Influencing our children with our passion for the gospel

September 27, 2017

Youth Camp. It’s just not for me. The food. The dorms. The smells. That’s not my idea of a good time. But this summer, after filling up at Chick-fil-a, I dropped in on our students during their last evening at camp. While visiting with them during dinner, worshipping with them, and hearing them debrief God’s activity in their lives, I saw a group of imperfect but passionate Jesus followers.

Despite all the challenges, teenagers of this generation are not beyond the power of the gospel to rescue and empower to live on mission with God. Students of Generation Z (as they’re called) are eager to learn, grow, and do hard things for Jesus’ sake. They are not huge fans of stale institutionalism (who is?), but they appreciate a church that inspires and teaches them to worship God, love their neighbors, make disciples, and lay their lives down to proclaim Jesus among every nation, tribe, and tongue.

As I raised my hands in worship with our students that night at camp, however, I was encouraged and sobered in the very same moment. I’ve been around long enough to know that at least a few of these kids who were singing to Jesus at the top of their lungs in that wonder-filled moment will lose interest in him altogether in just a year or two.

Living with tensions

Like many Christians, teenagers live with tensions. They have one foot planted in the gospel and the other in the thin air of fickle passions, peer pressures, and cultural expectations. Secular humanism woos them at every turn. School curriculum, social media, entertainment, and even sports proficiently shape beliefs and gradually siphon affections away from God. And many children come from a complicated family structure that fails to provide the safety and consistency needed for healthy spiritual formations.

The pressures on students are unparalleled. They grapple with questions in the most formative season of life that no previous generation in modern history has faced. Complex gender and sexuality conversations are a way of life. Spirituality is celebrated, while the exclusivity of Jesus is scorned. Objective truth is a demon to reject, and personal preference is an idol to worship.

It would be a comfort if I knew that we could simply tweak our church programs to rescue students from all of that. Many churches thought event-driven, low expectations, and “come and see our moving lights shows” would do the trick. Modernization is amazing, and in some measure necessary, but we’ve discovered it does not have the power to transform a life or raise up a generation of world changers. Smaller, larger, modern, or traditional—kids walk away from all kinds of churches every year.

So how does a student who professes Jesus as Lord, travels on mission projects, and attends every student activity available for two or three years then walk away from the mission of God? There has been much conversation and research around that question, but the answers are not elusive.

The most important influences

Teenagers of this generation are not beyond the power of the gospel to rescue and empower to live on mission with God.

The greatest challenge to this next generation is not secular humanism or changing sexual norms or the pressures of entertainment and media. Stale church traditionalism creates a heightened level of cynicism that undermines the gospel, but that is not the greatest challenge to the next generation. The negative impact of divorce is overwhelming, but even the breakdown of the family is not the greatest obstacle facing our students.

As important as these influences are, nothing has the power to impact students for Jesus’ sake more than the passions of the adults closest to them. Whether that is a parent, stepparent, or grandparent, the next generation is shaped by the basic, driving priorities and practices of the current generation.

Often, however, Christian parents simply scan the community for the “best” church around that accommodates the adolescent preferences of their child. If the child enjoys the programming and makes friends, all is well. But if the church or youth program misses the mark, the parent soon gives the child car keys and a choice about how involved he or she will be. While the child has no choice about any other significant area of life, this freedom is granted with the rationale that no one should “shove religion down the throat” of a child. Instead of discipling their child, parents decide to let the child decide.

The truth is that no one should shove religion down anyone’s throat. This view of Christian parenting represents a devastating misunderstanding of biblical disciple making. Parents who shove, on the one hand, or are ruled by the whims of their adolescent, on the other, reveal a basic confusion about Jesus, his work in their lives, and his mission in the world.

Students moving from the middle years to the teenage years wise up. They learn to assess the legitimacy of their parents’ personal walk with Jesus; and the cumulative work of a parent always communicates the truth about one’s passions and priorities. A parent’s authentic love for Jesus does not guarantee the child will love Jesus, too, but a divided heart projects a hypocrisy that is hard to overcome. So, parents do not have to choose between shoving or not shoving. Instead, we pass along what and who we are. By our lives, we influence. By our words, we guide. By our practices, we instruct. By our passions, we inspire.

Moses said as much when he wrote, “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7 Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:4-7 (CSB))

When Jesus and his good news capture the affection of our hearts, we invite our kids to experience him with us, at our side. In our daily conversation and decisions, our kids see us pursue Jesus. They watch us choose his best over our preferences and theirs. They take note as we walk in his way and as we receive his forgiveness in our failures. They see us rest in his grace and grow in his wisdom. They join us as we make costly decisions that put him first in our finances and family relationships, and they learn to trust him with us for the consequences of those decisions. And they learn to love our church and join the mission of God in a community of imperfect followers of Jesus.

Every child has a choice to make about what to do with Jesus, so there’s no shoving allowed. But gospel influence happens in the smallest places of our hearts and homes. The stakes are too high for half measures. If Christian parents want to impact the next generation, if we want our kids to follow Jesus, if we dream of our grandchildren raising their hands to Jesus at youth camp, then we must turn our heart to Jesus, tear down every idol, and surrender every area of our lives to his Lordship. Our children will see the beauty of Jesus and the glory of the gospel by our passions and practices, and by God’s grace they will see the value of loving and pursuing him for themselves.

This post originally appeared here. 

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24