This is the second installment in a series that is close to my heart. We are focusing on how the church can stem the tide of young people leaving the faith and how we as parents can help to ensure that our own children learn to love and follow the real Jesus. In my last podcast and blog post, I talked about how the way that the church and parents communicate Christianity often ends up turning kids off. As I wrote: “Today’s young people are less concerned with right and wrong, facts, knowledge, and truth than were previous generations. Instead, they are much more concerned about accepting and caring about other people, no matter what their lifestyles may be.”
This post is available as a podcast as well.

This Jesus is the One our Kids Will Follow

When we see the way our kids accept what we consider alternate lifestyles and hang out with friends that we find problematic, we may end up reacting with fear and trying to exert control. This response is very different from the way Jesus treated people who were deemed the problematic sinners of His day. He spent a lot of time with them, and because of that, so did His disciples. Although Jesus did would address sin when appropriate, it was always gently and through the back door. His message was one of love and forgiveness, understanding and compassion rather than confrontation. This Jesus, the One who welcomed sinners and loved them with open arms, is extremely compelling to today’s generation. He is the Jesus our kids will follow.

In today’s post, I want to talk a bit about the hurt that today’s young people carry and look at a scripture passage that directly speaks to this issue. Then I will offer some more examples of how we as parents can exert our influence and point our kids to Jesus.

Kids today Carry a Great Deal of Hurt

To understand the degree to which today’s generation has been wounded, I recommend the book Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark. We have a young generation that is growing up with a much higher degree of hurt within them than previous generations had; part of this, I believe, is due to the difference between their own mindset, which I will call the “postmodern mindset” and that of their parents, which I will call the “modern mindset.” As previously mentioned, the postmodern mindset values community, closeness, authenticity, and relationship more than information, knowledge, evidence, and truth, which are much more highly valued by the modern mindset. As a result, the current generation is growing up without a sense of being truly heard, understood, and accepted by their parents and others in authority. This also causes them to be very sensitive to others not being accepted.

Jesus Had Compassion for Rather than Fear of the Broken

The good news is that Jesus is able to listen to and understand this generation. He sought out and understood those who were rejected by the society of His time, and He does the same today. Matthew 9:35-38 says: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to the disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

When we read this passage we often think about evangelism and outreach, but there is more to Jesus’s focus here; he was proclaiming good news to people with lots of issues and bringing about healing in their lives. He proclaimed to them the good news of being free from the heavy expectations of the Law and the grace that would come with His death and resurrection. Jesus didn’t allow the junk in people’s lives to build a wall between Him and them. The Law was all about performance, but Jesus didn’t look at performance; He looked at the heart. He was all about care, love, compassion, and healing, and this is the Jesus that our kids will connect to. Our kids can actually relate to Jesus’s desire to know, understand, and accept the people around him for who they are, but what our kids may be missing is Jesus’s ability to bring healing to the heart of a person. He believed in every person’s ability to change and be healed, and He approached each person with love and not with judgment, doubt, or suspicion.

Kids Have a Hard Time Accepting the Authentic Jesus for Two Reasons

Why do our kids have a hard time seeing and accepting this authentic Jesus, even though they are perhaps even better suited than we are to relate to Him? I believe there are two main reasons.

First of all, this generation has believed the message that people are wired a certain way and cannot change. This is partly because they’ve heard this message in our society and partly because they’ve often experienced it in their own lives, as have many of us. I encounter kids all the time who tell me, “This is who I am. I can’t change.” They have experienced hurts and been damaged, and they seem to keep bumping into the same issues over and over, until they feel hopeless and like there’s something deeply and inherently wrong with them. It doesn’t help that along the way they may have prayed and asked God to change them. They may have gone to counselors to learn coping mechanisms, but even those don’t seem to work. Then we, their parents, get stuck in the trap of constantly pointing out their mistakes and trying to force them to change one way or another. In this situation, our kids can’t encounter the Lord’s tenderness and compassion and His ability to heal them. Now they no longer believe that healing is even possible. What we need to do is break this cycle by talking to them differently about Jesus.

Secondly, our kids do not connect to Jesus because of how we try to protect them from bad influences. We began to talk about this in last week’s post. Jesus saw the people whose lives He touched as being like sheep without a shepherd, and He stepped in and became their Good Shepherd, guiding them back to good and healthy paths in their lives. Meanwhile, the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the time saw the same people as problematic and were more interested in maintaining their own power by enforcing harsh rules on the people than they were in helping them. We are unwittingly like those religious leaders when we try to keep our kids away from peers that we see as risky or troubled. When we do this, we damage not only our own credibility as Christians, but the credibility of Jesus as well. However, when our kids instead see us step out with true compassion and acceptance and take risks to help others, their hearts grow more open to Jesus.

Years ago I was driving my entire family across an Indian reservation at night, when we saw two very large Native American men struggling to change a tire without any way to jack their car up. Although it was a pitch dark, isolated stretch of road, we felt we should stop and help them, so we did. Those two men were shocked to see a family of six, complete with a baby in a car seat, pile out of the car to give them a hand. This simple act spoke volumes to these men about love and compassion, but it also spoke to my kids’ hearts, as they saw a concrete example of Jesus’s love in action through us. In fact, every time we have picked up hitchhikers or done similar things, we are showing our kids that we love, care about, and accept people the way Jesus does.

Our Kids Need to See the Same Compassionate Love in Us

Today’s generation is more about experience than knowledge, so when we talk about Jesus, we shouldn’t be talking about sin and right and wrong; we should be talking about the genuine Jesus of the Bible who didn’t let sin, right, and wrong get in between Him and healing those who were “harassed and helpless.” Our kids need to see the same kind of compassionate love in us, as we reach out to get involved in the lives of their friends who are struggling. They should see us want to be shepherds even to kids who are not our own. When our kids see this, they will be drawn to the true Jesus, and they will realize that He can heal them, too, and in turn, they can bring his love and compassion and healing to others in need, which is something they deeply care about.

The added benefit of this approach is that when we follow Jesus’s example, we will approach our kids in the same sort of open, loving, calm, and compassionate way that Jesus had and used so effectively to reach people.

She Came Out of Her Room and Danced!

Many parents I know are frustrated because their kids are silent and secretive with them; they hide themselves in their rooms and refuse to interact with us, their parents, on any deep level. This was what was happening with my own kids until I took to heart that passage in Matthew 9 and began practicing the same sort of compassion Jesus showed. When I did that, my kids began to let me into their lives. I have seen this work in families again and again, including in one dramatic instance in which a thirteen-year-old girl had been hiding in her room and speaking to her parents in monosyllables. After she spent several hours with me, learning that the hurts she had experienced had locked her ups inside and that she needed to admit them, grieve them and allow Jesus ability to heal her heart free her from all the hot she was carrying that night her parents reported that she was downstairs and spent extended time with her parents, laughing and even dancing for joy, something her parents had not seen her do in years.

Our next podcast and blog post in this series will focus on how we can begin to show our kids that we believe they can change and how we can model Jesus’s love and acceptance to those outside our home, which will, in turn, have a huge impact on our kids. If you haven’t already done so, please check out our Influential Parenting course, which is available on our website as both an online video course and a downloadable audio course.

Thank you so much for reading this. These ideas are critically important, as none of us wants to see the kids of this generation leave the faith.

>Have a great week!

Jeff

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