The danger in giving parental advice is manifold. First, it implies a direct cause-effect relationship between parenting techniques and children’s behavior. Second, it can leave parents feeling guilty over wayward children, often falsely so. Third, since Sharon and I got lucky with our own kids, it gives the impression we really knew what we were doing.
With those qualifiers, I feel only slightly safer saying this: Christian parents should think more about evangelizing their kids, less about inculcating them.
I’m thinking here of incremental, sensitive evangelism that listens carefully, loves fully, prays frequently and shares openly. Evangelism that is 100% individualized to the person—whether your little 5-year old explorer, 15-year old wing-spreader, or late-teen wild oats sower.
The crucial difference is this: choice.
Those who inculcate say in essence to their kids: “You don’t really have a choice in the matter. You’re growing up Christian, and that’s that.”
Those who evangelize say something a little different: “You DO have a choice in the matter, and we’re doing all we can to make the Christian pathway attractive and challenging to you.”
Of parental influence, Smith and Denton say this: “The best social predictor, although not a guarantee, of what the religious and spiritual lives of youth will look like is what the religious and spiritual lives of their parents do look like.” (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, p261).
(Folks, is our own spiritual modeling drawing kids in, or pushing them away?)
- When the evangelized come to me at age 18, most are ready to roll in ministry.
- When the inculcated show up, often they have little ownership of their faith. Some need a crisis and re-conversion. Others. . . well, they never do show up.
I recognize the inherent risk in what I’m suggesting. But I believe “evangelism” pays off more often than “inculcation.”
Next blog topic: College Campus: what it’s really like out there.