Be sure to catch this podcast interview with David Penuel (Director of Student Ministry) and Rebe Long (Women's Coordinator of Middle School Ministry) for an extended conversation on this topic.
I've been on staff at Watermark working with students (grades 6-12) since 2002. In that time, I've observed hundreds of students navigate adolescence, graduate, and head off into a life of independence. Many of these kids thrive after graduation. Their faith continues to grow, they continue seeking to connect deeply with the body of Christ, and they contribute in amazing ways to the Kingdom of God. Others . . . not so much.
On more than one occasion, I've been asked this question by a wise parent seeking to reverse engineer their parenting:
"What do the healthiest Watermark graduates have in common?"
In response, I haven't overwhelmed them with a hundred things they have to do. Instead, I share with them just ONE thing that I believe makes all the difference. In my experience as a minister to students, the single most powerful predictor of healthy kids is at least one parent who is being personally transformed by God.
Hebrews 13:7 says, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Believe it or not, kids are watching their parents and imitating their faith. Your kids are considering the outcome of your way of life and mimicking your patterns of behavior. If your faith is transforming your life day after day, the chances are excellent that the faith of your children will follow suit.
As I've thought more about this, I've identified three common characteristics of parents who are being transformed by God. Consider these qualities and the questions that follow.
Your kids need you to live in the light (1 John 1:7-9). They need to know you have sinned and continue to struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). They need to know that you repent, and are forgiven. Sin is hard to talk about but, when we allow our children to see our sinful nature and how God forgives us, we are helping them see their own sin and how God forgives them. Authenticity also bridges the gap between us and our children and allows them to see us and connect with us in a very real way. Honesty about our brokenness makes us, as the parents, seem less threatening and condemning. It opens a line of communication. It allows us to share the goodness of God in a personal way.
Do you want your kids to stay pure (Psalm 119:9)? Do you want your kids to find their path in life (Psalm 119:105)? Do you want your kids to understand where they go wrong (2 Timothy 3:16)? Do you want your kids to be equipped to do good (2 Timothy 3:17)?
God's Word is the key to all these things, and your kids probably won't read and apply God's Word if they don't see you read and apply God's Word. Almost every time I ask a student, "How have your parents influenced your faith?" I get an answer related to parents consistently sharing Scripture with their kids.
Do you want your kids to belong to a group of friends that they can count on (Romans 12:4-11)? Do you want them to be a source of encouragement and hope and strength for others? Do you want your kids to serve their church (1 Peter 4:10)? If you want these things for them, you have to go first.
If the most powerful predictor of healthy kids is a parent who is being personally transformed by God, how are you doing? Is there observable evidence that God is living and active in your life? How would you answer the following 3 questions:
I'll leave you with the words of Colby, a young man who watched his parents' lives be transformed by God. "I am definitely inclined to believe that God can change me after seeing my parents completely change. God can do whatever he wants, which includes changing me. I now feel more inspired to seek God because of what he did with my parents."