The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Sticky Faith

When Your Kids Disappoint You

I have written before about the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This book has been a game-changer for me as a youth minister, and has greatly impacted many of the things that I do.

One of the (many) good chapters of the book is the last chapter, “The Ups and Downs of the Sticky Faith Journey.” The reality for parents of teenagers (or youth ministers, for that matter) is that as they observe spiritual development in their children, it is often a one-step-forward, two-steps-back experience. One day a teen might exhibit incredible spiritual insight or compassion toward someone in need, and then the very next day, that same teen might get caught cheating on a test, or being hateful toward a friend.

When these frustrating ups and downs occur, how should you as a parent (or a youth minister) respond? Powell and Clark offer some helpful words:

When your kids disappoint you (note I said when, not if), you may be tempted to distance yourself from them to teach them a lesson or maybe even to protect yourself. Everywhere they turn, your kids have grown up in a culture in which when they struggle or fail, people tend to walk away. Especially during their lowest times, your kids need to know that, above all else, you are there for them, regardless of what they are going through.

(Sticky Faith, 180)

This is good advice, and in a real sense, the idea is this: we should treat our kids the way God treats us. He is there for us regardless of what we do, loves us regardless of what we do, and is willing to forgive us and take us back regardless of what we do. As a youth minister, this is how I strive to act toward my students, and it is how I want to be as a parent as well.

Bible Class: Bringing Teens and Parents Together

A couple of weeks ago I published a review of the book Sticky Faith, and described how much I liked it and how influential it has been in my thoughts about youth ministry. In that post, I mentioned that I had been teaching a Bible class on that book, and I wanted to briefly share some thoughts and information about that class.

What We Did

For a quarter (roughly the beginning of January to the end of March), we had our teens and their parents combined in one class together. Each family received a copy of Sticky Faith, and was encouraged to read one chapter each week in preparation for class.

When we met together each week, the class would be divided into smaller groups—sometimes we had parent groups and student groups, and sometimes we grouped families together. Each week we would review that week’s chapter and try to cover the main points which the book had presented, and then give discussion question to our small groups to talk about.

Our small groups would then share what they had discussed with the entire class.

What Was Good About It

At times I felt that our class struggled with continuity and momentum because we missed a few weeks because of bad weather, but on the whole, I felt that the class was very beneficial for our youth group and our parents. I am glad that we did it for at least a few reasons.

First, it helped our parents become much more informed about what was going on in our youth ministry. I spend a significant amount of time trying to communicate and publicize the things we are doing as a youth group (trips, devotionals, youth rallies, etc.):

  • Every week I write an article in our church bulletin which announces and emphasizes these events.
  • A calendar of upcoming events is posted on our youth group bulletin board.
  • Events are announced publicly in our worship assemblies.
  • I tell the students over and over and over again about upcoming events.
  • On a fairly regular basis, I send out text reminders to students and parents about certain events.
  • Less regularly, I post information on our youth group Facebook page.

Despite all of these efforts, I routinely have students and parents act like they have no idea what is going on. It is a frustrating thing. But those concerns were largely eliminated, at least for one quarter. It was nice each week to be able to mention upcoming events directly to parents when I had their attention, and I noticed increased participation as a result.

This was certainly not the purpose of the class and it’s not something that I can do every week, but it was a nice side effect.

Secondly, it was good for our parents and teens to learn practical ways to build a lifelong faith. That is what Sticky Faith is all about—practical things that parents and families can do each day that help to build a faith that lasts for a lifetime instead of getting shelved after high school.

As I mentioned in my book review, there is a ton of helpful information in Sticky Faith, and a class like this was a very helpful way to ensure that our teens and especially their parents were exposed to this material.

Third, it was good for our parents to hear from their kids. It’s no secret that it can be hard for parents and their teenage children to communicate with one another. One of the nice things about this class was that it provided an environment for that to happen. As our student small groups reported out the results of their discussion, parents got to hear about things that were important to their kids and learn more about how they think.

Fourth, it was good for our kids to hear from their parents. The reverse was also true. Teens do get to hear from their parents, but a lot of times it is in the form of a lecture after they’ve messed up somehow. Getting to hear their parents publicly express their love, concern, faults, and ideas was a powerful thing for our students.

Overall, this was a class model that I enjoyed, and I plan on using it again. It won’t become our primary educational model (there’s a lot to be said for developmentally appropriate, age-based instruction), but having our students and their parents learning side by side and learning from one another is an important thing, and one that we want to continue to develop as part of our educational program.

One final, but important note: lest you think that I came up with all of this on my own, I want to give full credit to my friend Joseph, who taught a similar class at his church and was gracious enough to give me pointers and share his (excellent) class notes and resources with me. Joseph is a great youth minister, and his thoughts have been helpful and influential for me.

Book Review: Sticky Faith

I have just finished reading Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids for the second time. Looking back, I was surprised that I hadn’t reviewed it here on my blog previously (though I have referenced it several times), so I thought I would quickly do so today. Quite simply, Sticky Faith is an outstanding book, and it’s one that I think all parents should read. I’m actually co-teaching a class on it right now at church, and along with 2-3 other sources, it forms the core of my youth ministry library.

Sticky Faith is written for parents (though there are other versions for youth workers and students), and is all about helping you to instill a lasting faith (or a faith that “sticks”, hence the title) in your children. And I’m sure there are a lot of books like that, but what I really like about Sticky Faith is that (1) it is based on extensive research, and (2) it offers incredibly practical suggestions of tangible things you can do to help faith development in your kids.

Like any book, there are some ideas and suggestions in Sticky Faith that I disagree with, and I’m sure it will be that way for you too. But that doesn’t change the fact that, overall, it is an incredibly helpful resource for Christian parents.

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book [my comments are added in brackets]:

“…Our conclusion is that 40 to 50 percent of kids who graduate from a church of youth group will fail to stick with their faith in college…only 20 percent of college students who leave the faith planned to do so during high school. The remaining 80 percent intended to stick with their faith but didn’t.” (pp. 15-16) [There are a lot of other alarming statistics which they gather from their research. These helpful numbers describe a big problem, which the rest of the book then sets about trying to address.]

“How you express and live out your faith may have a greater impact on your son or daughter than anything else.” (p. 25)

“…A performance-based Christianity can last only so long.” (p. 36)

“The greatest gift you can give your children is to let them see you struggle and wrestle with how to live a lifetime of trust in God.” (p. 46)

“If I had to choose between living out my faith or talking about my faith in front of my kids, I’d choose the former every time. But I don’t have to choose. And neither do you. We can do both.” (p.70)

“The closest our research has come to that definitive silver bullet is this sticky finding: for high school and college students, there is a relationship between attendance at church-wide worship services and Sticky Faith.” (p. 97) [Parents, this should make you think twice before missing church for a hunting trip, or a baseball tournament, or some other family outing. It matters. Youth ministers, this should make us think twice before frequently removing our youth groups from our congregational worship gatherings. A big part of being the Body of Christ is being present with the Body of Christ.]

“Over and over, students have told us that the first two weeks at college are when they make key decisions about drinking and other high-risk behaviors, right along with choosing whether to go to church or to a campus ministry.” (p. 151)

“It’s okay to go through periods of doubt and distrust and disillusionment. It’s okay to go through periods of questioning and confusion. Don’t run away from them. At the same time, don’t go off the deep end. Do the intellectual and spiritual soul searching within the context of a secure community of people who truly love you.” (p. 172) [This quote actually came from a student who was part of the research study—a lot of wisdom here!]

“But [kids] soon come to know that faith is ultimately meaningless unless they choose it for themselves.” (p. 179) [Yes. We must own our faith, rather than simply inherit the faith of our parents.]

“Especially during their lowest times, your kids need to know that, above all else, you are there for them, regardless of what they are going through.” (p. 180)

“If your family has served Christ through much of your child’s life, the seeds you have planted are potent and real.” (p. 187)

I could go on and on—large sections of my copy of Sticky Faith are highlighted or underlined—but these quotations should give you an idea of what the book is like. In short, I would recommend it to any Christian parent, or anyone who works closely with teens.

Biblical Faith: Trust

In our series on faith, last week’s post discussed how biblical faith is not a blind leap based on no evidence; neither is it a certainty which can be proven. Instead, it is a reasonable faith, somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Today I want to discuss another characteristic of biblical faith: trust.

Teens and Youth Events

I am a youth minister, which means that I spend a good amount of time putting together a calendar of activities for my teens—youth rallies, service projects, retreats, summer trips, etc.—and then encouraging them to go on those events. With some students, it’s always a struggle to get them to go, while other students will eagerly sign up for any event as soon as they hear about it.

I have one student in particular who signs up for everything, but if it’s a new activity that we haven’t done before, he always wants to know beforehand as much information about it as possible: Where will we be staying? How many people are going to be there? Where will we eat? Who will be speaking? What will we be doing all day? What kinds of activities are planned? Why are we supposed to bring _____ with us?

This is one of my favorite kids I’m talking about, and it’s a part of who he naturally is: he wants to be informed and he wants to know what is going to happen. And usually I try to answer his questions. But once not too long ago, after a barrage of his questions, I took a different approach:

Luke: Over the years, in your experience with me and on all the trips you’ve taken with me, have I ever given you a reason not to trust me?

Student: Well…no.

Luke: Then you should be able to trust that I’ll tell you the information that you need to know and the rest of it you’ll just have to wait and see, and it will be okay, right?

Student: Well…yeah…I just wanted to know.

Luke: I understand that you want to know everything; I want you to realize that you don’t have to know everything, and that you can trust that I know what’s going on and that it will be alright.

Student: Well…okay.

At this point, I don’t even remember what the event was or what we did, but it turned out fine.

And then it occurred to me that this example illustrates what biblical faith is all about.

Learning to Trust

The word used for believe or faith in the New Testament is the Greek verb πιστευω (pisteuo). In many places, that word is indeed translated as “believe” or “faith” (if it is a noun) in our English Bibles, but in many, many places it is also translated as “trust”, because the Greek word conveys both meanings.

So, without getting too technical, the point that I’m trying to make is that in the New Testament, the ideas of “believe” and “trust” are linked very closely, in a way that is not immediately apparent in English: faith is inherently tied to trusting in God. 

One author puts it this way: when it comes to understanding faith, “…every decision, every thought, and every action comes down to this: in whom do I place my trust? Do I trust my instincts, my desires, my convictions, or do I trust in Christ?”[1]

In the winding road of life, there are a lot of things that happen pretty much as we expect, and then there are the curveballs that life throws at us when we expect them the least. We find ourselves in situations we didn’t choose, we are uncertain as to how we should proceed, and we worry and obsess about what is going to happen and what we should do.

And a lot of times, we think that if we could just know exactly what was going to happen and how everything would turn out, then we’d be okay. Or, to put it in other words, if we could just have all of the details of the upcoming youth trip, then we could look forward to it and put our minds at ease.

But God is not in the business of giving us detailed itineraries of our futures; instead, he asks us to trust that he will take care of our futures.

The old church hymn by Ira Stanpill sums it up perfectly:

“Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.”

There are a lot of things in my life that I don’t understand and about which I am inclined to worry. But God doesn’t ask me to understand it all, and he certainly doesn’t ask me to worry.

But he does ask that I trust him to take care of it. Because trusting God is what biblical faith is all about.

[1]Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 34.

Influence and…Faux Hawks

The Idolatry of Solomon, by Franz Francken II, 1622
Influence is a powerful force—both the influence that we have on other people and the influence that others have on us. This is by no means a new or ground-breaking statement, but it is an idea that was hammered home to me last night in an unusual way.
I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror after taking a shower, when I realized that the way my hair was laying pretty closely resembled a faux hawk. And here’s the shocking part: I caught myself thinking, “You know, that really doesn’t look too bad.” This completely blew me away, because when faux hawks first became popular a couple of years ago, I thought they were irredeemably stupid. I don’t ever remember consciously changing my opinion on the matter, but apparently, seeing one faux hawk after another for the last couple of years gradually influenced me to think of it as a normal and acceptable haircut (Don’t worry, I have since returned to my senses and there is no danger that you will see me sporting a faux hawk—ever.).
This shocking event illustrates an important point about influence—you can gradually, subtly be influenced to completely change the way you think about a certain behavior, practice, or way of life, and it can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes you might change your mind about something relatively innocent or unimportant (like a hairstyle), but influence can also change us in much more significant (and sometimes negative) ways.
I’m currently reading a book called Sticky Faith, which addresses the alarming rate at which Christian teenagers tend to drop out of the church about the time they graduate from high school. There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but a major one is influence—when teens leave home and move off to college, they are largely freed from the greatest influence in their lives (parents), and are especially susceptible to new influences that they encounter. Often, these new and different influences push them to places where they never thought they would end up—most faithful Christian teenagers don’t plan to go to college, drop out of church, and become involved in a lifestyle of binge-drinking and sexual promiscuity, but it happens as they are influenced to change the way they look at things and to fit in with their surroundings.
Although this phenomenon always seems to be surprising to youth ministers and parents when they witness it in individual cases, it’s really shouldn’t surprise us at all, because the Bible explicitly teaches us that the influences of others can lead us to sin:
  • King Solomon was influenced by his foreign wives and concubines to turn away from following God and build places of worship to idols instead (1 Kings 11.1-13).
  • Herod’s stepdaughter was influenced by her mother to ask that John the Baptist be beheaded (Matthew 14.1-12).
  • In Galatians 2.11-21, Paul describes how certain men had influenced Peter and Barnabas to withdraw from fellowshipping with Gentiles.
  • In 1 Corinthians 15.33, Paul comes right out and says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
The good news is that influence works both ways—good influences have a lot of power as well:
  • “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16)
  • “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4.12)
  • “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2.12)
Ultimately, when talking about influence, I think it all boils down to a couple of important points:
(1) All of us are susceptible to outside influences, so it is important that we monitor those influences closely. What kind of people do you surround yourself with? What music do you listen to? What movies or TV shows do you watch? If you are a parent, answer those same questions about your children. Don’t be naive—if you surround yourself with bad influences, no matter who you are, they are affecting you negatively.
(2) All of us influence others as well, so it is important that we are aware of the kind of example we are setting. You never know who might be watching you and who might be influenced by what you do. As a youth minister I do a lot of things, but I have long thought that the most important thing I can do is to be a good example of Christian living for the young people I minister to. Certainly I don’t always succeed, but I always try to be aware that I am broadcasting an influence—for good or bad— at all times.

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