serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue church in Pasadena, CA. She is the author of many books including Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas t...more
Youth expert Kara Powell talks about three phrases parents can implement that are especially helpful in building “sticky faith” in their kids.
Passing Down the Faith
Bob: How often do you engage in any kind of spiritual dialogue with your son or your daughter; and how often, in that dialogue, are you sharing about your own journey? Author and speaker, Kara Powell, says those are important questions for every parent to be asking.
Kara: Now, let’s say I’m talking to my son, Nathan, perhaps, on the way home from church. What a typical parent will do is ask their kid: “Hey, how was church? How was youth group? What did you talk about? What did you study? What did you learn about in Sunday school?”
What our research suggests—it is a good thing for me, as a mom, to keep asking Nathan questions; but what is as important and much less practiced is parents sharing about their own faith experiences.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today about how we can effectively facilitate spiritual formation in our children’s lives, and we’ll hear some special thoughts on how blended families approach this task.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We’ve said over and over again on FamilyLife Today—the thing that our listeners have said to us throughout the years that they are most concerned about / that they need the most help with, as they’re raising their children, is the whole issue of spiritual formation / spiritual development. There is a lot we care about with our kids—their health, their safety, their intelligence. We want them to form healthy relationships; but ultimately, it’s their walk with God that has got to be at the center of all of that.
Dennis: Yes; we surveyed over a hundred thousand people in the church and asked them, “What are your greatest needs in marriage and family?” The parenting issue—this was number one by far: “How do I pass on my faith to my kids?”
And I’ll tell you, Bob—looking at what’s happening to our youth today—as they leave the church, and turn their back on the church, and not come back after they graduate from high school—this ought to concern parents today. We ought to be passing on practical ways, like we’re going to pass on toady, of how parents can help their faith stick to their children’s lives.
Bob: Yes; this is a subject that actually came up last fall as we were hosting our Blended and Blessed™ event out in Southern California. Ron Deal, who gives leadership to FamilyLife’s Blended™ Family Ministry, was hosting this event. This was for people who are leaders in ministering to stepfamilies / blended families but, also, for pastors and anyone who has an interest in this subject. He had them gather together, and he asked Dr. Kara Powell to come in and speak about spiritual formation with children.
And I think, in a blended family situation, there are some nuances here / there is some uniqueness for how you are going to have to engage on this subject.
Dennis: Yes; and just because she is speaking at a blended family conference doesn’t mean you’re not going to be able to take practical tools away from this message in your own family. She speaks practically just about “How do you make this transfer of faith to the next generation?”
We’ve got another event for blended families—and those who work with blendeds across the country in the church—that we’re partnering with Focus on the Family® to do later on this fall.
Bob: In September, we’re going to be on the campus at Focus on the Family out in Colorado Springs. Together, we’re going to be addressing the issues facing blended families and how to do blended family ministry in local churches. The conference is called The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™. And if our listeners are interested in attending, we would love to have you join us. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information.
But today, as you said, Dennis, we’re going to hear from Dr. Kara Powell, who is an educator / she’s a professor.
She’s an author and a speaker—serves as the Executive Director at the Fuller Youth Institute and is a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. She’s written a book called Sticky Faith. That’s what she came to talk to these blended family experts about—cultivating a sticky faith as we raise our sons and daughters. Here’s Kara Powell.
Kara: Really good research indicates that about one in two young people drift from God and the church after they graduate from high school. One really massive study—four out of five of those who drift intended to cross well.
Part of why I am so honored to be here today is because of my own family background. My parents got divorced when I was about six. The word, parents, is a weird word for me. To say, “Mom and Dad” together—that did not go together in my vocabulary—
—it was “Mom and Jim” / “Dad and Helen.”
Now, the Lord has done amazing things in my parents’ lives. All four of them are now followers of Jesus; but as a daughter of divorce, I’ve got to say—pretty much, every day, issues emerge for me. I see it in the way I respond to situations. I see it in the way that I view God. I see it in the way that I parent / that I relate to my husband—and how it is tainted by a fear of abandonment. That’s so common in kids of divorce. A lot of times, that fear of abandonment can transfer into how we view God.
Well, what we’re going to look at this morning is research that we’ve done on over 500 young people as well as 50 families that are especially effective at building long-term faith. Now, while our study looked at high school seniors during their first three years in college, what we’ve seen has amazing ramifications for all ages.
When we first started unearthing this research about lifelong faith / what we call “sticky faith,” our youngest, Jessica, was maybe about four or five. It changed the way that I parented Jessica. It changed the way that my husband parented Jessica. So, while we studied teenagers, it’s never too early and it’s never too late to start putting these principles into practice.
Now, what we’re going to talk about in this session is three phrases that are especially helpful in building sticky faith—three things that we can say to kids, who come from blended families—and three phrases that I hope you leave here and you train parents to be quick to say these phrases.
In our study of these youth group graduates, 70 percent of youth group graduates had significant questions about their faith. Seven out of ten had big, tough questions about God.
Now, they had—I mean, 50 different questions. But as our research team tried to analyze them, we felt like they clustered into four major categories. These were the top four categories: “Does God exist?” “Does God love me?” “Am I living the life God wants?” and “Is Christianity true or the only way to God?” What’s fascinating to me about these questions is two of them are pretty classic apologetics questions: “Does God exist?” and “Is Christianity the only way to God?” But then, two of them are very personal questions about my life: “Does God love me?”and “Am I living the life that God wants?”
When I’m asked, “What’s the biggest surprise out of your Sticky Faith research?” I usually talk about this—how important it is to welcome young people in their tough questions. In fact, one of the things that we found is that—
—when young people have the chance to express and explore their doubts, that’s actually correlated with greater faith maturity in high school and college. Let me put it more simply: “Doubt isn’t toxic to faith; silence is.”
Now, according to some research, children who are in blended families—the questions that they are asking, internally, don’t get verbalized, externally. According to one study, two-thirds of young adult children, whose parents were going through a divorce, report that no one from their churches—the subjects were Jewish and Christian—no one from their synagogue, no one from their congregation, no one from their parish reached out to them and asked: “How are you doing?” and “How is that divorce, that is tearing apart your family—how is that affecting the big questions you have about God, and yourself, and life?”
Andy Root, who is a Fuller alum, has done some fascinating research on what happens to kids after they’ve gone through and are in the midst of a divorce experience.
Andy’s parents went through a divorce. And what Andy well describes is that, when you’re a child of divorce / your parents split, it causes major existential questions—major questions about who you are because you are a product of a man and a woman; and then, all of a sudden, they are no longer together: “What does that mean about you?”
One of the ways that I started thinking about this—and I don’t mean to cheapen the experience—but in the movie, Back to the Future, Marty McFly starts to disappear and his sibling kind of starts to disappear because this union that was of his parents, when they were teenagers, all of a sudden looks like it’s not going to happen. That’s what young people are walking around, after their parents have been through a divorce. There is this angst that kids of divorce experience—that kids, who are in blended families, adopteds, single-parenting / whatever it might be—
—experience that particular question.
My hope and prayer is that we—as people who have made unique commitments to blended, divorced, remarried families, etc.—we have the courage to ask kids, “Hey, what questions does your family situation or does life, in general, raise for you?” A lot of adults are afraid to ask kids about their questions because they are afraid they won’t be able to answer them.
Here’s the good news—we don’t necessarily have to have an answer. What we can do is empathize and say, “I don’t know for sure.” Out of our research, four words—“I don’t know, but….” “I don’t know, but here’s what I do know about God.” “I don’t know, but we can meet in community and talk about it,” or “…but let’s figure out the answers together,” or “…but the God of the universe loves you unconditionally.”
So, the first phrase / four words: “I don’t know, but….”
The second phrase—I want to tell you a little bit about more of our research. We had a PhD student, whose whole focus was parent/child conversations about faith. This is all she studied in the midst of this three years of research. What she unearthed—it’s changed the way that I interact with my kids.
Now, let’s say I’m talking to my son, Nathan, perhaps, on the way home from church. What a typical parent will do is ask their kid: “Hey, how was church? How was youth group? What did you talk about? What did you study? What did you learn about in Sunday school?” Now, depending on Nathan’s mood or personality / relationship with me—there might be an answer / there might be an answer—there might be kind of a, “Mom, give me a little space,”—silence.
What our research suggests—it is a good thing for me, as a mom, to keep asking Nathan questions; but what is as important and much less practiced is parents sharing about their own faith experiences.
Now, a lot of times, that can happen at family dinners; and family dinners are great. We had a wonderful one—the five of us—last night. But I’ve got to be honest—a lot of times, our family dinners—they are not homeruns. Family dinners—sometimes work / sometimes don’t work.
But here’s one of the interesting facets of our research—when it comes to talking with our kids about faith and to helping equip parents talk to their kids about faith, there’s real power when parents share—not just about what God is teaching them now—but about their spiritual journey.
So, in the midst of our research of how important it is for parents to share organically, and authentically, and naturally—here is the second phrase I want to give you—and this is a super easy one; okay? I bet you’ve, maybe, even said this phrase already today—it’s just one word, and that is “God”—
—to help parents know that they can, they need to, and they get to talk about God with their kids.
One of the ways that we have done that is at dinner. We did highs and lows since our kids were little; but out of our Sticky Faith research, we’ve added another question: “How did you see God at work today? How did you see God at work today?” Now, when Dave and I first introduced that question our, then, nine-year-old said, “Well, Mommy/Daddy, I can’t really answer that question.” “Why not?” She said, “I don’t have a job,”—“How did she see God at work today?” [Laughter] But then, we reframed it as “How did you see God working?”—yes—she, and her brother, and her sister—they do have things to say. And equally importantly, Dave and I get to share too.
“I don’t know, but…” in the midst of kids’ tough questions; and in moments of everyday life, simply encourage parents to talk more about God. So, let’s turn now to the third phrase.
A mom—she lives about 15 minutes from here. While our research is nationwide, this mom happens to live about 15 minutes from here. She was telling me, as I interviewed her here as one of 50 families that are really effective at building long-term faith, about the interaction she had with her six-year-old son. He was one of those kids—I have one of these kids too—that when you meet with the teacher at parent/teacher conference, the first word the teacher uses to describe that kid is “verbal.” [Laughter] Some of you have those verbal kids too.
So, this six-year-old had just pushed this mom too far. She, in a spirit of anger, said: “Go to your room! I don’t even really like you right now.” As he walked away from her to his room, it’s like—she said: “It was like he got smaller as he walked. I knew I had pushed it—I had gone too far.”
So, that day, while he was at kindergarten, she said: “I went to Target, and I bought a Lego® set. I wrote him a very simple note that a six-year-old could understand: ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.’” He came home from school. She gave him the Lego set / she gave him the note. And sure enough, he played a lot with that Lego set all week / the next week. Then, the Lego set got less interesting.
What I haven’t told you about this six-year-old is he is now about twenty-three. This mom helped him move when he graduated from high school and went to college; and then, summers in college back home; and, then, after college to an apartment. She’s often been helping pack up boxes. That Lego set is long gone, but he still has this note from his mom where she said two powerful words.
And it’s the last phrase I want to leave you with—a phrase that kids need to hear from all adults—and I needed to hear, given my family situation: “I’m sorry.”
In fact, as we studied these 50 families, one of the parents that I got to interview—I did about 12 of the interviews—one of the parents that I got to interview, when it was the designated time to call him—he is a parent of a high school girl and two college girls. He said: “You know, I don’t even feel like I should be having this conversation with you.” He said, “I’ve had to apologize to all three of my daughters in the last week.” I said, “That’s exactly why we want to talk to you.”
Do you know what separates Christianity from every other religion on the planet?—is grace—God’s amazing grace. And out of our Sticky Faith research, our family—not only do we ask, “How did you see God at work today?”—
—but every night that we happen to have dinner together, we also talk about our greatest mistakes / our greatest mistakes. It’s a time when we, as parents, get to apologize to our kids too.
As we’ve interviewed parents—especially parents from blended families / I shouldn’t say, “especially parents from blended families”—but as we’ve interviewed parents, including parents from blended families, they say that they’ve learned that they need to say, “I’m sorry,” to their kids also.
When I was 26, I was dating Dave, who is now my husband. It triggered a lot of issues for me. My mom basically was left by my dad, and there are multiple women in our family who have been left by men. The irony was that, the closer Dave and I got, the more I fell in love with him, and the more afraid I was that he was going to leave me—
—that I would be one more woman in our family who got left by a man that she loved.
As Dave and I got closer and closer in our dating relationship, I reached out to my dad. I said, “We need to talk about your and mom’s divorce.” We met at a Red Robin Burgers® about 20 minutes from here—halfway between my house in Pasadena and his house in San Diego. He came with written remarks. He’s an attorney—so he wanted to be prepared. [Laughter] He put on his glasses. He read, and he ad-libbed; but what I remember most is my dad saying to me: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I sat there in that Red Robin Burger place, in a booth, with tears streaming down my face because I heard those words from my dad in a new and a fresh—
—and maybe, really, first time.
Grace is what separates Christianity from every other religion. If we can’t forgive each other / if we can’t help families experience God’s healing and God’s forgiveness, then, we have no business meeting here today. But it’s because of what Jesus did on the cross—His death and resurrection—that we experience grace that brings us healing in relationship with God as well as in relationship with each other.
As I was driving down here, the most dominate prayer that I had is, “God, help today just be part of what You’re doing in families around the country.” I believe God is at work in families around the country; and you are key, strategic, called leaders to fan those flames.
I’m hoping that these three phrases are phrases that you, as leaders, use with kids—and maybe, even more importantly, you train parents, and stepparents, and grandparents, and foster parents, and adoptive parents how to use these phrases too.
Bob: Well, we have been listening to Kara Powell as she shared with people, who are involved in ministry to blended and stepfamilies, at the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry in Southern California last fall. She was speaking about how we can help our kids understand the reality of who God is, even in the brokenness of our own family situations.
Dennis: Yes; she’s talking, Bob, about authentically living out your faith in front of your kids—
—being real / not being plastic—not being Pharisaical / not saying one thing and doing another—but instead, yes; just be practical with your children. When you’re struggling, let them know; and let them know how you are processing that struggle. And when you run into someone who needs to be forgiven, maybe, let your son or your daughter into the interior of your life as you share with them how you move to forgiveness.
That’s what she’s talking about—authentic Christian living, lived out at home, is—in my opinion—the most powerful message we can imprint upon our children’s lives.
Bob: Well, and of course, this is something Kara addresses in the book that she’s written, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, which is a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s a very practical book. She gives you lots of creative ideas for how you can engage with your children more regularly on spiritual subjects.
Again, it’s called The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to place an order—FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can order over the phone.
And I mentioned earlier that what we heard today was originally presented at The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that took place last fall. Coming up in September, we are going to be hosting this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. We’re partnering together with our friends at Focus to host this event—hoping that church leaders and anyone who cares about ministering to stepfamilies will plan to be with us September 29 and 30. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
I don’t know if you know what you were doing two years ago today; but I know that Pastor Russ McKee and his wife Kim know what they were doing because they were getting married. The McKees live in Land O’ Lakes, Florida; and this is their second wedding anniversary. We want to say, “Happy anniversary,” and “Congratulations!”
They have attended a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, and they did that as our guests. We have a scholarship fund for the Weekend to Remember. Pastors and their spouse can come as our guests, thanks to the scholarship fund. And let me just say—so much of what we do, here at FamilyLife, is made possible because of contributions to things like scholarship funds. Those of you who support this radio program—you help make all what we do, here at FamilyLife, possible. We are grateful for your financial support of this ministry.
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Now, tomorrow, we will hear more from Kara Powell about how you make faith stick as you pass on spiritual truth to the next generation. We’ll hear from her tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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