Most Christian parents have a general concept of spiritually forming their children. It is not hard to imagine as a young parent just sitting down and reading the bible or singing songs with our little ones. But as they grow, the job gets a little more intimidating.
Transitioning to Adulthood
The transition to adulthood changes the relationship. Conversations for many can get more awkward. This is where it gets tough for parents. Many parents struggle with learning to just treat this growing person as an independent thinking person, rather than someone who is just supposed to follow orders. That is appropriate as they are little. But as they get older, the affirmation of their ability to think for self is critical to self-confidence. This requires a change of posture in relationship to our children. This adjustment is typically more difficult for the parent. (Young people usually have much less problem with this transition!)
There are some fundamental misconceptions about discipling our young people as they mature into adulthood. Understanding these and taking even small steps in these areas can go a long way in allowing you as a parent to have a positive spiritual impact on your children for years to come.
So what are these misconceptions?
1. “Our job is done…” | The belief that once the child leaves home the parents job is over is the biggest misconception. Many like to assume this, mainly because it is easier to just “check out.” This is because many parents do not have the confidence in their own spiritual lives to feel qualified to help anyone else’s. (That of course is another problem altogether.) Nevertheless the job is not done… not at all. Your children still look up to you, and they emotionally need you. It can be argued that they need you just as much, but that is now in a way that is much more dictated by them, rather than you.
2. Discipleship is structured bible study | While bible study of course will always be a part of discipleship, this will be increasingly less and less your role in their lives as they move into late teens and 20’s. God will use other people in that role to good effect. Variety is good. But they will still want your take at times; You need to learn how to be available for their questions and know how to ask good questions without them feeling like you are “probing.”
3. Discipleship is Primarily about content (information) | The Bible is full of biblical stories and truths, and discipleship is certainly about sharing biblical truth. Jesus has the words of life. But those truths are communicated while swimming in the warm waters of a trusting relationship. Discipleship for the earliest Christians was only partially to do with content. It equally had to do with presence and mentorship. We are a content driven society. It is one of our strengths—a good one for sure. But it can cause us to miss others that need to be strengthened. Good content, the Gospel message, is assimilated in relationship.
4. You need to know a lot and study your bible a lot | Well a consistent life of bible study and prayer goes a long way in discipling others. But in the same way it is not all about information. It is more about building the faith of your young person. Moreover a perspective that sees discipleship requiring a bunch of knowledge is debilitating to most, especially any parent who is new to their faith. The last thing the Church ever wants to do is communicate to newer Christian parents that they do not have what they need to disciple their children. They do. In fact if they are part of a Gospel-centered local church, they will have everything they need through the support of the community.
So what is the key to discipling our young adults? The key is understanding that as relationships transition with your children, it will be more like feeding ducks at the pond. This analogy is important. Ducks come when they feel safe. If you are loud or you wade out into the water (their safe zone) they will scatter. As your children hit their young adult years it becomes more about availability and influence.
My oldest did his first year of college as a commuter student. Many evenings he would often just come plop down in the chair in my office. Sometimes he might be having a bad day. But sometimes it was just a blaze’ day or even an exciting day. The point is that my 18-year-old needed some time with Dad. The keys to this were availability, presence, and listening. Sometimes it was listening to the great thing that happened that day. Sometimes it was a nonchalant chat that meandered from topic to topic. Spiritual things often came up indirectly and without my mention.
The key to discipling young adults is influence. When they are little, you tell them when to go to bed, when to eat, when to do their homework. It is not that way with adults. Our spiritual direction progresses to a role of respectful influence. This is really true of all pastoral and adult Christian discipleship. You can only have an impact on those who want to be formed.
Don’t be overly eager to help
Discipling young adults wit best with responsive availability without overeagerness. Overeagerness is scary. Above all, you need to know the relationship. That is where presence and listening come in.
What do I mean by overeagerness? I mean the lack of restraint that responds to a request for a sip of water with a fire hose. You know what I mean: The person asks you a simple spiritual question and then the respondent interprets that as a license to download the entire Gospel for 40 minutes. This undermines trust. When you are trusted with a spiritual question, answer that and go no further unless the conversation goes there. This is where the listening comes in. It is the primary discipline of all. You cannot discover the questions people are really asking behind the question unless you are listening deeply.
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