Me too!! :)
Over the almost 20 years of doing student ministry, I have had the opportunity of being a part of a lot of student's lives. And while I think I am an incredible youth pastor and do incredible ministry, I think there are about 5 or 6 students who are adults and who totally love Jesus where I had the honor of playing a huge role in their spiritual development through middle and high school.
There are many more students who have meandered in and out of my program during their adolescent career who are now adults and who love Jesus. But when I look at this group of people and ask the question why they "made it" and so many other students simply fell off the rails, the answer is actually pretty simple.
I have found that for the students who are still loving Jesus into adult hood, they share three ingredients in common. The combination of all three almost guarantees that a student will actually grow up and follow Jesus into adulthood. 2 out of 3 there is still a decent shot, but the stats fall off rather quickly.
So, if you want to know the secret sauce for kids to love Jesus into adult hood, they need to have all three of these ingredients:
1) Their parents must love Jesus as adults.
This sounds more simple than it really is. Most parents in and around the church are "religious." But passing on religion does not work. Being good, or valuing good things, even spiritual things is vastly different than having parents who love Jesus, who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit and who understand their identity and value in the Kingdom of God. Parents who love Jesus model their faith and bring it to life for their kids. Kids have amazing BS detectors. The right words will not cut it. Kids will always take on the values of their parents, not their spoken ones, but their internal ones. So if you want your kids to love Jesus, then you need to love Jesus.
2) Their parents must stay married.
This doesn't mean that divorced kids have no shot at loving Jesus into adulthood. But parents who stay married add stability and structure to a kid's life that highness their self-esteem and value. Kids naturally equate God to a gigantic version of their parents. So if your parents provide little stability, if they can't be trusted, and add insecurity to their life and world, then God will be the larger version of that, and making the leap to trusting their Heavenly Father with their lives is very difficult.
3) They must be connected to Christian community.
Our Christian faith is meant to be lived in community. I get making your kids show up at youth group seems like a losing battle. But it is only in a diverse community like church and within youth group, that students can work out their faith, grow in their understanding of God and be confronted with people who are not like them and have to learn to love others the way they love themselves. Parents alone can not be the only spiritual influence in a child's life. The Sticky Faith people say it is 5:1. 5 adults to 1 kid. And what better place to find 5 other adults who love Jesus and model that for your student.
Thankfully God is gracious:
Thankfully, God is gracious and doesn't make transferring faith to our kids into something this objective. The Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of our students and will move freely, partnering with our best efforts, and often despite our broken lives and promises. This is good news. But before you simply shrug off these three ingredients because they don't define your life or your kid, please reflect on this proverbial wisdom.
The overwhelming number of students who love Jesus into adulthood are the students who have been connected to our student ministry. But I have had tons of students who have been connected to my student ministry at one point or another. The difference maker for most of these students were the ones who came from intact families combined with parents who genuinely loved Jesus.
May we as parents, volunteers, youth workers strive to be adults who model our love for Jesus to our students, who provide safety and stability and community so that they too many have the best chance possible to love Jesus into adulthood!
Raising kids and keeping your marriage healthy are a difficult task. And the truth is, it is one that we shouldn't do alone. The church is supposed to be good partners in this endeavor. One way that our church wants to help is by leaning into a philosophy and curriculum called ORANGE. And this spring there is the ORANGE CONFERENCE where church leaders get inspired and equipped to do this sort of ministry even better. Please consider joining us!