FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Three Biggest Dangers to Growing Up

with Karl Graustein | August 20, 2008
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Are your children’s spiritual root systems deep or shallow? Today on the broadcast, author Karl Graustein, headmaster of Covenant Life School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, talks about his life growing up in a Christian home and points to the clear dangers young Christians face when they are saturated in the Christian culture.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Are your children’s spiritual root systems deep or shallow? Today on the broadcast, author Karl Graustein, headmaster of Covenant Life School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, talks about his life growing up in a Christian home and points to the clear dangers young Christians face when they are saturated in the Christian culture.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Are your children’s spiritual root systems deep or shallow?

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The Three Biggest Dangers to Growing Up

With Karl Graustein
August 20, 2008
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Bob: Is it dangerous to grow up in a Christian home?  Karl Graustein says it can be.

Karl: The number-one thing that comes to mind right away is false assurance of salvation.  It's so easy to assume you are saved just because you're growing up in a Christian environment, and they assume they are saved because they are surrounded by the things of God, they do the things Christians do – go to church, read the Bible, pray, they believe in God, and they assume that they are Christians, and they kind of think they've inherited that from their parents.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 20th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Is there a way you can tell, as a Christian parent, whether your son or daughter really loves the Lord or whether he or she is just going through their spiritual motions?  We'll talk about it today, stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You and Barbara have always been a little concerned about – well, I heard somebody call it "hothouse Christianity" at one point, where the kids are brought up in an environment where everything is so manicured and protected and cared for that they don't get exposed to the harsh reality that's outside until they're – until maybe it's too late.

Dennis: Well, it's really not an issue of exposure, it's an issue of the children hammering out their convictions and allowing those convictions to be tested prior to becoming an adult outside the home.

What we were concerned about, as we worked with teenagers for five years with the high school ministry at Campus Crusade for Christ, was we were seeing young people growing up, and they were hitchhiking off of their parents' faith, and they were growing up in these, what I would call a hothouse Christianity and, yeah, they grew fast, but if you've ever been in one of these hothouses, you know that the root system is not that pronounced or mature or deep, and if you exposed those little plants to the harsh realities outside the hothouse, they're going to wilt under the heat.

Bob: And we're going to spend some time this week talking about how parents can make sure that the root system is growing deep as they raise their children, right?

Dennis: And we have the head of school – of a Christian school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Karl Graustein.  Karl, welcome to the broadcast.

Karl: Thank you for having me on today.

Dennis: You maybe be the first guy from New Hampshire we've ever had on the program.  He grew up in New Hampshire.  Your dad was a pastor, right?

Karl: Pastor and head of a Christian school.

Dennis: Yeah.  You and your wife, Jennifer, have three children, and you now find yourself giving leadership to a Christian school and have written a book called "Growing Up Christian," and I have to assume, from your book, Karl, that you have a similar concern that Barbara and I had about hothouse Christianity.

Karl: Absolutely.  The book is written specifically for teenagers growing up in the church today, trying to help them to not just draft off their parents but to develop a faith and a lock of their own.

Bob: Now, you grew up in a Christian home, right?

Karl: I did.  I had a great privilege.  My parents became Christians about six years before I was born and grew up in a strong, loving Christian family.  What a wonderful privilege it was, but not without its challenges.

Bob: What did your Christian family experience look like?  I mean, was there family devotions, were you in church all the time, did you go to a Christian school, what was it for you?

Karl: Yes, it was all of those things.  Looking back on it, what an amazing privilege we had, but the reality was I think I was genuinely saved at age four, and my brother thinks he was genuinely saved at 34 – the exact same household, the exact same high school, the exact same college, yet a different experience overall.

Dennis: I want to be clear here at the outset – we've talked about the hothouse, we think there's nothing better than a Christian home …

Karl: Absolutely.

Dennis: … that is surrounding children with prayer, the Scripture, godly values, authentic Christian faith.  What we're concerned about, though, is the trends that we see among those youth who do grow up in these homes.  And you know what?  I think our listeners are concerned.  In fact, I think they want to know where the dangers are and what they need to be aware of.  So what I want you to do – you're the head of a Christian school – I want you to kind of put on your principal and superintendent hat here and just coach the parents on what you're seeing in youth today around the dangers kids are facing and what they can do about them in advance.

Karl: Sure.  Well, before even mentioning that, I think it's very important that we understand it is a great blessing to grow up in a Christian home.  Just think about the chance to be able to know God at a young age; the chance to hear about the Gospel; the chance to know and learn the truths of Scripture; the chance to watch people, adults, that are following hard after God, and what an amazing blessing that is.  I would never want to have grown up in another environment.  God gave me a wonderful family, a wonderful experience.  I want the same for my children.

But there are clear dangers.  There are clear challenges that young people growing up in the church face, as I've been working now for 15 years in Christian education and have grown up as a church kid myself, and I'm watching many more church kids growing up and coming to school every day.  It's just very clear they face unique challenges, even challenges that the world doesn't face but maybe not even their parents faced. 

And I think the number-one thing that comes to mind right away is false assurance of salvation.  They assume they are saved because they are surrounded by the things of God, they do the things Christians do – go to church, read the Bible, pray, they believe in God, and they assume that they are Christians because everyone they know, even the vast majority of their friends, and they kind of think they've inherited that from their parents.

So it's so easy to assume you're saved just because you're growing up in a Christian environment, and you might actually be wrong on that assumption.

Bob: You mentioned that your brother thinks he was saved when he was 34 years old.  He grew up in the Christian environment that you grew up in.  If I had met him in junior high, in high school, college, said, "Are you a Christian?"  He would have said yes?

Karl: Absolutely, yes.  He did not – I don't think he faced the challenge to his faith until actually after college.  I doubt he would have even questioned his salvation.  He would have looked like a Christian, he would have acted very obedient, compliant, he would have been the type of young man you would love your son to be a friend with, and yet there was something unique that happened right after he finished college, and his wife went on to study at the master's level in science.  They both began to learn a lot more about the theory of evolution, and as they were learning more and more about it, they began to realize the number of facts that people give to support evolution, they began to realize that the vast majority of scientists believe in evolution and, all of a sudden, there was a shaking of his faith and actually got to this point of saying, "Is all that I've been taught over the years true or not?"

And there was a period of a few years where he began to wrestle and finally the Lord got ahold of his heart at a men's retreat as they were getting away as men to study the Word of God and be challenged and God just arrested his heart, and he is now part of the leadership team of his church.

Dennis: Did it take completely wandering away from any presence of God and a lifestyle that denied God's existence for him to then come to faith?  Or was he always close but just never made the personal commitment?

Karl: I think he would say he never had experiences in life that really challenged him regarding his faith, whether it be through the elementary, middle school, or high school.  There weren't those refining fires that he would have faced.  And yet even when he questioned his faith as an adult, he never had this huge rebellion, huge walking-away from the Lord.  As I said, he still had something in him that knew you're supposed to be a part of a local church, and that was part of, I think, God's protection for him, and yet he had to wrestle with this particular value regarding the beginning of the universe and the Creation versus Evolution.

Dennis: Bob, I think what Karl is talking about here is really important because, as you know, Barbara and I, in response to this hothouse Christianity concept, wrote a book called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and kind of the underlying premise of that book is that while your children are at home, you need to teach them biblical truth and help them determine what they believe and then give them freedom to test those beliefs while they're home, while they can interact with you as a parent in hopes that they can come to grips at what they believe and begin to, really, hammer out convictions as they move into adulthood.

Now, we can't change the time when a child becomes a Christian.  That's really God's work in the human heart, but what we can do is we can give them freedom to begin to test their faith and to begin to step out, and it sounds like with your brother, when he finally was given that freedom as an adult, he began to test it, and it took a bit of – well, almost a decade before he finally came back around to the Savior and placed his faith in Him.

Karl: Yeah, there is a proving ground of our faith.  The challenges, I think, a lot of adults, whether it be teachers or principals or parents or pastors, will automatically assume they are working with a Christian.  And so you have to think carefully, okay, if you are dealing with an unregenerated heart …

Dennis: They're not going to understand.

Karl: Exactly.  You have to keep in mind that you may be dealing with someone who isn't a Christian; that hasn't had the fundamental change of heart and has the fertile soil for the truth to grow in.  So we have to keep that in mind.  There is a potential that this is a compliant child.  This may be a 5th grader that really loves to please Mom and Dad.  And, let's face it, a 5th grader has not faced many challenges of the world, challenges of life, but they may express belief in the Gospel, choose a Scripture, and be compliant, and we can quickly just assume this child is saved.

Now they may be, and we never want to over-emphasize or throw too much doubt on someone's salvation.  It's not our job to determine a person's salvation, but I think for parents, for educators, for pastors and youth pastors, we need to keep in mind that we may be dealing with someone who is not a Christian, and that makes a big difference in how we approach them.

Bob: You are the head of a Christian school, and I would imagine if you got the junior class together, and you said, "Okay, your assignment next week – I want all of you to share your testimony."  They'd be able to line up, and you'd hear a lot of kids who would say, "I was saved when I was four, I was saved when I was five, my mom shared this, we came to this at church, vacation Bible school, you'd hear all the stories, but there would be a lot of stories of young prayers prayed.  Now, how do you determine, or what do you do if you're sitting there thinking, "You know, I bet half of these kids aren't really saved."  You don't know.  You don't know whether it's half or a third or whatever, but how do you adjust, as an adult – you're talking about an awareness that some of these kids may be living with a false profession of faith.  What do you do with that?

Karl: Good question.  It reminds me of the story of a student who graduated from our school.  He ended up walking away from the Lord and, praise God, returned to the Lord about four years later, and I was asking him about his experience growing up, and I asked him the question, "Did you ever consider that maybe you weren't a Christian?"  And he said, "Not for a moment did I think that maybe I wasn't."  And this was just after him telling me I wasn't saved until I was 22, and a lot of people are trying to convince me, "Oh, I was a Christian."  You were a Christian, but you were backslidden."  He goes, "No, this is totally different what I'm experiencing."

And so I asked him again, "You mean you never once questioned your salvation?"  He goes, "I don't remember ever doubting or questioning my salvation, and I don't remember anyone ever asking me about that."  The adults in his life or just challenging him, "Are you saved or not?"  So it was just the working assumption that he had his whole life.

And so the very assignment you talked about, the group of juniors in my school, actually the current junior class I taught Bible to them last year, and one of the tasks was to write your personal testimony.  We coupled it with a writing assignment in English class, and every one of them, all 24 of them, had powerful testimonies.  To be honest, as I read them, I was moved deeply by them, and they were saved at five or six, and some of them would throw in, "But, you know, I came to a greater understanding in 8th grade or 9th grade," but the reality is they were still, at that point, first quarter of their 10th grade year, the story is still to be told.  The proof is not there yet.  They have still not faced the very real challenges that they're going to have in the future.

So how would I teach them differently?  How would I approach them differently?  Well, I always keep in the back of my mind the importance of getting them to think about their salvation.  It's not – I never want to question or raise doubt with genuine assurance, but it's false assurance I want to drive out.

Bob: And let's be clear – you believe that it's possible for a four-year-old to have a genuine salvation experience, to actually be converted, right?

Karl: I do.  I believe the Gospel is simple enough for a four-year-old, yet now having had a four-year-old, I think it's more amazing if someone is genuinely saved as a four-year-old than as a 40-year-old.

Bob: And as you're describing this, I'm thinking of – I have two children still at home, I've got a 13-year-old, and a 17-year-old, and I'm thinking, "I wonder what they'd say if I said to them, 'John, David, you guys are Christians, right?'  'Right.'  'How do you know you're a Christian?  Why do you believe you're a Christian?  Why do you think you're a Christian?'"  You know, if you just not in an attempt to cast doubt but in an attempt to engage them, as your book tries to do, on this subject, to force them to go, "Well, what does it really mean to be a Christian?"

Dennis: And I think it's important for our listeners to know that Karl has written this book to teenagers, to young people.

Bob: Right.

Karl: Yes.

Dennis: So that's what you're attempting to do with them is cause them to look inward a bit and evaluate their faith.  What's a parent to do, though, at this point?  They can't give an assignment like you give in the English class or as Bob would give in the Speech class – stand up and give your testimony.  You're not a parent of a 16-year-old, but you've seen them come and go.  What would you coach a parent to do, Karl?

Karl: I've seen so many over these 15 years of teaching at the high school level.  I would encourage them to find resource that provide them to have these conversations, whether it be this book or other books – Donald Whitney has an outstanding book called "Ten Questions that Diagnose Your Spiritual Health."  It walks you through 10 questions hitting 10 areas that really measure the spiritual health of an individual. 

But we need to put in front of our children, our students, this question – what is genuine salvation, how do you measure it?  And that's so important for us to understand, as parents, as educators, and even our teens to understand – Scripture talks about you judge a tree by its fruit.  You really need to be careful when you are evaluating a young person growing up in the church because what would the fruit be?  You could say, "Well, do they believe in God?  Do they read the Bible?  Do they go to church?"  All of those things, but a church kid does all of those things, but there is a world of difference between going to church because your parents make you, and going to church because you want to encounter the living God.

There's a huge difference between praying over a meal and praying to your Heavenly Father.  There is a huge difference between singing the words of a song and worshipping God.  There is a motivation level behind the action that that's where we, as adults, need to help our young people understand – it's not just the action but the motive that really can reveal a lot of things.

Dennis: Well, you're speaking in your book of three dangers that young people face today in terms of growing up Christian.  What are the other two, real quickly?

Karl: The other two would be a lack of appreciation for the saving and forgiving work of God.  A young person believing they haven't been forgiven much or saved from much, and as a result they don't have this amazement at their Savior.

The other one would be lure of the world and a love for the world.  It's so easy for a young person to look over the fence, the protections the parents have put up in their lives – look over and say, "Oh, they're having so much fun," and fulfillment is there and really be drawn to it and as a result their walk is slowly decaying, and they don't even realize it.

Dennis: If you were ranking these three in terms of importance, in terms of where you see kids getting tripped up the most today – are they the order you've given them?

Karl: They are.  False assurance, I think, is the number one.  If you get it wrong there, all of the Christian walk is wrong.

Dennis: Right, right.

Karl: But, yes, basically, your understanding of God's work in your life, forgiving and saving you – if you don't understand that, your whole motivation for the Christian walk is – it's changed.  It's from duty – it becomes duty instead of delight.

Dennis: "He who is forgiven much" …

Karl: … "loves much."  Absolutely.

Dennis: And you look back on those teenage years – how can you understand, really, how much you have been forgiven and so some of these concepts aren't really fully embraced.  Well, I don't think they're even fully embraced …

Karl: … as adults.

Dennis: As adults, but they're lofty concepts.

Karl: They are.  I think that we have to understand our young people – they're young adults, they are moving towards adulthood, and yet the teenage years are training for adulthood.  That's the whole goal – to get a young person to be able to have a faith and walk of their own so that they are not having to be led by their parents or just model – will follow the model of their teacher, but they will find themselves as leaders in our church and plugged into their church and growing on their own.

Dennis: I'd like to suggest something to our listeners, Bob.  I don't do this very often, but I would suggest that parents of preteens and teens get a copy of Karl's book, "Growing Up Christian," and they pray about it, take a look at it, and see what the appropriate time is to give it to your child.  What age would you say?

Karl: I would say 9th or 10th grade.

Dennis: Okay, I was going to guess 15, 16.  So I was close.  And then, secondly, as your child starts to read that book, I would encourage you to enter into a discussion with them about this book and just talk about what they're thinking and reflect with them on the contents of each chapter, because he's talking about this as he speaks to young people in their language. And then as a parent, number three, I'd encourage you to get a copy of the book Barbara and I wrote called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," because what we try to do in that book is take 14 traps that teenagers are facing today and call parents to help their children begin to develop biblical convictions to handle the trap – media, pornography, premarital sex, peer pressure – there's 14 of them in there.

You know, you're going to raise your children according to some set of blueprints.  The question is, are you going to give them the biblical set of blueprints, and then are you going to help them develop their own convictions, or are they just going to be hitchhiking off of your convictions until they leave for college, for service, or to their own jobs and their own homes.

Bob: Guess what?  We actually have both books in our FamilyLife Resource Center.

Dennis: Wow!

Bob: Isn't that amazing?

Dennis: Nothing is so boring as perfection, Bob, way to go.

Bob: You can go to our website at, and if you click on the right side of the home page, there's a box there that says "Today's Broadcast."  That will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about the book, "Growing Up Christian," and the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent."  You can order both books online, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, and make arrangements to have either or both of these books sent to you.  Again, the website is, and the toll-free number is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

You know, we are encouraged by the FamilyLife Today listeners who take the initiative during the month to contact us either online or by phone and say, "We like what FamilyLife Today is all about.  We want to support the ministry," and, recently, many of those listeners have also been issuing challenges to other like-minded listeners.  And between now and the end of August, we are inviting you to participate in our Family First Challenge Campaign.  When you make a donation we're asking you to also consider issuing a challenge to folks like you.

In fact, we heard recently from a mom who is in a blended family situation, and she said, "Thanks to FamilyLife Today, we are getting the tools we need to know how we can work together to raise our children and how we can strengthen our marriage relationship at the same time."  And she said, "I want to encourage other parents who are in a blended family to make a donation to FamilyLife Today as a part of the Family First Challenge Campaign."

So would you consider doing that this week or next week?  Contact us and make a donation, and if you're not in a blended family, you can make a donation and issue a challenge of your own.  We appreciate your financial support, and we look forward to hearing from you and passing your challenge along to other listeners as well.  Thanks for your support of the ministry.

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to explore this subject with Karl Graustein as we talk about some of the pitfalls that can happen when children grow up in a Christian home with parents who love the Lord, and they're trying to point their children in that same direction.  We'll talk more about that tomorrow.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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