Sticky Faith: Passing on our Faith to our Kids

By Leigh Ann Looyenga
When our three were little, let’s say 5, 3, and 2 months, it made me a little nauseated when people said things like, “Don’t blink.  They’ll be big before you know it.”  I know people mean well.  But let’s be honest, sometimes in those early years exhaustion can make the days feel loooong.
These words of a fleeting childhood hit me in a different way as we prepare to send our oldest to middle school. Although, this season is full of joy for me, it is also at times intensely scary.
Last winter as I wrestled with the reality of what it will be like for Caleb to grow up in a secular and pluralistic culture a book landed in my lap.  Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in your Kids was just what I needed to both be honest about the real and hopeful about God’s good plan for our kids… and for all of our kids.
A Brief Introduction to Sticky Faith
The book starts with the real, painful fact that almost 50% of kids that were brought up as Christians leave their faith during their college years.  Although, no scientific data is available, I’ve talked with Navigator staff that estimate a slightly lower rate of faith desertion for kids who were raised in Navigator homes.  The hard reality we all face is that young people are leaving faith and church at alarmingly high rates.  It’s proud and unrealistic to just assume that won’t be one of our kids.
Once that harsh reality is established, the book begins to share about another kind of research that is both fascinating and hopeful.  The Fuller Youth Institute has conducted a study to discover if there are any patterns among the young adults that stick with their faith.  Are there any consistent ways these kids were raised?  They combined their research and solid Biblical teaching to give parents wisdom about the essential aspects of a faith that lasts.  Before we jump into some of those key points, the book makes it clear these ideas aren’t a magic bullet, ultimately the Holy Spirit is the unique and powerful shaper of our kid’s heart and lives.
An overarching idea in the book is that parents play a vital role in the development and lasting nature of their kid’s faith.  The integrity of parent’s faith has the greatest influence of anything.  Christian Smith says, “When it come to kid’s faith, parents get what they are.” (24) As we look at a few specific features of sticky faith, honestly ask yourself to what degree this is true about you and your home.
1.  Sticky Faith is built on a solid understanding of the gospel.
The gospel is built on a person trusting Jesus and understanding that our obedience comes out of our trust.  It’s not about doing a lot of good Christian things or activities.  “A performance-based Christianity can last only so long. When kids reach an awareness –through failure or pain, or insecurity or inner wrestling with who is the owner of their faith- that they do no have the power or interest to keep the faith treadmill going, they will put their faith aside.” (36) This is radical stuff in the best sort of way and honestly makes the whole book worth it.
What does it look like to teach Scripture, Bible memory, and to discipline in a way that focuses more on trust than on obedience?  Do I really believe the most important character trait for faith is trust?  Or as a leader do I tend to personally focus more on “doing things right” and getting my kids “to do things right?”
2.  Sticky Faith is built on being a beloved child of God in a community of other beloved children.
Trust acknowledges that who I am and who my kids are is based on the lavish and unfailing love of God for us.  It’s wonderful if our kids are good at soccer, or a math genius, or a gifted piano player, or memorize the Bible regularly.  “But when how well our kids do at something becomes the primary rubric for discovering who they are we do them no favors.” (57)
Sticky faith also helps kids discover who they are in the context of community.  “A rich and sustainable faith recognizes that as I walk in community with God’s people, I ultimately discover who I am.” (59)  It takes intentional effort on the part of parents to build social capital around their kids, so they are enveloped by people who pray for them, care about them, and mentor them.
 Finally, grounding kids in regular rituals of faith that strengthens their identity in Christ is very important. This could be praying with them at bedtime, practicing Sabbath regularly, or consistently asking them about their day with an eye for where God is at work or where they struggled to see Him.
3.  Sticky Faith is built when honest and intentional conversation is a normal part of life.
The emphasis here is on creating spaces where your kids can talk to you about anything and know you will genuinely listen to them.  It’s more about learning to be a good listener than a stellar advice giver.  It’s about a willingness to engage with them on the tough topics like sexuality and doubts about their faith.  These conversations start small when our kids are young.  Sticky faith is built when kids are able to wrestle honestly with adults about what challenges them in life.
I hope I’ve whet your appetite to the treasures in this book both as a parent and a campus minister. You see the affects of sticky faith, or lack there-of, on campus every day. And as moms you pray to impart sticky faith to your kids.  Each chapter is packed with practical and researched wisdom.  I wish we could all sit together over coffee and talk about our thoughts and actions in response to it!
After twelve years of pastoral ministry, Mark and Leigh Ann, sensed God doing a new thing in them.  This new thing was to create spaces for ministry leaders to encounter Christ in the hurting places of their hearts and lives.  For three years they’ve served with The Navigators doing staff care and counseling on the PRT.  They enjoy leading soul care retreats, guiding reflective hikes, and equipping families to practice spiritual rhythms together.  They are grateful for God’s call to participate in the raising up the next generation of leaders through creating space for their three wonderful children, Caleb (11), Evan (8), and Cariann (5), to know Christ and make Him known. 

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