After a recent presentation at a large church here in Southern California, a woman approached me at the book table and eagerly asked me to sign a copy of Cold-Case Christianity for her daughter. She asked me to write something compelling on the title page in an effort to encourage her daughter to read the text and reconsider her decision to walk away from Christianity. This mom’s story was all too familiar. She raised her family in the church and did her best to connect her daughter to the church’s youth leadership. She drove her to church events, prayed with her and did her best to model the Christian life. But after her daughter’s first semester at a California university, she came home with a number of questions her mom simply could not answer. At the end of her first year at college, the daughter announced that she was no longer a believer. Her mom was heartbroken.
Her mother heard about my appearance in the church bulletin several weeks earlier and tried to get her daughter to come home from the campus to hear the talk. The girl wasn’t interested. After the church service, the mom quickly asked her pastor for a DVD copy of the talk and eagerly bought a copy of my book. She planned on sending both of these materials to her daughter. As she stood in front of me to have her copy signed, I could sense her desperation. Like any good parent, she wanted to find a way to bring her daughter back. I asked her to wait for the crowd to die down so we could talk a bit about her situation; I needed to tell her the truth about parents and the role of “apologetics” material.
It’s tempting to assign our responsibility as parents to others, especially when it comes to issues that require some expertise we don’t already possess. When my daughter was struggling with geometry, my first inclination was to hire a tutor, even though my architecture degree forced me through several layers of calculus and I was proficient at geometry at one time myself. Instead of hiring someone, my son and I worked through each question with my daughter. I took the time to relearn the material so I could teach it to her. It was a pain, but it was worth it. I love my daughter and I know my daughter’s learning style, her concerns and her personality. I can tell when she’s “getting it” and when she’s just pretending to get it. For this reason, I knew I was the best person to help her, and although it required some work on my part, it was the right decision.
Spiritual instruction is really no different. It’s tempting to assign this form of instruction to a youth pastor or ministry. Spiritual questions are often difficult to answer and questions related to secular philosophy, historical veracity and arguments for the existence of God can seem insurmountable. When the challenges arise, it’s easy to look to someone else for an answer. At times like these, most of us find ourselves saying, “Let me get you a book,” or “I’ll try to find someone you can talk to.” But, that’s not what our kids need from us when they first begin questioning. They came to us with their questions and they need us to provide them with the answers. We’re the ones who love our kids enough to understand their shape and the nature of their personalities. We ought to know how best to respond to their questions as well. When your son or daughter begins questioning his or her faith, you’re the person who needs to become the best Christian Case Maker they know. This is especially true if your kids have questions when they are very young.
So I told this mom at my table that I didn’t think my book was the best resource for her daughter. I doubted her daughter would even open the book if she were to give it to her. Instead, I told this mom that I thought she was the best resource for her girl. Rather than assign her daughter’s questions to me as a stranger, I encouraged her to read my book and master its contents. This young lady might someday be willing to read my book or another like it, but her first questions were directed to her mom, not to me as an author. She expressed her first concerns to her mother and it’s at that first point of contact that we, as Christians, can be most effective. As parents, we are the folks who will have the most repeated contact with our children; we are the ones who can have the most impact (good or bad). This is the simple truth for all of us who are raising kids in the church. We have to become the best Christian Case Makers our kids know so we can respond quickly to their concerns and questions. As parents, we are still the first line of Christian defense.