Faith Is Caught More Than Taught
Part of the HomeGrown Faith blog series
By David & Kathy Lynn
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." —2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)
The Apostle Paul could have easily predicted that Timothy would have followed Christ as an adult. His grandmother and mother lived out their faith in the home for young Timothy to see. The genuine faith of his grandmother was passed on to her daughter and together they passed on that faith to Timothy. We can presume that Timothy’s mom and grandma were faithful members of their local synagogue congregation as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that "Nana" Lois had parents and grandparents who were also genuine God-followers. How do we know this? Because faith is caught more than taught in a partnership between home and congregation.
The future does not arrive unannounced. You can predict with a certain level of accuracy which children and youth in your congregation will follow Christ as adults and which will place their faith on a shelf after high school. Of course, there are many exceptions to this predictive power. Children have spiritual choices. They will not always follow Christ even when their parents do, and some will follow Christ even though their parent don’t. But generally speaking, the future faith of children is predicated by the faith exhibited in their families first and congregation second. When kids see faith lived out in the home (and in the congregation) they are more likely to become people of faith themselves.
Parents and grandparents lay the groundwork from birth for their children’s and grandchildren’s faith in Christ. When Jesus is part of the DNA of a family, those children tend to follow Christ as adults. That’s not to say that your congregation doesn’t have an influence. Congregations do make an important contribution to the faith formation of young people. However, that contribution tends to build on the foundation first laid by parents and grandparents. In other words, congregations support and supplement what is happening in the home. They can't often replace what is not happening in the home.
How Can You So Confidently Predict Future Faith?
Parents invest in their children, be it coaching for sports, tutoring for school, music and dance lessons for the arts. Naturally Christian parents invest in programs like Sunday school and youth group for faith development. And yet, large numbers of young people continue to drop out of congregational life and disregard a faith in Christ. It is not enough for parents to give an hour a week to Jesus in the "God building" and drop their kids off at Sunday school or youth group, as good as these programs are. It is the parents who integrate Jesus and their faith into the identity and daily practices of their families who are the ones most likely to produce adult children who follow Christ. Jesus must become part of the fabric of the family to produce children that are more than just "good enough" Christians.
We are not at all saying that parents should disregard congregational life with all of the faith formation programs that are offered or that these programs are why young people are dropping their faith. What we are saying is that homegrown faith matters. And it matters most. A strong homegrown faith that partners with the congregation is predictive of a faith that lasts into adulthood. If you want to know which of your congregation’s children and youth will follow Christ as adults, look at how their parents are following Christ now. Parents are the primary influence, for good or bad, on the faith and values of their children from birth through the emerging adult years. The quality of the faith of parents becomes the faith of their children.
Grandparents Matter Too
For too long we have neglected the important role grandparents can play in the faith formation of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Dr. Vern Bengtson* at the University of Southern California conducted a longitudinal study of families that began in 1970 and is still going on as of this writing. One aspect of the research looked at how religion is passed down through the generations. He and his associates found that there was a surprisingly important influence on faith from grandparents and even great-grandparents. All those biblical injunctions to pass on faith across the generations do, in fact, pay off. Faith is not only caught from parents in partnership with congregation but faith is passed on from grandparents and great-grandparents.
*Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations by Vern L. Bengtson with Norella M. Putney and Susan Harris