Fans expected the American women's team to win the 4x100 relay in the 2004 Summer Olympics. But when Marion Jones finished the second leg, she could not successfully hand off the baton in the exchange zone to Lauryn Williams, the third racer. This caused the fastest team at the Olympic Games to be disqualified from the prize.
When it comes to matters of faith, most Christian parents do their best to successfully "pass the baton." Others, who have run the race of faith before me, successfully passed it on to me. Their lives and walks of integrity challenged me to embrace Christ and follow Him. As a parent, I deeply desired to not only run the race well but to transfer the baton of discipleship to my children. Here are five ways I chose to mold my teens to become devoted Christ-followers:
The Bible says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). As parents, we can encourage our children to attend church and help them find good role models to follow, because teens need to see adults who are living with integrity, practicing spiritual disciplines and walking day to day with Jesus.
When my son Hendrix turned 13, I asked five men to join us for supper one evening. The men already knew him well. Each man exhibited a faithful walk with God and gave evidence of an authentic Christian walk. I could point my son to them and say, “That man is following Christ.” At supper, each one exhorted Hendrix briefly and shared a Bible verse, challenging him to become a man who loves, obeys and follows Jesus. After supper, every man prayed for Hendrix, for his next step into young manhood.
Another way to expose our kids to godly role models is by reading biographies of notable Christians. For years our family has read stories about Christian missionaries, inventors, explorers, politicians and pastors. History provides wise and godly role models for our children to follow instead of the immaturity and irreverence modeled by many pop-culture icons.
Parents make the majority of the decisions for their children, and my wife and I were no different. But for young men and women to grow in wisdom and discernment, they need to practice decision-making. Ultimately, our children will be responsible to the Lord — not us. That's why it was important for my wife and I to slowly transfer the responsibility of decisions to our teens.
Shifting the burden of accountability from parents to the Lord prepares our teens to be more successful in living their own lives. I began teaching my children to be accountable to God by giving the reasons why we're supposed to do things.
- Why tell the truth? Because God is truthful, and He made life to work the best when we model truth-telling.
- Why practice sexual purity? Because God’s essence is pure. He created sex for marriage, and He wants us to enjoy it in the context of a godly covenant.
- Why guard what goes into our minds and bodies? Because we are God’s temple. Our minds and spirits operate best when the temple is free from pollutants.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As my children became teenagers, I emphasized one simple truth: You cannot live a godly life apart from Christ’s indwelling power and presence. They needed to know how to talk with God daily and how to draw strength from Him for life’s challenges. One day I may not be there to step in and help. But God will always be available to them.
Teenagers need to learn the necessity of regular Bible intake, which can be done through reading, hearing the Word and meditating on Scripture. I found Bible reading to be an invaluable part of the faith journey in the lives of my children. If I help my children develop a habit of reading the Bible, I am not just giving them a sermon but teaching them to go to God with their concerns and questions.
The handoff between faith runners must take place so the next generation can start its leg of the journey.
Rhett H. Wilson, Ph.D., is an award-winning freelance writer, former pastor, former adjunct professor at Anderson University and currently a financial adviser in Greenville, South Carolina.