One Saturday I decided to take my son out to his favorite park.
I had just fed him lunch and figured he would most likely fall asleep in the car. Sure enough, after just 5 minutes on the road he was out!
I decided to drive through Steak 'n Shake to grab lunch for myself before proceeding to the park, where I figured I would read a book until he woke up.
Amazingly, despite the noises of me ordering my food, unwrapping my burger, and the kids screaming and hollering once we got to the park, my son remained peacefully asleep!
It occurred to me that he had taken so many car rides that his body was used to the noise and could sleep right through it.
It struck me, this is a perfect description of my wife and I’s plan to prepare our son to live as a Christian in an unbelieving world.
It has been very common for Christians to isolate their children from the world, but we have decided to inoculate instead.
This is something I take very seriously. After all, the way I raise my child can have very serious consequences.
Christians are losing their kids
It's been well documented that up to 75% of Christian youth walk away from their faith once they leave home after high school.
That’s right, 3 out of 4 teenagers who grew up in a Christian home leave the faith after high school.
Why do so many walk away?
A 2011 study by the Barna Research Group revealed 6 primary reasons young people had left the faith:
- Churches seem overprotective
- Their experience of Christianity was shallow
- Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- Their church experiences related to sexuality were often simplistic and judgmental.
- They wrestle with Christianity's exclusive nature.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Isolation doesn’t work
From the Barna study, I want to focus in on reasons 1, 2, and 6 of why Christian kids were leaving the faith: that the church was overprotective, shallow, and no doubts were allowed.
These three reasons are all interconnected and they stem from a big problem in the church today, and it’s that we tend to isolate our children from the world around us.
The church is often treated like a bunker where we gather to hide from the challenges of our culture.
Obviously, the church should be very different from the world, but we've gone a step too far and completely separated ourselves from society.
We think isolation will help keep our kids out of the world and in the church but it’s actually driving them away.
Another study, conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016, further revealed an underlying theme that Christians tend to walk away from their faith due to some form of intellectual skepticism.
Some of the reasons students gave as to why they left the faith included “learning about evolution when I went away to college”, and “lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator”.
So we have students who aren't being prepared to respond to intellectual attacks to their faith and growing up in churches that are overprotective, shallow, and unfriendly to those who doubt or have questions.
It's no wonder so many young people are leaving the church!
It's time to stop isolating our children, and start inoculating them.
What is inoculation?
The word is most commonly used in medicine.
It means to protect someone against a particular disease by injecting a medicine containing a small amount of the disease into them, so that their body develops a defense against the disease and becomes immune to it.
In summary, people are inoculated in order to develop immunity to a disease.
Likewise, I believe we can help inoculate our kids to the world.
Is inoculation Biblical?
In John 17:16-18, Jesus prays for his disciples, saying,
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
It’s very clear that Jesus’ disciples should be very different from the world. Their beliefs and character should be informed by God’s truth in his word.
Disciples are by definition, not worldly, but they are sent into the world.
In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus says his disciples are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.
He commands them, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
You can’t be salt and light if you never have any contact with the world. No, God has sent Christians to put God’s truth and love on display in the world.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This is perhaps the most famous verse on parenting, and it’s so important.
The key word is “train”.
You see “training” is very different from “teaching”.
“Teaching” is the dissemination or communication of knowledge while “training” involves action and practice.
If you’re going to train your child, you do it by giving them opportunities to live as Christians in the world, not by secluding them.
We inoculate young Christians by proactively preparing them for challenges to their faith, which they will inevitably encounter, by exposing them to a small amount of the unbelieving world in a safe and controlled manner.
3 Essentials of being a good inoculator
1) Good inoculators do their research
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the strains of the influenza virus that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming flu season.
In the same way, if we are to inoculate our children against secular ideas we need to first understand the specific kinds of challenges our kids are going to face.
Once we understand what these challenges are, we can begin to research the most effective answers and responses to those challenges.
Good inoculators are prepared to respond to the world’s criticisms of our faith.
2) Good inoculators treat prior to exposure
It doesn't do you much good to get a flu vaccine once you have the flu, right?
The vaccine is only effective if you get it early enough to allow your body to produce the proper response necessary to fight the actual disease.
As Christian inoculators, we too need to start training young people early.
Children are capable of understanding way more than we give them credit for.
By developing an approach that is both relevant and accessible, we can encourage people to love God with all their minds (Matt 22:37) and to think critically from a young age.
3) Good inoculators expose their children/students to challenges
It should be our goal as inoculators to make sure that our kids don't encounter a single objection to their faith at university that they didn’t first encounter with us in a safe environment and with a good answer.
Natasha Crain, Christian author and blogger wrote an article saying, “If your kids are someday shocked by the claims of skeptics, you didn't do your job.”
It is our job to make our kids and students aware of the best arguments put forth by non-Christians.
It means discussing books, watching YouTube videos, and browsing articles written by atheists.
By openly talking about the claims and arguments put forth by skeptics and then learning how to best respond, we're ensuring that they won't be caught off guard & unprepared later in life.
A walk in the park
Inoculating our kids requires work. It means we have to learn and be prepared ourselves. But the result is worth it.
When I went to the park with my son, it was amazing how he slept so soundly in the car despite the hollering of other kids and the crinkling of dad’s drive thru bags.
And when he woke up, we played and had a lot of fun.
It’s my goal to prepare my son as best as I can and hopefully one day when he’s a man, living as a Christian in the world will be a walk in the park.
You may also be interested in the following posts by Matt (Bio below)
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Matt has studied Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics on his own for several years now. He is passionate about sharing the evidence for the truth of Christianity and answering the objections of today's post-Christian culture. He hopes to someday earn a formal education in ministry and/or apologetics. Matt lives in Wyoming, Michigan with his wife Sara and Son Ezekiel!