God tells us there will always be wheat and tares. Even among children born to believing parents there will be some who reject all their parents have taught. Some of these will rebel for a while and return. Some will not. As parents we are to commit ourselves to the task of raising our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, to teach them the facts of the faith, to show how it answers our questions and meets our needs, to insist that the good news of the gospel must be personally apprehended. We do what God calls us to do, we do it to the best of our abilities, and we entrust the results—and our children—to God’s good providence.
Few things are sadder to witness than people who once professed faith leaving it all behind. This is especially true when those people were raised in Christian homes by God-fearing parents. These children were given every opportunity to put their faith in Jesus but determined instead to turn their backs on him. Why would they make such a tragic choice?
Several years ago Tom Bisset carried out a study of people who had left the faith. Wanting this to be more than a statistical analysis, he actually sat down with people to interview them and ask for detailed information on when, why, and how they abandoned their faith. As he compiled his research he arrived at the four most prominent reasons that people raised in Christian homes eventually leave Christianity behind.
They leave because they have troubling, unanswered questions about the faith. Essentially, they come to doubt that Christianity offers compelling answers to the tough questions—questions related to science, suffering, sexuality, and a host of other crucial subjects. Their doubts may be intellectual or academic, theological or practical. Whatever the case, they became convinced that Christianity does not actually offer truth to those who seek it, that its answers are unreasonable, unrealistic, or just plain wrong. No longer satisfied with the answers and claims of Christianity, they opt for “intellectual honesty” and look elsewhere.
(A solution to this problem is to engage the difficult questions with our children and to show that Christianity offers a cohesive and compelling worldview that accounts for science, suffering, sexuality, and whatever else we find pressing or perplexing. We have nothing to fear from even our children’s most difficult questions.)
They leave because their faith is not working for them. Though they tried and perhaps even tried honestly and sincerely, they were not able to find the peace, joy, or meaning the Christian faith claims to offer them. Their personal experience of Christianity was never able to match what they had been taught to believe about it. Their experience was never able to match what they saw modeled by friends, pastors, or parents—people who expressed the joy and fulfillment that was theirs through a relationship with Christ Jesus. Out of discouragement they abandoned Christianity, sure its claims were exaggerated or just plain false.
(A solution here is to be vulnerable with our children, and to express that we, too, experience moments of doubt and disbelief, and that we are sometimes left wishing for answers God has not provided. We need to be careful not to oversell our faith, not to describe the Christian life as free from all difficulty. After all, the Bible emphasizes both the joys and the suffering that come to those who believe.)