Would You Rather Your Teen Push the Boundaries of Faith or Stay Safe (Which May Not Be Safe)?

From a youth group many years ago I have a graduated teen serving as a missionary in an undisclosed Muslim country. He was 40 when he started this exciting next phase of his life, which was not exciting his widowed mother at all. In prep for his departure, this conflict was causing some considerable stress between the two of them until he was sharing at her church about his mission.

During his presentation he told the story of how his parents always had him pray for missionaries as a child and that made an impression on him. Now he was getting ready to become like one of those missionaries he always prayed for as a child. James told me how he watched his mom’s jaw drop during that part of his presentation. It dawned on her right then that this was her fault.  She had raised her son to want such a life even if that meant leaving her.

As a youth pastor it is my hope that the teens I’m influencing are growing a faith that does not keep God at arm’s length or in a safe box but begins to lean into the personal story God planned for their lives.

This is a difference maker to surviving adolescence. This is the difference maker to growing into that adult who knows his/her place in this world. That personal story could take your beloved child to an undisclosed Muslim country. Or more simply to not follow the career path you have designed for him/her.

Oh oh.

Would you rather have your teen learn a safe faith? To not pursue what God’s personal plan is for him/her?

Of course not. Or of course yes. You know those fears you feel.

Think about this. If you and your family lived in Jesus’ time, would you have let your kid hang out with Jesus? Knowing His reputation of hanging with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners? Knowing that He riled the safe boundaries of the church leaders? Jesus was scandalous and controversial—as He valued women, redeemed sinners, reconnected the lost so they could be found, and led a love revolution. Would you have let your kid hang out with Jesus?

I’ve raised some awesome boys into men but boys who needed boundaries and unconditional love. If I lived during Jesus’ time I would doubt my decision. I think I would have been drawn to the boundaries the Pharisees had drawn believing my boys needed them. And they certainly didn’t need to be hanging with the people Jesus hung around with because I was trying to introduce to them new circles of better friends. I probably would have been drawn to the unconditional love Jesus taught and demonstrated but I don’t know if I would have trusted my boys to being a part of that crowd. I want to think I would have but I don’t think so.

How about you? I know you want to answer yes but would you really let your child follow someone so unconventional? 

When Paul challenges us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, do you think he meant strict training to be always safe or comfortable? Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.

This kind of faith speaks directly to the adolescent development steps that need to be completed for growth. Specifically they are:

  • increased concern for others
  • increased self-reliance
  • increased concern for the future
  • more importance is placed on one’s role in life
  • interest in moral reasoning
  • capacity to use insight

We do want our kids to complete their growth in healthy ways, right? The jokes are out there that today’s kids are coated in hand-sanitizer. (How did we ever withstand plagues without hand sanitizer, by the way?) As you know from your own adolescence and from anything you’ve read, teens are going to push boundaries. It is a part of adolescent development.

Why not encourage them to push their boundaries in areas of faith? It sure beats binge drinking.

A brave faith story is better than the story your teen thinks he/she will create by binge drinking. Or the imagined story of that new romance. Have you ever considered that your teen is doing that thing because he/she wants to create some story for his/her life? Could that story be a brave faith story?

Could you create that brave faith story together?

If you live with a bigger faith, who knows how God will lead. And it sure beats any story that contains binge drinking.

(photo credit:


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