One of the most ineffective ways to raise a godly teenager is to offer a lot of pious platitudes while living a different way. It will bait plenty of accusations of hypocrisy and insincerity, provide a ready-made comeback for any parental commands (“Oh, it’s do what I way do and not what I do, huh?”), and will be more than adequate reason to reject and rebel against even the very best wisdom you could offer. It is only the slimmest of hopes that your child will really listen to your urgings to be smart and learn from your sins and weaknesses; and if they do, they are likely to view you more as an object of pity rather than as an honored parent. This is why as a parent you really must do your very best to demonstrate a genuine faith.
With this article on parenting godly teens I want to get a bit personal, if I may. My father was a petroleum geologist and my mother was a homemaker and substitute teacher. They were not in paid ministry, but they were always active Christians. My father was a deacon or an elder in every church we worshipped with for as far back as I can remember, and my mother was right there beside him providing meals, hospitality, and whatever else she could. My father’s faith often got in the way career-wise, however. The oil business is pretty cut-throat and the people wo often populate it are often guided more by the false gods of money and power than the true God of the universe. This often put our family in financial straits, having to make decisions and sacrifices for faith’s sake. To mom’s and dad’s credit, they didn’t hide the circumstances behind these tough times with us kids; instead they shared them with us and explained the spiritual “whys” of our sacrifices. I’m sure they didn’t share everything with us, but the net effect was spiritually substantial that has lasted down to the present hour — genuine discipleship. It wasn’t anymore heroic than it should have been, it was simple faithfulness to the Lord that was shared and, therefore, modeled for us that made all the Bible classes, sermons, and home-based teaching truly effective. Were there mistakes that they made? Yes, and when they were made they were usually owned and corrected before our eyes. They meant what they were saying for themselves, not just for us.
This is not said to lionize my parents — although for putting up with me, they probably deserve at least a Bronze Star — rather it is to point out a good example of something that worked pretty well on three teens that grew up to be faithful Christian adults. And it is to point out a practical living-out of what Deuteronomy 6:6, 7 talks about, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” This is done not merely by “teaching them diligently” through family devotionals or formal Bible classes in the home; it is also effectively done by just “talking of them” as you talk about — well — life. Talk about your challenges in your own life (and how the Scripture guides you through them), the temptations you may face (and what you’re doing to overcome), the hope you have in spite of the difficulties you face, and the stories from your own past and what things you’ve learned and are practicing now. Bring them with you as you work in the kingdom — my dad brought me (at 14 and 15 years old) to Nueces County Jail every Sunday for months to bring communion to some inmates, handing communion bread and cups through bars. Doing so helped make Christianity more than just a pious phrase about visiting the prisoners; it helped it become a life.
Abstract Bible teaching can be just that — abstract, ethereal, and theoretical. You are your children’s living models of what you can read in the Bible, you put flesh and bone on the teachings, and you can and should bring the words on the page to life. If you’ll do that, you’ll be leaving a lasting legacy of useful and cherished memories about how dad or mom lived out their discipleship. I still find myself occasionally asking what dad would do or say in certain situations — not that he’s better than Jesus, but because I’ve seen dad in action. I can still “see” the look on his face, “hear” the tone of hope and faith in his voice, and clearly remember the attitude of his heart through good times and bad time, demonstrated by what he did.
This may be the toughest part of parenting a godly teen, living up to the standard of godliness yourself. But it’s well worth the effort — for your teen’s soul and your own.