Thursday, January 16, 2020

Handing Down the Faith in a Post-Truth World

I want to take a few posts to share with you some data from the Barna Group to which we need to pay serious attention. Yes, parenting and grandparenting are a lot of fun - and should be. Building relationships with our children and grandchildren are important and highly enjoyable as well. But, we must open our eyes to this world in which we and the ones we love are living and the implications it holds for our children and grandchildren. Plus we must tell ourselves the truth about our role in handing down the faith and take this truth to heart.

This information is not meant to discourage you; quite the opposite is my intent. We need to see it, take it to heart and allow it to re-energize and motivate us to renew our focus upon being faithful to hand down the faith to our children and grandchildren. Just because the stats are heartbreaking - and they are, it does not mean we should give up. No! Not at all; as grandparents we are still the second most influential people in the lives of our grandchildren and as parents we are the most influential people in the lives of our children. We are able to make a difference - we just need to choose to not be defeated and to stop saying we don't know what to do to hand down the faith. Then buckle down, equip ourselves and be intentional when it comes to handing down the faith.

So, for some information from the Barna Group. "In recent reports, Barna (and other researchers) have noted Christianity is on a steady decline, while Americans’ identification with atheism continues to increase. Barna tracking data shows in 2003, just a little over one in 10 Americans claimed to be atheist, agnostic or of no religion (“none”) (11%), while over eight in 10 identified as Christian (across Barna’s faith segments, this included 7% evangelicals, 33% non-evangelical born again and 41% nominal Christians) and less than one in 10 affiliated with other faiths (8%). Percentage points for all religious segments saw little to no shift over a decade, from 2003 to 2012—but by 2018, Christianity in the United States had witnessed a significant loss of followers, from 81 percent in 2003 to 72 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, the atheist / agnostic / none segment has seen the greatest increase of all groups analyzed, nearly doubling in size from 11 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2018. So, what is leading Americans to shy away from not only Christianity but other religions as well?

Barna has identified a number of trends which might attribute to this move toward secularization, which may spark concern for the spiritual well-being of the next generation. Among young adults, Gen Z teens are much less likely to assert religious identity than generations before them; some of the rise in atheism could be attributed to Gen Z entering adulthood, and the fact they are, thus far, significantly more likely than older generations to claim no faith. Additionally, faith-sharing is falling out of favor with younger adults, even religious ones; almost half of practicing Christian Millennials (47%) believe evangelism is wrong."

There is a lot of information in there for us to think about, but the thing which strikes me the most is how there is such a large rise in atheism while there is an increasing decrease in the number of people (in particular young people) who claim a relationship with Jesus. I see this in my own family/extended family as I have family and extended family members who claim to be atheists and others who identify themselves as agnostics.

Certainly we want our children and grandchildren to be people who believe in God and trust His Word, we want to one day spend eternity with them, we want them to know the joy, peace and love God has for them in their lives now; we want them to believe. However; we are not able to make them believe - they have to make this choice for themselves - but knowing this does not mean there is nothing for us to do to hand down the faith, or our efforts to do so are in vain.

For those of us who have family/extended family who do not believe - or who once did, but have fallen away - we need to look at these statistics and know we are not alone. We may look at families at church - families of our friends and family and see people with generations of family who are making the choice to believe and walk with God. While we rejoice for them, we may feel like failures - we may feel like we did not succeed at handing down the faith to our own children, so how are we ever able to make a difference with our grandchildren? 

Many things go into the choices our children/grandchildren may be making to not believe or walk with God - sometimes they are hurt by others, sometimes they look at the hypocrisy in the church - and yes there is hypocrisy in the church - and want nothing to do with it. Plus, remember the quote I shared from Charles Spurgeon yesterday; "Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error." Many of our children and grandchildren have been influenced by teachers and friends who do not believe.

There are many reasons the ones we love may stumble in their faith, wander from the church and make the choice to not believe, but this does not mean we are unable to do anything about it. Consider the following actions we are able to take . . .
  • Continue to live a life which shows our faith is real. Make sure our walk matches our talk . . . and have a serious conversation where you apologize if you see there is a gap between your walk and your talk.
  • Continue to be a faithful prayer warrior for the ones you love. God has promised to hear, listen to and answer our prayers - do not stop praying until the answer comes.
  • Do not judge. Be the person upon whom the ones you love are able to depend for unconditional love. When opportunities present themselves - times when the ones you love ask questions or are willing to listen - share the truth, but always do so with grace and gentleness. Don't get in the way of what God is doing to draw them back to Him.
  • Allow your joy to show - when God answers a prayer or works in your life, share it, but then move on unless they want to talk about it.
I know there are those who believe we need to be "in the face" of those we love who are not walking with/who do not believe in God, but if they are your grown children who are the parents of your grandchildren, you run a huge risk in taking an aggressive stance. They could cut you off from your grandchildren - and if your grown children are not walking with God, you may be the only people they know who pray for them, take them to church and show them what it looks like to know God is real and you are able to trust His Word with confidence. Be careful. There is a huge price to pay if you follow the advice of not backing down.

I personally believe - at least for me - there is a better approach. While 1 Peter 3:1 is talking about the relationship between an unbelieving husband and a believing wife, I believe the principle holds true when it is our adult children/grandchildren who are not walking with God - or who may not yet believe. In this verse, God told the wives to win their husbands by their behavior - without words. Certainly parents/grandparents do not need to "submit" to their children/grandchildren, but a gentle, loving spirit which shows the Fruit of the Spirit is a powerful way to reach those who have stumbled or who do not yet believe. Choosing to show grace is what God chooses to do with us; so is it possible this is the way we should behave with those we love who are not walking with God - or have yet to believe?

Well there is a lot to read, think about and pray over in this post, but I'd like you to walk away encouraged by knowing we do still have influence, we are still able to make a difference for those we love who have fallen away or do not yet believe. And, what we do with our young grandchildren absolutely does matter - today. Hand down the faith. Equip them to have a faith of their own - our faith may challenge, encourage and help draw them to God, but they MUST have a faith of their own. More about this tomorrow with Barna's research on who is responsible for the children's faith formation.

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