Sending your child off to College is an emotional experience. You’ve raised them knowing that they will one day launch out on their own. But it always feels like it came too fast. And it always feels like you could have done more to prepare them. There are all kinds of areas of their lives that we worry about preparing them to face. We give a ton of time and effort to some of those areas, like academics and sports. But are they ready to face the world on their own in the most important area - the spiritual realm? Let’s be honest we don’t structure our family lives as if that is the most important area, but it is. Do you know how much heartache your child will avoid if they love Jesus intimately and walk closely with Him? Do you know that you can be the most successful person in the world in almost any other area, and blow your life up if you don’t follow Jesus? So how do you know if your child is ready to head off to College/adulthood spiritually? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can say with certainty that you need to give a great deal of attention to these 5 factors.
Confirm that they are all-in with Jesus
This may seem so basic, but here’s a huge mistake I see made over and over again in Christian homes. A five or six-year-old says they want to pray to receive Christ as their Savior and the family leads them in a prayer and declares that the child is saved. So many times parents do not have long, constant conversations about what it means to really trust Jesus and accept Him by faith. The child grew up in church, so naturally, they love the idea of Jesus and they are anxious to be in the “club.” Maybe they’ve seen their friend accept Jesus or be baptized. They want to do the same thing. But many times parents don’t ask questions like, “Why are you interested in giving your life to Jesus? Do you understand what it means to trust Jesus as your Savior? Are you ready to put Jesus in charge of your life?” Because we don’t make sure they really understand (as much as they can) what it means to trust and follow Jesus, and just encourage them to pray a prayer, we get a lot of kids that never really “got it.” One of my kids announced to me one night that she had prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior. I asked her why she decided to do that. She replied, “Because next time I’m in big church and they are having that little snack, I want to be allowed to have it.” Naturally, I told her that I was glad that she is interested in accepting Jesus, but that wasn’t really why we would accept Him and we would talk more and more about it. In another conversation a couple of years later she came to me and asked, “If the people couldn’t touch the mountain when God met with Moses or they would die since God is holy and we are sinful, does that mean that I wouldn’t be able to go to heaven and be with God because I think I’m a sinner?” At that point, we had a real conversation and a real commitment. Many Christian kids are not ready to stand on their own because we settled for a decision and didn’t help them become a true disciple of Christ.
Here’s something powerful that I’ve noticed over the last ten years. I’ve seen that families that just come to church without really becoming a vital part of the church community, raise kids who don’t even look for a church when they are out on their own. But kids that come from families that really lived life with fellow church members, and were a vital part of their church community (serving, giving, making relational connections happen, etc.) often see how important it is to have and be a part of a church community. Therefore, when they go out on their own, they seek out a church community to be a part of. Do you know how huge that is? Having a church community around them, while they are being introduced to ideas that are contrary to God’s Word and surrounded by young people who have no intention of following Jesus, gives them the support they need to stand.
Let me give you two important pieces of advice. First, help them find a church. I don’t mean to find it for them. But sit down with them and go through church websites that are around where they will be going to school and help them evaluate the information. Maybe you end up having some red flags about a ministry a church has or something on their doctrinal statement. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try that church, but they are going to ask questions about those red flags before they decide to get involved there. The second thing I would say is to make sure they don’t just go looking for a replica of their home church. Yes, there may be some non-negotiables that need to be the same. But maybe there are some differences that might challenge them in a new way. Teach them to be open to new ways that God wants to push them, without compromising solid doctrine.
Talk about Biblical Worldview
This has become a major focus of my ministry because I’ve seen it lead so many young people astray. I’ve noticed that students that know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that Jesus is the virgin-born, Son of God, and that He died for our sins and rose again, can all of a sudden start listening to some of the most unbiblical mindsets because we taught them facts but not how they relate to the real world. This means that when they hear someone say that Jesus called us to be loving, but Christians are the most unloving people on the planet because they don’t accept people as they are (i.e. Christians believe certain lifestyles are wrong), it is easy for a wedge to be driven between them and the body of Christ. From there it’s a short trip to not even claiming to be a Christian any longer. We have to have conversations with our kids about issues like the biblical approach to defeating racism, abortion, the roles of men and women, LGBTQIA issues, and many other relevant topics. These are the issues of our day. If they don’t hear from you how God feels about them from His Word they won’t likely hear it anywhere else. And if they don’t feel like Christianity has good answers for those real-life issues, they will likely walk away. You need to not only be having constant conversations about these issues but even studying those issues together. This is a natural place to shamelessly plug my book Christ in Culture! Pick it up. Read it together and discuss it.
Talk about the veracity of the Bible and the identity of Jesus
Some of the most important things that your child needs to be prepared to know and explain are why they believe that the Bible is God’s Word and is accurate and who Jesus is. They will hear the Bible attacked over and over. They don’t have to be able to defend every part of the Bible (though that would be awesome), they just need to be knowledgeable about the accuracy of the Gospels. Why? Because our faith is primarily founded on what we learn about Jesus in the Gospels. That doesn’t mean the rest of the Bible is not important. All of it is important. But if your child knows how to explain why they believe that the Gospels are an accurate historical record of the life of Jesus, everything else falls together. I don’t have to defend the veracity of Genesis - the guy who history confirms rose from the dead took Genesis as accurate history. If He is God, Genesis is history. Jesus validated the books of the prophets. Jesus endorsed the writings of Moses. You get the point. One of the best resources I know on this issue is the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Now I’m as guilty as anyone of watching the movie and not reading the book. But if you see that there is a movie with the same title, just understand that it’s about how the book came to be written. It doesn’t give you the content of the book. Your child needs to read the book and you need to have conversations with them about it. If you have to pay them to read it, it would be worth every penny. Your kids have to be prepared to explain why they trust the Bible and why they believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
Teach them how to lead others spiritually
Your kids also need to be prepared to lead others spiritually. That means they need to be leading others spiritually in High School. We don’t just teach at them for 18 years and then tell them it’s time to share with others. We give them those opportunities and teach them to take advantage of those opportunities while they still live at home and we can coach them. I say all the time, “If you raise them to be leaders, you won’t have to worry about what they are following.” Make sure they are leading at your church. Ask them who they are praying for at school. Ask them who they are having spiritual conversations with. Coach them on helping those people take next steps spiritually. When they begin to take on the direction of others spiritually, they will become more and more solidified in their own faith. They won’t waiver.
So yes, make sure they are working hard in their classes. Make sure they get coaching to ace the ACT. Push them to accel on the court or field. Make all the College visits. Plan out the look of the dorm room. But don’t forget to get them ready to know what they believe and how to lead others spiritually or all that other effort might go to waste.