Read an ExcerptFaithLaunch A Simple Plan to Ignite Your Child's Love for Jesus
By John Trent
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family
All right reserved.
Chapter One LAUNCHING YOUR CHILD'S FAITH
by John Trent, Ph.D.
You've never been so nervous in your life.
The relentless Florida sun glints off the crystal of your wristwatch as you glance at it for the thousandth time. Didn't you see these numbers, 11:04 A.M., half an hour ago? History is crawling forward. Half of you wants it to speed up, but the other half wants the clock to stop entirely.
Your stomach grips again as you squint into the distance. For nearly four hours your son has been perched on top of the otherworldly object that towers like a white-and-rust castle against the sapphire sky.
You swallow, and wait. And wait.
Finally your watch tells you that, from now on, things are going to be happening quickly. You can't see most of them from where you are. If that's a blessing, it doesn't feel like one.
Then comes a voice from the PA system. "T minus 30," it says.
The voice sounds too calm. You know the countdown has just passed the point of no return.
Your breathing goes on hold. Numbness starts in your legs and rises like smoke.
"T minus 15," says the voice.
Thousands of gallons of water cascade under the launchpad to muffle the roar and shock waves of the main engines.
"T minus 10."
Something resembling sparklers flashes to life. Is this supposed to happen? You feel your torso trembling.
"There go the igniters," says one of the relatives on your left, a burly man from Alabama whose name you can't remember. He doesn't sound concerned. You would breathe a sigh of relief, if you could breathe at all.
"T minus 9 ... 8 ... 7 ..."
You can't remember your own name either now. Your mind is too full of your son's face, the one in his third-grade school picture with the half-combed hair.
"We're ready for main engine start!" says the voice from Mission Control.
At this point, there should be a roar and then a rush of flame that instantly turns the water into billowing steam.
But instead there's ... silence.
No liftoff. No reaching for the stars.
The astronauts have been dressed for the part. The space shuttle and booster rockets look great on the outside.
But no one loaded any fuel into the tanks, or linked the computers, or actually made any preparations to send your son into space.
Everyone had great intentions.
But it's a failure to launch.
* * *
Unfortunately, in too many homes of parents who know and love Jesus, that picture closely resembles what happens when kids grow up and are ready to "launch out" on their own.
Depending on which study you want to quote, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of children from evangelical Christian families won't embrace the faith as their own when they leave for college. That's tragic. When it comes to faith transference, we're losing the next generation.
Let me shoot straight: It's not the churches' fault. I think the level of ministry excellence in churches today-for the two hours or so that a family is in the building-has never been higher! The music and PowerPoint presentations and kids' and youth programs are light years ahead of where they've been in the past. Yet more and more young people are never getting off the launchpad when it comes to personally accepting Christ and growing in their faith.
Here's one reason why.
Recently I asked several hundred parents of younger children at a large church three questions.
1. "Do you think it's important to pass down your faith to your children?" As you might expect, more than 90 percent said, "Yes! It's very important!"
2. "Do you think your child will have a strong faith when he or she gets out of college?" Again, 90 percent of those responding said, "You bet!"
3. "Outside of going to church, what are you doing intentionally to introduce and build a growing faith in your child?" Fewer than 30 percent were doing anything purposefully to meet that goal during the 166 hours a week their children were at home.
Think about that. These wonderful, godly, well-intentioned parents strongly believed they should be involved in their children's faith development. They also were highly confident that their children would embrace the faith by the time they were on their own. But when it came to actually preparing their kids, they were just dressing them up and dropping them off at church-and setting themselves up for a failure to launch.
But that doesn't have to be true in your home.
Now is the time for you to realize the incredible impact you can have on your child, helping him or her come to Christ and grow in that relationship. You can do it!
It's not rocket science to help your child reach God's best for his or her life. It's small things, like the fun and incredibly helpful activities you'll learn in this book. They'll go a long way toward filling up those boosters that lift your son or daughter into a lifelong faith.
THE LAUNCH WINDOW IS NOW
Maybe you've heard the statistics. Researchers agree that most people who receive Christ as Savior do so when they're children. One study claimed that 85 percent of born-again Americans launched their faith between the ages of 4 and 14; another survey put the number at 83 percent. The Barna Group's findings in 2004 weren't quite so extreme, with 43 percent becoming Christians before age 13 and 64 percent before age 18.
No matter which numbers are correct, the message to parents has seemed clear enough: Now's the time for you to invest in your child coming to faith. And the best place for that to happen is right in your home. In fact, the same Barna survey found that half of those who received Christ by age 12 did so at the prompting of their parents, with an added 20 percent following the lead of another relative or friend.
No matter how wonderful your church may be, most successful launches happen at or near home. That doesn't have to scare you, even if you're a first-generation Christian like me. I didn't grow up in a Christian home, so I never saw anyone model faith transference. My wife, Cindy, didn't see an active, growing faith displayed in her home, either.
Yet both our children know and love the Lord today, as one finishes graduate school and the other gets ready for college. We truly believe it's because we did-without knowing how or why-many of the things you'll find in this book.
I only wish Cindy and I'd had FaithLaunch when we were raising our two precious daughters! We stumbled into many of the things you'll learn in the pages that follow. You don't have to stumble; these resources are tremendous!
Cindy and I didn't "launch" our relationship with Christ when we were children. Our own stories prove that children can accept the Lord when they're at voting age or older. So if your older child doesn't respond to God's invitation before adulthood, the story may be far from over.
Still, the benefits of following Jesus begin in this life. Since you want the best for your child, you want him or her to start receiving those benefits as soon as possible. Children face more challenges today than ever, and at a younger age; introducing them to Christ now, while they're young, is the most important gift you can give them.
It will be an incredible blessing to you as well. The aging apostle John said this about his spiritual children: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4). That's true for any parent of older or grown children who sees them making good decisions and living a life of faith and love for Christ.
WE ALL NEED A LIFTOFF
When it comes to launching your child's faith, strong-arming isn't an option. But neither is sitting on the sidelines, hoping your child will somehow sort it all out alone. So what do you do if you're new to the faith-or, like Cindy and me, have no spiritual road maps from your past to follow?
You could just hope for the best. Like Larry.
Larry didn't know where he was going. He and his passengers were supposed to end up at a restaurant called the Stagecoach Inn, but he didn't know how to get there.
Fortunately, Larry's new car had GPS-the Global Positioning System. By punching a button on the dashboard and speaking the name of his destination, he could display directions on the miniature screen. He'd get there in no time, and impress his passengers to boot.
"Stagecoach Inn," Larry commanded. The others leaned forward, peering at the screen.
Sure enough, a message appeared. It was the name of a local radio station, which proceeded to play some annoying music.
Frowning, Larry tried again. "Stagecoach Inn," he repeated.
This time the GPS came up with an actual destination. Unfortunately, it was a movie theater. In a different town.
After a few more tries, Larry gave up. He found the restaurant the old-fashioned way-by driving until he saw a sign that said STAGECOACH INN.
Things worked out okay for Larry, other than failing to impress his passengers. But not knowing where you're going when you're launching a rocket-or a child's faith-isn't a wise strategy. It's an invitation to leave your child's faith on the launching pad.
So where do you begin?
First, keep in mind that we're not just talking about getting your child to say some words that he or she doesn't understand or fully believe. For example, Marilyn's parents seemed satisfied when they coached her to pray the "sinner's prayer" at age five. Her mother hugged her, calling it a "great moment" in the girl's life-and it certainly seemed like it was! She'd said the "right" words, after all.
Marilyn's parents must have felt their primary duty was done. From there it was just a matter of sending their daughter to Christian school and church camp and making sure she got on her church's Bible quiz team.
But Marilyn's heart wasn't in this journey. Her interest in Christianity had begun and ended with that prayer. By the time she was a teenager, she hated her life. Today she's turned her back on the "fundamentalism" of her childhood, vowing to spend the rest of her days learning to "be herself."
As Marilyn's story demonstrates, the goal of faith-launching is to cultivate an eternal, personal relationship with God. It's not just to get our child to say words that make us relax or feel better.
That's not to say that "praying the prayer" or having a specific "launch day" isn't important. The act of believing in Jesus, wanting forgiveness for sins, and saying so is an indispensable beginning.
But ignoring the rest of the flight plan can lead to shortcuts that endanger your "astronaut." Parents who aim only to hear the "right words" from a very young child may be tempted to "get this out of the way" as if it were an awkward talk about the birds and the bees. They may fail to supply their kids with enough information as they grow up to make a real, lasting choice. To use a more biblical word picture, they may build a house on sand, not rock.
"Hey," you might say. "Aren't you supposed to be encouraging me? I'm already nervous about this faith-launching stuff, and you're just telling me all the things that can go wrong."
Sorry. If you're anxious about helping your child become a Christian, it's understandable. You may think it's all up to you. You may think that if you "fail," the launch window will slam shut and no one will ever be able to reach your child.
Or perhaps you're more worried about how this process might affect your relationship with your son or daughter. What if your child rejects you for acting "weird" when you try to bring up "spiritual things"? What if he or she won't "go along" when you ask for a decision about following Jesus? Will things get awkward-or worse?
Let's look at seven common faith-launching worries parents face-and why you don't have to feel overwhelmed by them.
1. I'm not an expert on Christianity. Good! That means you'll be able to talk with your child in plain English, not theological jargon. If you don't quite grasp concepts like the Trinity and original sin, relax. FaithLaunch describes them as simply as possible so that you can do the same for your child.
2. My own relationship with God isn't going too well. If you believe the basics-that we can receive forgiveness by placing our faith in Christ-you're qualified to address the subject with your child. It's important to deal with your doubts, disappointments, and temptations with the help of a pastor or other mature believer, but waiting for perfection isn't necessary. In fact, you might even find FaithLaunch to be a faith-builder for you.
3. My kid has the attention span of a Chihuahua on caffeine. Are you afraid of boring your child? Whether the cause is ADHD or just too many video games, a short attention span doesn't have to torpedo your takeoff. FaithLaunch features a wide variety of brief activities, not a bunch of lectures. You can take things at your child's pace, and in bite-sized pieces.
4. I'm no teacher. Fortunately, FaithLaunch isn't a class. It's a series of Family Times-kind of a cross between game night, a devotional, and baking cookies together. You're the leader, but there's no standing at a chalkboard and delivering a memorized lesson. It's as natural as spending time with your child to play with the cat, listen to a song on the radio, or work together on a model plane.
5. I have to do this alone. If you're a single parent, or if you're married but your spouse is reluctant to help, you may need to lead FaithLaunch as a team of one. No, make that two: God knows all about your situation. The Family Times have been prepared with you in mind; you won't be required to do anything a mom or dad can't do. If you really need flesh-and-blood support, though, you might consider inviting a friend and his or her child to join you for Family Times.
6. My kid doesn't seem interested in God. If you haven't talked with your child much about faith before, suddenly immersing yourselves in the subject may seem jarring. You may assume your child isn't interested, yet it's likely he or she has questions but hasn't raised them. Rather than leaping headlong into FaithLaunch, you might prepare your child for a couple of weeks beforehand by occasionally asking questions of your own ("Who do you think gave that caterpillar all those legs?") and mentioning your own faith ("I'll be sure to pray about your spelling test tomorrow").
7. I'm afraid I'll do it wrong and I'll never have another chance. The good news is that there are a million ways to do it right. Blend FaithLaunch with your personality, your child's interests, your family's schedule, your home's layout, your favorite snacks. Share the truths in your own words, and let your child respond without insisting on the "right" answer. Count on the all-powerful God to use your less-than-perfect efforts-in His own time. When it comes to launch windows, He's able to open a lot more than doors.
ONE WAY, MANY FLIGHT PLANS
A space shuttle launch is no haphazard affair. Firing the main engines, for example, doesn't take place "shortly" before liftoff. It happens at precisely T minus 6.6 seconds.
Fortunately for us parents, the faith-launching process isn't run by NASA. Introducing your child to Christ isn't bound by stopwatch, formula, technique, or checklist. The only way to God is through faith in Jesus (John 14:6), but there are many ways to launch that faith.
Authors Craig and Janet Parshall recall the varying paths to belief that their children took:
Looking back at our own children, we're thrilled to remember how they invited Jesus Christ into their hearts in different ways and at different times. Most were at home; one was on a family vacation. Our two daughters responded directly to our own presentations of how to begin a relationship with God; our oldest son was led to the Lord by his sister. Our youngest son, Joseph, had still another story. He seemed very interested in the gospel and listened carefully as the plan of salvation was explained to him at bedtime one night. Looking down into his big, brown eyes, we told him about God's unconditional love.
Excerpted from FaithLaunch by John Trent Copyright © 2008 by Focus on the Family. Excerpted by permission.
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