Discipling Today’s Kids Like Yesterday’s Church

Because kids can sign a church charter.
And mean it.
Third installment of discipleship articles published in Light and Life Communications.

Most Christian parents have one main goal—ensure their kids grow into mature believers. But we also know the scary statistics. About sixty percent of those raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. Only four percent of Millennials attend church regularly. Discipling kids has never been so important or so challenging.

But what does that discipleship look like now? A lot like it looked in the beginning.


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need….They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2.42-46).

The number one reason youth stay in the church is they have seen a Christian lifestyle modeled with integrity–first in their parents and then between their parents and other church members. Their parents genuinely love God andhis people. They’ve grown up in a community—not a building.
An Acts-like community of believers doesn’t seem very normal in today’s disposable-relaytionship culture, does it? But if we could keep our kids in church, would it be worth it to start making some changes in our priorities, schedule, finances, or church programs to create that community? What would it look like for your family?

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos teaching), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).

Barnabas mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul mentored Silas and Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos. It’s tough to find a place in the new church where relationships did nottake priority and disciples were not made as a result. Young people remain in churches where someone took individual time to listen, model, and mentor.

*If you have teens, who in your church could come alongside your child in this kind of relationship? How will you move forward on that?


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1 Timothy 4.12, 2 Timothy 1.6).

Paul felt young people should be active in the ministry of the church, not fans watching the game. When young people feel valued, they are much more likely to find value in church. We need to stop calling youth the church of tomorrow and empower them to be the church today. They are not a threat to our power. They are our hope. Yes, they will make mistakes. So do we. Life is an imprecise science.

*What gifts do your children have from the Holy Spirit?
*How can you help them fan them into flames of ministry?

 *Where is there room for that in your church?

It’s not as difficult as we make it to disciple kids. Just–listen. And take time. Not much has really changed in that respect in 2000 years.

is safe overrated?

Fear. Risk-taking. Change. Becoming. All words in popular use right now. All words I use a lot in this blog. Words that, on this day after Father’s Day, I want to put into the perspective of parenting.

I can’t say my parents were the overprotective sort. As the parents of seven kids, they considered crowd control their main activity and lack of injury on any given day a bonus. 

As the last of those seven, I basically flew under any radar that remained. I could have done just about anything. But I didn’t. Like Binkley, I lived with a closet full of fears that didn’t make a lot of sense if one examined them, but I never did.

Naturally, with that background, I followed the masses who tried to make certain no nasty beasties harmed my wonderfully special children. I covered their ears; I fought their battles; I slapped helmets on their heads and blinders on their eyes. It made sense. Then. (And bicycle helmets still make sense—let’s be quite clear on that, my children.)

Now, I have children who want to skydive and take flying lessons and go on archaeological digs in the Middle East (and that’s only one of them).

I have a theory. Maybe this regeneration of thrill seeking and risk taking is a result of a generation that has been trussed in bubble wrap and carefully structured from sunrise to bedtime since the day they were born. It’s their rebellion against the can’t-be-too-safe paranoia of their parents. I don’t really blame them.

In fact, quite often I’ve joined them. It’s been terrifyingly freeing. Honestly, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re zipping down a mile-long cable over the Costa Rican canopy.

I wonder–maybe all the half-pipe skiers and shark swimmers are one big reaction to American paranoid parenting.

And now, we have studies like this one that surprise us by showing that, when we allow kids to be kids and use their common sense around risk, they actually do better. They are less bored, less violent with one another, and more engaged learners. Maybe, we were wrong to take away the slides and dodgeballs.

Might I turn a corner and suggest this is also true spiritually?

With three-fourths of youth leaving our churches and not intending to return, we have to ask the reasons. And while they are probably complex, I wonder if one of them might not be that we focused too much on protecting said youth. 

We spent too much of our time holding their little ears lest they hear a bad word and too little of our time opening their ears to the world around them and their place in it as God’s person.

Young people are turning away because, according to Barna surveys, they find the church too judgmental and too ingrown. Might that be code for “You taught us to stay away from what was wrong but never told us how to make those things right? You kept us in our sanitized Sunday school rooms and homeschool classes but never accepted the messiness of honest life? You kept us safe but pointless? 

(I am NOT blasting homeschooling here. Let us be clear on that. Only some of the reasons people give for doing it. I believe it’s a great alternative for reasons other than protectionism.)

Our kids want to go down giant metal slides and feel the wind and yes, sometimes feel the concrete beneath. They want to get on the dodgeball court that is the real world and see if they have what it takes to play hard and long. They find our Holy Grail—safe—overrated. They are leaving the church that has told them that safe is their highest goal. I don’t blame them. We lied.

And there’s one of my terrors. Going up stairs
you can see through. Many, many stairs.
I see two choices for the church and parents. We can equip them to take on their yearnings with Christ, or we can retreat and let them go at it alone. We can guide them toward the battles worth fighting and the thrills worth seeking, or we can let them jump off cliffs for their thrills, desperate for a feeling but devoid of purpose. We can smugly watch them “get it out of their systems,” or we can point them to the heart worth following, the one that took a giant risk to love us and live among us.

Theywill go at it. This is a generation that believes in blasting the door off the anxiety closet. If we want them back in the church, we’ve got to stop steering them away from the doors and instead put the light sabers in their hands. And honestly? If we want to be taken seriously in that, we’ve got to go through a couple doors ourselves.

Afraid? Try ziplining somewhere. It will put you in the mood.