One BIG Reason Teens Leave the Faith — and What Parents Can Do

by | Aug 2, 2019 | Faith | 41 comments

Why Teens Leave the Faith

There’s a lot of conversation about what causes people to leave the faith right now. Why do people reject Christianity?

Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has publicly stated he’s no longer a Christian and it’s sparked a ton of conversation.

It’s Rebecca on the blog today, and I wanted to talk about my experiences writing Why I Didn’t Rebel, because this was really the huge question I wanted answered when I wrote the book. Are there certain parenting practices which seem more correlated to kids rejecting Christ? So I reviewed the academic studies done on the subject, and then I interviewed 25 people about their faith journeys throughout high school and early adulthood to figure out what made some kids stick with the faith and others leave for a period.

I personally believe it’s really important to go through a period of questioning your faith. I think it helps strengthen our convictions to really wrestle with them, and it helps us separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to doctrines. What’s really important, and what is just a non-gospel stance I have? Does this help me act more or less like Jesus? What are things that I don’t know what I believe?

Furthermore, not all instances of questioning and doubting led to kids leaving the faith. For many of us, it made us stronger in our convictions and also led to us being a lot closer to our parents! But for others, it was the opposite. So today I want to start by talking about those kids who did rebel–the ones who left the faith for a time or acted out and what they said about their faith journeys in high school and beyond.

What I found again and again was that when teenagers question their parents’ faith or Christianity in general, it is usually over a matter of compassion or hypocrisy.

They see the pain and hurting of marginalized communities. They feel that there isn’t love or grace in the home, even though Jesus is talked about a lot. They feel that someone is being treated unfairly and no one cares.

And it shakes their faith.

For kids who rebelled, their parents all responded almost the exact same way: with arguments and crack-downs to make sure their kids got back to “right” theology. The teenager reacted with compassion, and the parents responded in anger. And it’s understandable–the parents were frightened; their kid was questioning something that was the core of their faith.

But here’s the thing: when your faith is more about doctrine than it is how you treat other people, or if you can’t wrestle with the pain and hurting of others without it damaging your doctrine, maybe your doctrine needs to be changed or put back in its place.

Because who sounds more like Jesus: the one who is broken up because of someone’s pain, or the one who works hard to make sure that the right rules are followed?

I believe one of the biggest threats to our faith is hardness of heart. And it’s really easy to slip into; we get so caught up in what the right doctrine is that we forget to ask ourselves who the people are behind what we believe. We focus on having the right theology, but we don’t actually put as much care and thought into whether we’re truly living out the fruit of the spirit.

But what we believe means nothing if we’re not living it out. Faith without works is dead. We are called to produce good fruit. So when your teenager is questioning his faith, instead of worrying about his theology maybe ask yourself–do we need to catch a bit of the fire of youthful conviction and compassion? Are we missing something? And wrestle through those topics together with your kid. Don’t be afraid if your theology or doctrine gets tested in the meantime, because sometimes we get stuff wrong. And you and your child can get to different conclusions on the topic and still both be following God.

Furthermore, all of the kids I interviewed for the book are Christians today. But not all of them came back to their parents’ faith.

Even the kids who were out doing drugs, having casual sex, getting arrested, and pretty much anything else you can imagine–they came back to Jesus in their 20s. But for the vast, vast majority of the kids who rebelled, that required discovering who Jesus was separate from their parents’ faith.

Almost every person I talked to who had rebelled said that they didn’t really meet Jesus until they left their parents’ home because they didn’t experience his love, grace, kindness, or peace. In other words, they were in homes void of the fruits of the Spirit. I know, that’s harsh, but when they found communities that were truly gracious, kind, loving, and humble Jesus became real. 

And the scary part is that those kids came from families who thought that they were doing everything right. They thought they were good Christians because they checked off all the boxes for what they believed. But teenagers are amazing tests for authenticity–they can spot inconsistencies from a mile away. So when you’re growing up in a home that talks about love, grace, forgiveness, and joy but isn’t loving, gracious, forgiving or joyful, God seems really really distant or simply not that important.

The unfortunate truth is that it’s really hard to know if you’re doing it all right or not. And I think none of us are, to be frank. That’s why it’s so important to have humility when it comes to these things. The kids who rebelled also had questions. They also doubted their faith and had to work through really big questions. But the difference was that their parents encouraged them to wrestle through and wrestled through it with them. There wasn’t this fear that kids would leave the doctrine–it was about honestly working through what it meant to be like Jesus in every situation.

My dad used to say, when we were talking about theology, “Rebecca, people have been arguing about this for over 2,000 years now. Let’s not assume we have all the answers yet.” I loved that–that mentality in my home is what made it OK for me to question what my parents believed, what I believed, what my church believed and know that it didn’t mean I was a bad person for being confused at times.

Parents, having humility about your doctrine or what you believe is, I personally believe, one of the most important things you can possibly do when it comes to raising teenagers who stay strong in the faith. Listen to your child when she doesn’t agree with something you believe–don’t jump immediately to proving her wrong or disciplining her for questioning. Understand that your kids are being raised in a totally different culture than you were, which means they will have their own blind spots but may also understand some things that your generation got wrong. Remind yourself that the gospel is what matters, Jesus is what matters, and as long as your child is trying to act more like Jesus, you’re in a pretty great place–even if you disagree on what that means in every circumstance.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

This is blunt but important we all understand: our rules, our political stances, and our non-gospel related doctrines are not the gospel.

John 3:16 does not say “that whoever believes the earth was created in 6 days, doesn’t get a tattoo when they’re 19, votes a certain way, and believes in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life”–it just says whoever believes in Jesus. We all need to remember this, no matter where we are on our journeys. We may believe our individual doctrines are important, but we need to keep them in their rightful places.

So please, for the sake of your children, never put your doctrine–whether it’s about sex, marriage, politics, the age of the earth, or anything else–above the call to act like Jesus. Recognize your kids may have a faith that looks very different from your own, and that may be a good thing.

And most of all, embrace the messiness that comes with youthful conviction. It’s actually a very healing thing, and can be an amazing tool for conviction and setting us back on the right track.

Your teenagers need you to be a safe place for them to bounce ideas off of and wrestle through the tough topics. And the way you can do that is by making sure the focus is more on acting like Jesus than having all the right theologies. Because at the end of the day, we’re called to love one another. And if your kid can clearly see that in your life, that’s the best witness for Jesus that you can give them.

What do you think? What is the biggest reason that teenagers leave the faith? Did you ever have doubts? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Mrs H

    Yes and amen! I’m so thankful for my parents who encouraged my questioning as a teen. My mom told me her story of searching when she was younger, and encouraged me that it’s okay to question my faith. She reminded me that God is bigger than a teenager asking questions, and He could handle it. My dad was my sounding board. My fondest memories were sitting with him as he remodeled their bathroom and asking him theology questions. They encouraged me to ask what did I believe and why do I believe it. They knew it wasn’t enough, and shouldn’t be enough, to just take their word for granted. My parents and I are very close now, and I’m so thankful for them!

  2. Amanda

    Totally yes, I think this is definitely accurate for a lot of kids. I went to Lutheran school up to 8th grade and literally only a small handful of us still go to church or practice Christianity. I can’t judge their homes from the outside but I could completely see this being the case.

    One more point that somewhat goes along with the article- these are the words of my 19 year old brother who has completely turned against Christianity- he said once that he would hate to be a Christian because of how boring it is. And I was so disappointed to hear this! Because since changing churches a few times I’ve been able to see Christians that do live very “exciting” and full lives! Because if we are really living under the influence of the Holy Spirit, life is probably not going to be boring. Jesus was definitely NOT boring! It’s so convicting to think about as I’m now a parent of two little ones.

    Thanks for having this conversation!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true, Amanda! I think I’ve written about my mom’s life. She’s the picture of “not boring”. It’s such an interesting case study–maybe I should write a bigger post about it. But my dad left the faith and my mom (and me), and his life got so SMALL. My mom embraced Jesus, and her life is HUGE. Like seriously huge. She’s heading to Kenya again on Sunday for the 10th time, where she’s transporting a ton and a half (literally) of donations that she’s collected from people knitting, and she’s going to go help at this children’s home. Plus she’s “adopted” about 6 grandkids that she sees on a regular basis to help out. And she still gets people coming to her advice from her professional life of career counseling. She’s kind of become a defacto life coach, and everybody wants to have coffee with her. Her schedule is always packed; there are always donations at the door; and her life is very, very big and exciting. Not what anybody would have planned, but big and exciting. But it’s because she thinks of Christianity as something you live out, not just something you believe.

  3. Julia

    This translates so well to the non-christian population in general. So many are so turned off by the idea of Jesus because of hypocrisy and a misrepresentation of the gospel.

    There is so much to be gained from this. Thank you!

  4. Phil

    He Becca – Thanks for this! So I was one who rebelled and there were many reasons I suppose. The bottom line is this. God gave me the way out and I took it. I am so thankful for that. Recently I was at Scout camp with my 9 year old son and one of the other kids said he didn’t believe in God he was more science based. My son immediately said well then you can’t be part of Scouts then. Because Scouts is a God based program. I had to interfere with that conversation and tell him that this boy had his right to his thoughts and opinion and that the entire idea of accepting his concept is that so maybe he might open his mind and see our belief. It’s like telling someone they are not allowed in the church because they are openly gay. To me the entire concept is to want that person in the church so that they might see God’s true word and make the change or maybe in the case of homosexuality maybe they cannot change but they can choose not to act on it. At the end of the day this kid then said – Well I do believe in God but I really believe in science too. I don’t know what that kid really believes but I know this. He is working on it. I struggle sometimes when I teach Sunday school. I am no theologian and I honestly do not know the Bible that well but I am working on it. So when I stand up there and teach I am deathly afraid of getting it wrong. What if I say something that is theologically not correct? What If I lead someone wrong. Here is what I found out that makes me laugh actually. 90% of the people I am teaching did not even read the lesson before they came to church. I couldn’t put a number on this but many of the people I am teaching know less than I do. They are church attenders. Some even are participators. The thing is you can tell they are working on it. We are working together. I got this from another blogger recently. He said he writes not because he wants you to agree with him. He writes because he wants you to THINK. I love this so much. The is what I do. I speak with folks in my 12 step group or I teach Sunday school and I am not necessarily right, but if I got you thinking then I am doing God’s work. Oh..and Congrats to you and Connor on your little if I didn’t say already 🙂 Hope you are past the sickness and feeling well. Have a great weekend everyone….

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Phil! And that parenting moment with your son? Awesome job, Dad.

  5. Nathan

    Two things Sheila said (here and on the “reclaim sexy” thread)
    > > when your faith is more about doctrine than it is how you treat other people …
    > > maybe your doctrine needs to be changed or put back in its place.

    > > People have been disagreeing over what constitutes orthodox faith for 2000 years.
    > > To assume that we have everything right is awfully ahistorical.

    Very true. Being a good or faithful person should mean much more than just following an overly complicated list of minutia rules. It should be about being a good, loving and kind person.

    Also, we need to let kids know that being a Christian doesn’t make us perfect or even “better” than anybody else.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Nathan! As we follow Jesus, we will instinctively act like Jesus. It’s amazing as you read the gospels how little Jesus talks about WHAT to believe and how much He talks about HOW to act. We’ve really gotten that backwards. We must remember that He came to save–not just in a spiritual sense, but also for something with real world consequences, how He wanted the world to look more like heaven. We pray, “your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven…” We don’t pray, “let everyone believe the right thing.”

      I actually believe doctrine is very important. But unless the doctrine translates into making God’s will more prevalent on this earth, our doctrine is likely flawed.

  6. Lindsey

    I wholeheartedly agree that it’s so important to allow your children space to work through questions. God is bigger than our questions!

    I never had a period of doubts as a teenager, but I have recently been through a long period of questioning (I’m still in it, in fact!). This has led to me rejecting some extra-biblical doctrines that I had previously held. However, the core of my belief remains intact.

    The only issue I had with this article was this:
    “So please, for the sake of your children, never put your doctrine–whether it’s about sex, marriage, politics, the age of the earth, or anything else–above the call to act like Jesus. Recognize your kids may have a faith that looks very different from your own, and that may be a good thing.”

    I know that you believe and teach that Christians can still commit sin, and should repent of their sin and change. So, this isn’t really a critique of your theology in that respect, it was just that how this is worded triggered some alarm bells in my head. If something such as sex, which is so CLEARLY addressed in the Bible (in terms of sinful and non-sinful) can be thrown out and your children still be a “different” kind of Christian, then where does it end?

    I’m not arguing with the basic premise that we should always seek to be Christ-like, but Christ didn’t avoid telling people that they were sinning. He did it out of love. Sin hurts, and in today’s society we are being pushed to accept all manner of sin and brokenness and celebrate it as “good”, and if you talk about the consequences of certain lifestyles then you’re a bigot. We are told even by some in the Christian community that you can be living in and practicing sin, and still, be a Christian. But this is also an unbiblical doctrine.

    If Christ could just make something not a sin, why did He need to die in the first place? Sin is still sin, and Christ bore the eternal consequences of our sins IF we repent and forsake them. But I think it’s still really important to not be afraid of calling out sin as sin and talking about the physical consequences of those sins (which Christ did not remove). Parents should be explaining to their small children all along how sin has negative effects in our life, and how it hurts us. I think failing to help them understand that logically is a failure on the part of parents. Hopefully, if they understand that, then they won’t rebel into those sins, even if they reject some other doctrines.

    However, if they do choose to practice a sinful way of life, a loving parent would make it clear that they loved them, but that they didn’t support their decisions. Similarly to how you don’t enable your substance-addicted child, but you also make it clear that you love them. This isn’t failing to act like Christ (which I’m not saying that you were saying, but it could be taken that way), and it’s important that we emphasize this in our current culture.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yeah, Lindsey I totally understand where you’re coming from.

      What I meant by that is that many of the children who rebelled would bring up different ideas about purity culture, same sex marriage, boundaries, or the like and instead of engaging in a helpful conversation parents just shut them down with anger and punishments for even questioning the parents’ ethic.

      You don’t have to agree with your kids on everything–and you have every right to explain your perspective and why you hope they take that perspective on themselves! But we also need to remember that if you believe dating is wrong and your kids believe it’s not, or if you believe same-sex marriage is wrong and your kids are struggling with that, they’re allowed to work through those things and shouldn’t be punished just for asking hard questions. But so often I talked to young people who left the faith because they couldn’t even TALK about these things without getting in trouble and they just felt that their parents cared more about the appearance of being Christian than actually showing other people compassion. That’s what I was getting at. 🙂

      • Lindsey

        I agree with what your are saying. Ironically, I am in my late 20’s and cannot talk about the Bible or religion with my parents because I no longer hold some of the extra I live beliefs that I once did, and I know they now feel like I am “falling away”. I don’t want them to worry, or be upset, so I just don’t discuss it with them.

        I think it’s really important to, for parents to know what the Bible actually says and what “extra rules” they’ve added in order to make it more difficult to go against the Bible. It starts out well, but it rarely ends well. That was what the Pharisees did, and it ended up taking people away from the commands of God that are based in love to the traditions of men that are based in fear.

        Just using your own example, parents may not think dating is God’s best for their child, but you cannot turn to a verse that says not to do it. You can give chapter and verse (old and New Testament) that condemn homosexual *activity* as wrong, but it also shows that temptation is not a sin. I would never want my children to struggle with homosexuality, but if they did, I would tell them that their Christian responsibility is the same as all non-married heterosexuals – to take their thoughts captive and walk in integrity by not sleeping with anyone outside of the bounds of marriage as God ordains it – between man and wife. Yes, it would be difficult, but it isn’t more difficult than those who never find a spouse.

        But yes, parents must not allow themselves to be driven by fear when their child starts to question things, because perfect love cast out fear – and it is the perfect love of God that draws people to Him.

  7. Colleen G

    Excellent. I am in my 40’s and have had some pretty intense struggles with theology and even my faith. It is so important to hear the heartache behind the questions, doubts and even rejections instead of obsessing over the details of theology.
    What kept me coming back even though I tried to leave was that in the end I really had to problem with the cores beliefs such as are laid out in the Apostle’s Creed. It was a whole bunch of other stuff that I felt I had to agree with or experience in order to have a connection with God.
    While we should speak out when a theology or teaching is hurting people most of the time we should just agree that Jesus is the way and let people, even of our family, experience their walk with Him on their own terms.

  8. Nick Peters

    Sheila. I would like your permission to share my website here. I am a Christian apologist who answers questions about how one knows Christianity is true and also deals with issues regarding sexual ethics. Christian apologetics is absolutely essential to preparing our young people and I would be happy to help any of your readers.

  9. nylse

    The Bible does say work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and there’s no age limit on that.
    We also encouraged our children to know the word for themselves. Don’t take it as gospel because we (the parents) said it. Again we went back to the scripture that said prove all things; hold fast to that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. It felt radical at the time, but living out Scripture usually is. So we lived this and encouraged our children to do the same because we can all have blind spots. The truth of God’s word is applicable for children and parents. As parents, these verses require exercising faith, not fear. We aimed to be faithful in every aspect of our lives. So many rebel because parents are fearful.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I love that–“don’t take it as gospel because we said it.” So important, especially since it shows the kids that you as the parents are willing to be proven wrong. That’s so important, and so encouraging for young people working through their faith to have role models who are flexible while also being firm in their convictions.

  10. Nathan

    Sheila says
    > > I actually believe doctrine is very important. But unless the doctrine translates into making God’s will more prevalent on this earth, our doctrine is likely flawed.

    You’re right that it is, but for a Christian, there’s very little of this in a hard documentation sense. Things like there is One God, the bible is our spiritual guide, all humans are imperfect, the ten commandments, sex is for marriage, Jesus is our path, and a few other things.

    Doctrine is good, but we need to avoid it getting too big and ponderous and irrelevant, and as you say, it should always point us towards enacting Gods will and being good and loving people.

  11. Nathan

    In the olden days of high school (80s) one of my youth pastors would do some sarcastic play-acting about what it means to be a “Good Christian”.

    “Sure I’m a good Christian! I go to church every Sunday, and the guy gets up there and yells at us for an hour about sin or something, and I sing really loud, and pray really hard, and wave my bible all over the place!”

    Jesus himself said that not everybody who says “Lord, Lord” will go to Heaven. He can see past our outer shows and into our hearts. He also told us that the two most important commandments are to love the Lord and love others as ourselves, and that all else hangs off of these two commandments.

  12. Nathan

    Another good example of this is that silly “98 ways a wife can sin against her husband” list. It’s main flaw was its underlying assumption that women were created to serve men and that the man was the undisputed king of the household and family, with the wife basically being the hired help. Another issue with that was that there were just so many little rules that the whole thing collapsed of its own insanity.

    Note, though, that SOME of those rules were actually good, if applied to both husband and wife equally, like “be each others best friend”.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! I know a lot of girls especially who question the faith because their parents have them in a church that treats women horribly. We were very cognizant of that when our kids were teens, and we even left a church over how they treated women. I wanted my girls to know that they mattered to God. It was a big part of me questioning my faith as a teen, and what saved me was that a woman I deeply respected showed me how much Jesus honoured women, and how many of the ways we interpret things are just off. That let me know that Jesus still loved me, even though I was a girl. Parents need to understand the struggles that some of those doctrines cause daughters especially, even if it’s never had that effect on them.

  13. Nathan

    Rebecca says
    >> But so often I talked to young people who left the faith because they couldn’t even TALK about these things without getting in trouble and they just felt that their parents cared more about the appearance of being Christian than actually showing other people compassion.

    This is true, and very sad. People, especially kids, need to know that they can talk to and ask their parents ANYTHING, and it’s okay, and that the inner heart is more important than the outer appearance.

    Getting in trouble for just ASKING something leads to a bad place.

  14. Madeline

    Love this! Rebecca, you are awesome. And it sounds like your dad is too! I love his humility in your theology discussions.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yeah, Keith loved debating things with the kids!

  15. KellyK

    I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. In my junior year of high school, since I had gone to the Catholic church’s religious education classes since grade 1, it was time to be confirmed in our faith. Hmm…….

    While I believed in God, I did not believe that I needed to confess my sins to the Priest each week. I did not also believe that divorce is absolutely wrong no matter what the circumstance, I also did not believe that couples who had children out of wedlock should not be able to be married in the RC church because of that! A high school classmate who grew up in the same church with me, had a baby with her now-husband of 25+years before they were married. Our church REFUSED to marry them! Even though her grandfather was a founding member of said church. So, they got married in a different church and are still married and went on to have another child.

    Then there is the story of my cousin. She grew up in the RC church as I did. Confirmed..etc. However, she was 5 months pregnant when she got married at my parish. Had the Priest known that? I assure you that he would not have married them, even though my late grandmother was another founding member of the same church.

    I did NOT want to be confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I did not believe in their tenants. However, my mother told me, until you are 18, you will do as I say. As the eldest of 3, I obliged. I had to totally fabricate reasons to the Priest during my 1:1 interview with him before he would allow me to be confirmed. :/ And that Christmas after being Confirmed against my will? Rather than celebrate Christmas Eve mass with my family, I sat in the car! LOL

    I am the only one of my siblings who was confirmed in the Catholic Faith. When it was my brother’s turn 3 years later, my mother gave him the opportunity to choose. An option NOT available to me.

    That same year, 1994, my mother left the Catholic faith and has not returned. Nor have any of the rest of us. My brother was married in a Catholic Church in 2009, but only because his wife was Catholic. Our dentist, who is a Deacon at that church, performed their marriage ceremony, up until the actual vow part, which the Priest has to perform..

    My issue with growing up Roman Catholic? WE NEVER EVEN OPENED A BIBLE! NOT ONCE! I WENT TO RELIGIOUS EDUCATION CLASSES FROM 1978-1989 and not ONCE DID I EVER OPEN A BIBLE. It is my opinion that they preach more on Catholic Doctrine that what Jesus said/did in the Bible. Which to me, is how we should live our lives!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Kelly, I think your story demonstrates how teens are so hyper-vigilant to spot hypocrisy (of which the Catholic Church does not have a monopoly, of course). Teens are very upset about it, and they can spot it a mile away. That’s why adults need to let their kids voice it. They see it anyway, and if you don’t let them voice it, then they end up feeling as if the whole thing is a lie. We have to let teens speak truth, even if that truth is uncomfortable. I’m glad you’ve landed in a better place now!

  16. Natalie

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1787

    One of my favorite quotes. I think one of our missions as parents is to guide our children through their questions. We shouldn’t automatically condemn or belittle or make them feel like they’re being a bad Christian or a bad person for questioning the status quo. We should listen and question with them, and then (in the case of spiritual questioning) help them study God’s Word and find their answers. That’s at least my goal for when my kids get to that age.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Love that quote!

  17. Cassara Morgan

    The best book I’ve read concerning this topic is called Tall Law. It helped me understand why Christian Church kids “go bad”

  18. Arwen

    If God Himself isn’t afraid of our questions even commanding us to come BOLDLY before His throne, and the dozens of times He said to ASK, and the hundreds of Biblical characters who have interrogated Him like Job, David, Paul, the Disciples, etc. Then why do we mere humans become squeamish at ANYONE questioning our faith? We’re commanded by God to be like the Bereans, studying scripture to give an answer for the faith and hope that lays within us.

    “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD” -Isaiah 1:18. God isn’t afraid of your questions and as His followers neither should you be. If YOU don’t know the answer direct them to someone who does. Great article Rebecca.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  19. BJ

    Love this piece:)
    I found myself wondering though if the parents of the kids who rebelled, the ones who discouraged any questions of faith, if they ALSO were the kind of parents who discouraged questions of any kind, who just wanted kids to OBEY and have/had no interest in teaching them to use their own minds, of letting them develop their own reasoning skills or just want their kids (and everyone else perhaps) to ‘fall in line’ so to speak.
    I was thinking while reading this that my mother was one of those kind of parents. I never went to her with hard questions, or anything that might hint at dissent. And I feel like I would have been a lot better off if I felt like I could have gone to her with hard questions and not been afraid of the way she would react.
    It’s as if questioning the faith or my faith equals questioning HER faith. She and I are considerably closer now, however there are still a few very Major parts of my life that she doesn’t even know about because I don’t want to go back to feeling like she will reject me.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I did find that actually, BJ. Obedience and authority were much more of a focus among families with kids who rebelled than among families with kids who didn’t, when I did my interviews. I think that a lot of it comes from this fear that parents have that their children will make a bad choice or a mistake and because of that fear, they clamp down harder. But it ends up making a lot of kids feel like their parents don’t understand them, don’t trust them, or don’t respect them. It’s very sad, actually, since so many times these people I interviewed said they firmly believe their parents were just acting out of love, but it made it so difficult to connect with them that they don’t have as good of a relationship as a result.

      • Wanda P.

        All good points! I agree, a lot of times people worry too much about their kids losing their faith, when really their faith is just evolving. And it SHOULD evolve! If you have the same faith at 20 that you did at 6, then it’s probably not a very mature faith that’s gonna stand up to, well, LIFE.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is a very sad place to be with your parents! As parents, we really do need to open ourselves up to listening to our kids’ hearts, because if we did that, we may find a lot of the questioning isn’t as scary as we think.

  20. Eliza

    Such a good article! I’m seventeen and due to my upbringing I used to practically despise Christianity, but I’ve found my faith in the past year. One of the things that has made faith so hard for me is that I’m same sex attracted (but now celibate), and my experience with Christians was terrible. I was threatened, harassed, and called names by the same people who preached that God loves all His children (as long as they were white, straight, American, neurotypical, and male, of course). I hated myself. I was bitter and scared because I felt as though God despised me, didn’t want me, and was placing unfair restrictions on my life. I’m so blessed that He has pulled me out of that place, but my story is by no means unique and we need to keep talking about the experiences that lead so many people see Christians (and thus, Christ Himself) as imposing, uncaring, and repressive.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Eliza. I’m glad that you’ve encountered the real Jesus. Keep asking the hard questions!

  21. anonymous

    I really appreciate this article. My wife and I have had quite a few discussions on this topic as our three children have gone through their teens and into their twenties and had legitimate questions.

    While we really tried hard to put a lot of the principles discussed in this article into practice, I have to admit, it was really scary at times. And sadly, I’m at my worst when I’m acting out of fear…. (sorry kids!)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think we’re all at our worst then. Seriously, parenting is scary, especially when we want so desperately for our kids to know Jesus. It is so hard!

  22. Lisa

    Sure, kids can be led astray by the failures or deficiencies of our parenting, but I have known many families where that is not the case; having several other children that are following the Lord would support that. God was the perfect parent to Adam and Eve, and placed them in a perfect place, and yet they still rebelled. While those still in the active parenting phase might find insight into how to train and listen to and support their kids, those whose kids are out of the home don’t need to wallow in guilt. Repentance and forgiveness may be in order, but after that our adult children need to own their choices, and parents need to refocus on the God who remains perfectly concerned about their kids’ spiritual welfare. We can find hope in His character and His power. We can pray for our kids to be overwhelmed by Hs beauty and glory.

  23. Praying 4 Better Days

    Sorry for the long post, I’m just really passionate about this topic.

    People lose faith when they question Christianity…& NOT those who claim to be Christians. It’s usually a corrupt mouthpiece acting like a gatekeeper who makes people question if being a Christian is good. Why would they trust Christianity to be good when devil like people are acting as Christian spokesman.

    I never went thru this phase of questioning my faith because my parents always taught me to not to obsess over self applied labels. You can’t always trust a label especially a self-prescribed one that purposely makes you look better & leaves out your dangerous ingredients. The label obsessed worship the church building & pastor like they are gatekeepers to Heaven. If you’re not careful you make those labels…idols. That’s why people turn a blind eye to corrupt preachers, deacons etc. A preacher, deacon, church mother etc is just as big of a sinner as everybody else. And too many people allow mis-labels to let them get away with murder. Fake Christians tarnish what Christianity is supposed to be really about.

    I learned early on that you can’t take people for they say but to “believe them when they show you who they are.” Most Christians just try to live right & don’t feel the need to use the Christian label to manipulate you into doing as they see fit. Everybody who screams they are a Christian probably isn’t a Christian. And being a Christian by no means being perfect because it’s not possible unless you’re Jesus. I live by the verse that says “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself & Not to Treat Your Neighbor as Your Footstool”…I’ve found that many so-called Christians don’t particularly like to think of others as their equals. Whether the conversation is about greed, envy, sexism, racism etc you’ll find that those who are guilty of these never see those whom they victimize as their equals.

    When I was growing up I ALWAYS noticed even at the age of 5…when ALL people weren’t getting treated the same way by people who claimed to be Christians. They showed me that they weren’t true Christians, it was just a mislabel.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      That idea to believe them when they show you who they are is so important. I wish more teens understood that–and more parents emphasized that Christians aren’t simply Christians because they call themselves so–they are Christians if they exemplify Christ’s love for others.

      Some much needed tough truths in this comment here, thanks for sharing.


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