Growing up in “small town USA” is something I have always cherished. When you get to my age, you start remembering “they way it used to be” often. I still keep in contact with some of the people I grew up with. It is so good to know that most of our youth group is still faithful, involved, and some are leaders in the Lord’s church today. One friend recently retired after 46 years as church secretary and she is married to an elder. Her sister is married to an elder in another congregation. There are other such examples of young people who remained faithful over the years.
Of course, not all young people stay in the church. Some drop out and lead a life of unfaithfulness to God. So, why do some stay faithful to God and others leave the faith? That is a good question to think about.
To be faithful means to be “steadfast, resolute, trustworthy.” A servant of the Lord is to be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). A faithful person will be blessed (Prov. 28:20a). So what is it that can help keep our youth faithful?
Let’s start out by recognizing that we need God in any successful endeavor. To begin following Him when we are young (Eccl. 12:1) is a blessing. When we are young and decide to follow Jesus, we are saying “Yes” to all that is good and right. The first two commandments in Exodus 20 deal with our attitude toward God: “I am the Lord your God….you shall have no other gods before me.” You simply cannot live the Christian life without making God top priority. Faithfulness and submission to God should be our goal.
With that goal comes two acknowledgments. First, we must accept the fact that we will give up our old life, a life different from the world’s standards. There will be constant temptations to become like the world rather than being different from many of our friends. Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
I am afraid many of those who become unfaithful started out with belief and baptism and initial encouragement , but did not know how to be transformed by renewing their minds. A transformation is an obvious change. Change starts with the mind — a decision and a commitment and a plan. The plan is found in the Bible. It includes training your actions, words, relationships, attitudes and goals. Every Christian must be a serious Bible student to continually change and become more like Jesus. John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15b).
Secondly, with the goal of faithfulness in mind, we are reminded of John 17:14-15 where Jesus asked God to not take the disciples out of the world, but protect them while in it. We must realize the responsibility of being an influence for good while we are in the world. We are responsible for being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). It’s incredible how actions, words, and attitudes show others who we are. Yes, we live in the world but we cannot live like the world.
We cannot ignore these facts. Christians (young and old) belong to Jesus and that means we have adopted a different way of life. Young people are setting patterns for life. They are under the strongest peer pressure of any of us. They are a mixture of excitement and vulnerability, so developing strong relationships with Christian adults is vital. Yet, no matter where we are and what we do, we influence others. Each decision we make influences on someone. There are times when it is difficult to know the right thing to do. A number of years ago these questions were given to me. They may help others to decide what’s the right thing to do:
- Can it be done to the glory of God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
- Is it helpful? (1 Cor. 6:12)
- Will it cause someone else to stumble? (1 Cor. 8:7-13)
- Would Jesus do it? (1 Pet. 2:21-22)
- Will it make me a better Christian? (1 Pet. 2:1-2)
- Will it help lead others to Christ? (2 Cor. 5:17)
- When Jesus returns, would I like to be found doing this? (1 John 2:28)
We are also responsible for sharing the gospel with others. Young people search for their own identity and for meaning in life. It takes boldness, but young Christians have open doors among their friends. Peers will have questions and they need to be prepared to explain their faith in the Bible, in Jesus, and the church.
So, with all the challenges we have by living in this world, do we have any hope of being successful in influencing our youth to faithfulness? Howard W. Norton in his article “Hope For The Family,” published in the Spring 2002 issue of Church And Family, gives these three reasons for hope:
- Because God made human beings with the capacity to change their lives. “Even though Americans have radically devalued marriage and the family since 1960, they have the power to turn things around and change their families for the better.”
- Because Jesus enables defeated human beings to be born again and restart life with a clean slate. “Neither personal or family failure is hopeless if people are willing to turn to Christ for forgiveness and renewal.”
- Because the church is a spiritual community that places high value on the home and cultivates this kind of thinking. “In the church people are most likely to receive a steady flow of exhortation, instruction, and support.”
What contributes to our youth remaining faithful? Two important factors:
- The Home. Parents are responsible for modeling and teaching discipline and devotion to their children. In all areas of their lives – especially their spiritual growth – discipline and devotion are vital. There is nothing that can take the place of having godly parents in the home. Having living examples of faithfulness day in and day out during the early years was a great blessing for my sister and brother and I. We saw parents that loved each other and worked together to have a Christian home. They encouraged each other and served each other. No parent is sinless but they can be faithful. Youth have plenty other influences (tv, peers, etc) but what is often missing is that godly parental influence. In the home there should be no doubt that God and His Word are the centerpiece of home life. Of course, in the home, youth learn great lessons that help in their occupation and family life as well as their spiritual growth. Scripture says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8). Parents must stand on God’s Word. They must teach their children and be involved in their spiritual growth However, not everyone is blessed with a family that believes, commits, and encourages the Christian lifestyle, Bible study, and prayer. Some families even discourage or make fun of their children’s choice to become a Christian. The church must be aware and actively involved in the growth of these young Christians.
- The Church. The spiritual family also has responsibilities to its members. Hebrews 3:12 teaches us to “exhort one another daily.” We must be involved in each other’s lives and be able to turn to one another for strength to remain faithful. Our youth must be a part of this. Building relationships across generations is important. Some may feel we have nothing in common, but we do — Jesus and our commitment to Him. Young Christians in the church also encourage, teach, and influence each other by spending study and social activity times together. They can experience a “safe” place to interact and ask questions. These times are also opportunities to introduce their friends to the church family. Hebrews 5:12-14 reminds the church to teach young Christians with the “milk” and to continue teaching everyone toward maturity in God’s Word.
You may note that in both the home and the church, adults and youth are together. In both places, mentoring our youth in faithfulness is vitally important.
Rob has been preaching for many years, and has also served as a shepherd of the church. He serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.