A Pancake Education

A Pancake Education

In case you haven’t noticed, a spiritual battle over adolescents is raging. It’s widely discussed—everything from teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, eating disorders, gang participation, and suicide rates.

Young woman in classroom.Few people, however, seem to realize that Christian kids are at risk in all the same categories. Even fewer worry about kids who go to Christian schools and live in Christian homes. After all, those kids are covered on all fronts, right?

Dead wrong.

Barna research indicates that, although most teens have a relationship with Christianity, it’s usually superficial. Other sources show that an average Christian kid’s belief system is no different from non-churched kids. For example “85% of Christian teens are likely to reason just because it’s wrong for you doesn’t mean it’s wrong for me, and 57% could not even say that an objective standard of truth exists.”

David Kinnaman’s recent book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Their Faith, states that nearly 60% of kids raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. These statistics should cause great alarm.

Three high school boys I know sounded the alarm for me one morning over breakfast years ago. They came on Saturday mornings for pancakes. Our discussions were engaging, because their thoughts were unedited.

One such morning, we talked about Christian education. Laying academic comparisons aside, we asked them about the spiritual pros and cons of public school, homeschool and Christian schools. To my astonishment, all three were decidedly negative about Christian education.

mother scolding sonThey confided that many of their friends who’d gone exclusively to Christian schools became serious drug addicts. One said that Christian schools were in danger of producing some of the worst atheists. Most kids felt the environment was like a restrictive playpen with a “can’t do this—can’t do that,” mentality. Too many persnickety rules. 

A Christian pledge said each morning had become rote and meaningless. Kids were bored with Bible study and rolled their eyes when chapel speakers presented monotonous, worn-out themes (e.g. “I did drugs, alcohol and sex, and then found Jesus” testimonies). Some of their friends lived a double life—shoplifting, using drugs, and listening to raunchy music—while still showing up for the “pledge.” And truthfully, loads of kids were only there because of their parents.

Family Counseling - She Drives Me Crazy“It’s cool to be bad, when you’re over-taught to be good,” one boy added. 


The fact is Christian schools, churches, youth groups and summer camps are not responsible for the spiritual condition of our kids. That burden falls on us as parents. We impart daily to our children what we are—or are not—spiritually speaking, since they know us up close and personally.

Most teenagers despite growing up in a Christian environment have not crossed the threshold of owning their faith. To assume otherwise sometimes corners them spiritually to where they resent hearing about Christianity at all.

How can we actually help our kids sort out their spiritual questions. First of all, we can release them. I know that sounds dangerous, but it honors their right to choose for themselves.

DSCN1261Last April, I travelled to Africa with my husband to visit the kids at Kasozi Village, (the central orphan project of Uganda Orphans Fund). In 2006, UOF rescued little kids. Eight years later, we are raising teenagers. They have many questions. They’re interested in romance and adventure. They get bored easily and are tempted to break the rules. They want independence. They want to be heard. Even though their culture is different, they’re like teens all over the world. DSCN1344

While there, God impressed on me the need to “speak freedom” to them. I watched for an opportune moment. One afternoon I sat on  cement steps, chatting with a few older kids. Several more joined us.

I felt God’s hand on my shoulder. “Now,” He said.

“I want to say something to you all,” I started. “I know you are being raised in a Christian home here. We have prayers, worship, and Bible study. And yes, this is what Papa (Duncan) and I believe.”

The silence was so thick—you could’ve heard a spider weaving a web.

“But I want you to know that you are free to decide what you think about Jesus.”

No one moved. Many African adults don’t speak so openly. Kids are often beaten into submission when it comes to faith.

I continued. “You know my son, Nate, yes?”

Dennis smilingWide eyes and stunned faces became all smiles. I saw their bodies relax.

“When Nate was your age, Papa and I told him he didn’t have to go to church if he didn’t want to.”

A few gasps and one quiet “whoop” sounded.

“We said to Nate, ‘You decide for yourself. We can only show you what we believe. Soon it will be your life and your choices.’”

It seemed like the kids weren’t breathing again. I told them more.

“So now Nate is a man, and he is the one calling up Papa and Mama, saying, ‘You come to church with me!’ because sometimes we are lazy and want to stay in bed!”

Laughter broke out. They were not used to such honesty.

DSCN1174“All I am saying to you is this—YOU ARE FREE! We will always love you. We will support your education. We will never turn you out on the street over matters of faith. Whatever you decide about Jesus is between you and God.”

Picture 2009 045

That evening at worship and prayer time (initiated by the kids), many teens wrapped their arms around me. The things I said that afternoon must have traveled around the village. Something had shifted. I could feel it. My words weren’t a fix all. They’ll still have choices, challenges, and failures ahead.

But I knew in my spirit, releasing them was imperative.

sunrise&happy youngSo it is with our kids.


(More suggestions on this topic next week…) Tell me what you think! It’s okay to disagree!



  1. This is SO vitally important Susan! Having religion forced on you is a serious form of Abuse. Mentally and emotionally. In the intention of doing ‘good’ parents force this on their children. We CANNOT force faith! Faith CANNOT be forced! In fact faith comes from God and is a GIFT!
    Who do we think we are, deciding what our children should believe? As if we can save them! God alone knows the hearts of our children. He promises He WILL save. BUT WE MUST LET HIM!! Not decide to take the reins of our children ourselves and demand they do what we preach – especially when we say one thing and do another!
    I do not say this as a judgment. NO! On the contrary, religion was forced on me. And for a while I forced it on my children, thinking I was doing what was right. BUT due my church values and beliefs and due to God and His mercy, He Promised me He WOULD save my children. I Let them alone. I gave them the choice to choose. And they don’t come to church. BUT, I do know, that they know I know Him. They KNOW I believe in Him. They can call on Him, if they need Him. And HE will FIND them! With my prayers and love before Him, as well as their own angels. And a times I KNOW some of them do know Him.
    Children are NOT ours to keep. They are not a possession but a GIFT from a Papa who knows the desire of our hearts. And children need to be given back to God to be saved. WHY? Because what ever we hold on to in our own strength we lose. Because when we do it like that it is no longer love, but control and manipulation. God gave us free will. He planted His image in our hearts and He told us How HE loves -via both the 10 commandments and BY HIS EXAMPLE – He never forced. He gives us free choice and that is what we need to give to our children, because then they are free to choose to BE saved!

  2. Susan, I always enjoy your blogs and feel they speak to my heart. Thank you for using your gifts to bless and nurture others.

    I work with teens and parents and have strongly come to believe that teaching teenagers how to make decisions for themselves (with the scaffolding of parents) is the best gift to prepare them for living on their own. I believe allowing them their freedom to think and choose as an adolescent (and experience the consequences of their choices) will only serve them well later on. Often we neglect to realize that if we’re not given age-appropriate choices during our teenage years we will not be equipped for making decision in our young adult years. We need the experience of making good and bad choices while still under our parent’s roofs to really prepare us to be good decision makers later when out of our parent’s house.

  3. this is what it’s ALL about. our maker made US free, right? certainly this caused him trepidation, but it’s the only way to choose for ourselves and unless we have that freedom, our belief is robotic and the results will come out in the wash. as parents we gotta “show”, not tell. ha! (a writer’s joke, in case you who are reading aren’t involved in writing).
    suzee B

  4. My four kids have gone to both Christian and public schools. They have all said the Christian school environment was too legalistic and in hindsight they wish they had gone to public school all the way through. From my perspective God used both to mold them and in the end all we can do is be faithful to what we believe He is telling us to do. Giving them the freedom to choose is vital to the process.

    As a parenting and marriage coach who has seen Christian parents desperate to have their children believe in Christ, it will backfire to be forced to believe what you believe. It is all about grabbing their heart in love and leave the drawing to God to the HOly Spirit.

    Thanks Susan for this blog post.

  5. P.S. Just to clarify…I mean it is vital to give children the freedom to believe in Jesus or not (not that they get to necessarily choose where they go to school.) Sorry if that was unclear.

    • No–very clear! Thanks Cathy. Listen, can you give my readers the link to your blogpost on this subject of “letting kids go”? It was so excellent!