Well-meaning parents can often be the biggest obstacle young adults face when they try to follow the Lord. How can parents change their approach?
”Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.Proverbs 22:6
Several years ago, I spent some time with a Christian leader who provides financial oversight for large sums of money given to mission work here in the United States. He confided in me that while he is willing to sacrifice to give money to ministries to help people in need, he wouldn’t respond with such generosity if his own children decided to take a year off from school to serve in missions.
He said, “I’m embarrassed to say it, but as a Father, I would just be scared they’d fail to launch – that all the work they’ve done in their education, all the steps toward their independence – that it’d be for nothing. As parents, it seems like sometimes as much as we want our children to follow the Lord, we can end up becoming the obstacle that keeps them from doing it.”
”He said, 'I’m embarrassed to say it, but as a Father, I would just be scared they’d fail to launch - that all the work they’ve done in their education, all the steps toward their independence - that it’d be for nothing.'
I then shared with him a saying we have at Love Thy Neighborhood that goes like this:
“Sadly, many people do mission work despite their families and not because of them.”
Over the last 10 years, we’ve heard from countless young adults that their parents were displeased and sometimes openly angry about their child’s decision to spend a summer or year serving the poor. Often, we find that young adults are forced into a situation where they have to make a hard decision – to do what their parents want or do what they believe God is calling them to.
”Often, we find that young adults are forced into a situation where they have to make a hard decision - to do what their parents want or do what they believe God is calling them to.
Many years ago, there was a young lady who wanted to serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. Her parents were from the rural countryside and the idea of their daughter using her (very expensive) college education to move into the inner-city and work at a homeless shelter for free was an upsetting prospect.
Though all 3 people were Christians, this situation caused quite a bit of tension in their parent-child relationship. Honestly, helping the homeless had not been a very high family value and they didn’t understand their daughter’s desires. The parents were vocal about their worries, their wishes and their disappointment.
”The idea of their daughter using her (very expensive) college education to move into the inner-city and work at a homeless shelter for free was an upsetting prospect.
Ultimately, their daughter made the decision to come serve. Reluctantly, through their angst, the parents offered their blessing and support.
Each month, the daughter would write letters about how much God was growing her faith and tell them stories about her new homeless friends. Each month, the parents would carefully read the letters and God began to change their hearts as well.
To the shock of the daughter, six months later her parents mentioned in passing that they had started volunteering regularly at a homeless shelter in their hometown. Her parents also experienced a new vibrancy in their own faith as they stepped out and began to trust God more deeply than they ever had before – beginning with releasing their daughter to follow Christ as her own woman.
God called this young woman to follow him – not just for the sake of the homeless men and women she befriended – but also to grow the faith of her entire family.
”As a parent, I often have to honestly ask myself, 'Am I encouraging my children toward my vision for their life or toward God’s vision for their life?'
As a parent, I often have to honestly ask myself, “Am I encouraging my children toward my vision for their life or toward God’s vision for their life?” God is a perfect Father. We can trust him with the most important parts of our lives – especially our children.
Here are a few reminders to help your young adult children follow Christ:
Tell your child that you want them to follow God wherever he made lead them.
Remind your child (and yourself) that they are God’s child before they are your child. He gets the final word.
Remind your child to focus on pleasing God and not on pleasing you.
Be honest with God and tell him that you struggle to trust him with your child.
Pray for your child’s heart and discernment. (Pray for your own while you are at it.)
Tell your child all the ways you see God at work in their life and affirm their specific gifts.
Parents have incredible shaping power in the lives of their children – both young and grown. No other human relationship possesses the degree of influence we do. We can use this power to build up, affirm and entrust them to God or we can leave them chasing after our approval.
”No other human relationship possesses the degree of influence parents do. We can use this power to build up, affirm and entrust them to God or we can leave them chasing after our approval.
The desire of every Christian parent is that our children will love The Lord even more than we do. Let’s not be surprised when they are willing to be more bold and take greater risks as they follow him.
Great love produces faithful hearts; hearts willing to follow him anywhere he may lead – both to the college campus and the homeless shelter.
Jesse Eubanks is the Founder and President of Love Thy Neighborhood. He’s been leading urban missions programs for young adults since 2005. He is the host of the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast and an ordained minister. He is the author of How We Relate: Understanding God, Yourself and Others Through the Enneagram from Zondervan Books and is passionate about the intersection of social action, relational health and Christian spiritual formation. Relevant Magazine named Jesse one of the top 50 Christian artists and activists making an impact on culture in America.