Now that our youngest daughter has gone off to college and left my wife and me as (mostly) empty-nesters, I sometimes wonder whether we provided our daughters with the parenting they will need to be spiritually healthy as young adults. I suppose most Christian parents engage in this thought process at some point. And, of course, like most parents, I look back and think of a thousand things I would do differently if I could go back in time given what I now know.
Thankfully, a new study from LifeWay Research, lets parents know now what practices they can instill in their children that are most likely to lead them to flourish spiritually as young adults. Guess what? They align with what scripture has always taught are essential to spiritual vitality. This is extremely important information, as the research confirms that taking kids to church and even placing them in a Christian school are not likely on their own to produce spiritually healthy kids or young adults. In fact, a survey of 3,472 young adult children from 2,000 Christian homes indicates that only 3% of them demonstrated all eight indicators of spiritual health as a young adult. Two-thirds of them demonstrated two or fewer of the eight indicators. Those are sobering statistics. And yet, the study gives tremendous insight for parents about the types of practices that the most spiritually healthy young adults did as children.
- Bible reading - Not surprisingly, regular Bible reading as a child was the leading factor in later spiritual health. Families that encouraged children to read the Bible for themselves had a tremendous impact on that child later in life. It is not surprising because the Bible reveals itself to be powerful and active in a child’s life (Hebrews 4:12) and exposure to truth, beauty and the calling of scripture early in their lives is quite formative. “The key takeaway from the study is a simple yet profound finding that God’s Word truly is what changes lives,” said Jana Magruder, author of Nothing Less, a book based on the results of the study.
- Regular prayer - The study does not differentiate among the types of prayer – before meals, at bedtime, corporate or private – but it is important for a culture of prayer to be present in the child’s life.
- Service in church - Church attendance is not sufficient. The study suggests that actual service in church creates an active participant in the church’s life that benefits the child. Teaching in Sunday school, helping with a food kitchen ministry, caring for the elderly, taking missions trips or any number of acts of service all are significant predictive factors.
- Singing Christian songs - While listening primarily to Christian music was one of the leading factors promoting spiritual health, the opposite was also true. Listening primarily to secular music was one of the leading indicators that negatively affected spiritual growth. What our children fill their minds with – and is there anything more immersive in our culture today than music? – ultimately affects their spiritual vitality.
If you sometimes wonder what you could do to affect your child’s spiritual development, take a moment to read the study summary at the link above, or take a more in-depth look by reading Nothing Less. As Scott McConnell, Executive Director of LifeWay Research notes, “Practicing your faith—in specific ways—really pays off later in life.”