I have been a youth pastor for nearly 40 years. This means I have discipled teens from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and this current decade. And I will still be doing this into the 2020s. I learned this truth the hard way in the 1980s and changed my ways in the 1990s.
You are the number one faith influencer of your teen.
You. Not your parents. Not your teen’s friends. Not the internet or social media. And certainly not the super-cool youth pastor at your church. (Though I have tried to stay super cool—as cool as someone in their late 50s can be.)
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Why you? Every study says so. I’ve been collecting these studies since the 1980s (the internet has made my hobby so much easier) and you have always ranked as number one. Always.
I have seen this firsthand also. No matter how many impassioned hours I spend with your teen. This is why I have switched my focus to helping the parents at my local church first. I want to encourage, equip, and inspire them to be better influencers.
I need you to intentionally pass on your faith so my job is more fruitful. I want to be that second voice (though probably one your teen hears louder than yours, that’s just is what it is). I want to affirm what you are already passing on. This grows a life-changing faith that will guide him or her throughout life—through the joys and through the valleys.
Because you are this number one influencer, you also have the power to pass on a complacent faith. Or a faith of works. Or a faith of faking it. Or a small view of God. You do this whether you know it or not. I’m letting you know now that you may be doing this.
I didn’t mean to trigger fear in you. I want you to feel your possibility.
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Passing on faith was so much easier when your child was younger, right? You could pray together at bedtime, maybe read Bible stories together. But how do you do this with a teen? How do you do this with a teen who doesn’t like you in their bedroom?
You fear you won’t know how to answer your teen’s tough questions. You fear your own doubts being exposed. You fear you don’t know the Bible well enough. You fear you didn’t pass on your faith enough when your teen was younger and it was easier, so now it’s too late. You fear you are not cool enough.
You do know that fear lies, right? Even if there is some truth in any one of those fears. You are needed to push through that fear and make an attempt. Your awkward intentions will be noticed and appreciated. Though maybe appreciated the most when your teen is in their 20s.
By intentionally passing on your faith, you have intentionally entered into the awkward, adolescent world where your teen resides daily and doesn’t know how to navigate one bit. Because you are the parents, you get the raw reactions so much more. The rest of us get the curated reactions. This is a parenting privilege. Maybe?
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Sadly, I know no one is telling you that you are the number one influencer of your teen’s faith. Not your friends because they are either telling you teenager jokes that are fueling your feelings of inadequacy, or they are as overwhelmed as you so they are only showing their faux selves. Your teen is not telling you—nor giving you the vibes—that you are the loudest and most important voice in their head. You certainly have no idea how to overcome the influence social media has on your teen, so you feel behind this anonymous monster that lives inside your house.
Sadly, even our churches aren’t telling you. This is a rare message to hear in church because the church and youth ministry schedule get a higher ranking than supporting you. Besides, we (the church) only get 90 minutes, maybe, a week with your kid. We have a lot to cram in during those 90 minutes.
So here I am as the oldest youth pastor in the world telling you emphatically that you are the loudest voice in your teen’s head all of the time.
Take every opportunity to use that voice well. And when you are awkward or struggling, trust the Holy Spirit. The Jesus-way is full of honest, awkward, and struggle that is always redeemed.
Raising teenagers isn’t for the faint of heart. We love the encouragement and advice in The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans. Don’t have time to sit and read? Listen to it here, on Audible.
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