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5 Ways to Spiritually Equip Your Teens for College and Life

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Each new generation of parents faces new issues that make their responsibilities feel impossible. And today’s parents truly face confounding problems—like raising their kids in a digital age, or teaching them how to deal with the swirling issue of gender identity. And that’s in addition to the usual issues like sex, alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, handling money, etc.

Yet for each generation of Christian parents, everything seems to boil down to one issue. We want our kids to establish their own faith and learn how to walk with God. If you think about it, that’s the key to everything. Eventually your children will live on their own, and more than anything they need a vital relationship with Christ.

Does your child have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, pray that God will grant you or others the opportunity to share the gospel. Without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, no one will turn away from worshiping “false gods” like money, power, entertainment, sexual pleasure, or materialism.

But even with Christ in our lives, it’s difficult to walk with God. Especially as we go through the adolescent years. That’s why, as our children matured in their faith, we sought to help our children develop the following convictions:

Jesus Christ must be my Savior and Lord.

Regular prayer must be a crucial part of my daily life.

I must be the same person in private that I am in public.

The Scriptures are God’s Word and serve as my daily guide.

Nothing is more thrilling than fulfilling God’s mission for my life.

I will pass on a godly legacy to the next generation.

To help build these convictions into the lives of our children, we emphasized a number of key spiritual disciplines as they grew up:

1. Prayer. Our approach to prayer at home was to make it a part of daily life and events. Of course we prayed at meals and bedtimes and with individual children when needs arose. But we also prayed before tests and tryouts and trips. We prayed for overseas missions we supported, for requests that came through our prayer chain, and for administrators and teachers in the public schools our children attended. We prayed as we drove the children to school, and when they began to drive on their own, we reminded them to pray. We also prayed during our family devotions in the morning before school.

We also participated in “See You at the Flag Pole” before school. And we prayed for current events and crises, like when America was attacked on 9/11.

We wanted them to make prayer and dependence upon God a way of life.

2. Bible study. Our children grew up hearing Bible stories from the time they were very small. When they were preschoolers we helped them learn verses from a Bible memory program. We did some more formal Bible study weekly with our teens in junior high and early in high school, but it was a challenge because of schedules.

Young teens often don’t feel the need to study the Bible by themselves in their own quiet time. We didn’t see our teens take much initiative until they reached high-school age. The desire for personal Bible study seemed to come when they were on their own more and they saw their need to develop their relationship with God, to learn what He was telling them.

We could have imposed more Bible study on our teens, but we really wanted them to see the value of a close relationship with the Lord modeled in our lives.

On a fairly consistent basis Dennis went through the book of Proverbs with each child in high school. Proverbs is loaded with wisdom for life issues such as how to make good decisions concerning the opposite sex, how to make right choices, how to work, and how to be a faithful and responsible steward of what God has given you.

3. Church and ministry involvement. Healthy participation in the life of a church is a must. Your children may not always agree with the value you place on being a part of a local church. Our boys went through a time when they didn’t want to go. Because they were also involved in other Christian youth activities, we told them they didn’t have to participate in our church’s youth group, but missing Sunday morning worship was not an option.

Sunday needs to be a special day for many reasons, the most important being the opportunity to participate in a formal time to worship the true God and set apart the Sabbath as a day of rest.

And when our children graduated from high school and headed off to the university we sought to guide and coach them as they made their choice of where they attended. As we visited colleges with our kids and discussed the decision of where to go to school, we helped them research spiritually vibrant churches near the campus. We also checked out a number of parachurch ministries that were on campus and prayerfully sought out the ministries making an impact for Christ. Cru has a presence in over 1,000 campuses across the country and historically have impacted millions of students for Christ. Contact to get connected to either Cru Campus or Cru High School ministries.

4. Conferences. One of the most effective tools we used was youth conferences. These events may only take a few days, but they can grow your children’s faith, encourage them to make it their own, and give them a vision for reaching out to students at their school.

In addition to our church’s excellent spiritual life conferences for youth, we sent our children to a youth conference sponsored by Cru High School and also to “Mind Games,” a conference organized by Probe Ministries to help teenagers develop a defense for their faith prior to college. Samuel attended this during his senior year and wanted to go back the following year. This is a spiritually challenging retreat that gives these teens a headstart on developing a God-centered view of life and world issues.

5. Mission-mindedness. From early on, we let our children know that God has a special mission for their lives (Ephesians 2:10) and that He gifted them with abilities, personality, and certain qualities that will help accomplish His plan. We wanted our children to know that it’s better to be the lowliest worker in the will of God than the biggest worldly success outside of God’s will. We also emphasized that God calls His people to all kinds of vocations—not just full-time vocational ministry in the mission field—and that pleasing us was not a good enough reason to become missionaries.

One of the most important strategic moves you can ever make is to send your children to junior high and high school with a challenge to begin looking for ways to fulfill God’s unique purpose for their lives. When Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission, He was giving them a mission. Read His command and words carefully: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Teenagers need a challenging mission. Your kids need a higher purpose that will compel them to seek after God and His calling on their lives rather than following the herd after the lesser goals of materialism, popularity, pleasure, etc.

As our children moved into their teenage years, we told them they could become either a mission field or a missionary at school. A teenager who has become a “mission field” is peer-dependent. But a missionary teenager seeks to reach out to his peers and help them find Christ. Mission-field teens go with the flow of peer pressure; missionary teens grow in character and conviction because they are fighting the current.

One way your children can practically follow Jesus’ mandate is to get involved with a student ministry on their campus. Or if there is not already an active ministry on campus, help them get something started, like Cru High School. We helped our kids start a ministry on their high school campus and the benefits to our own family were remarkable. We found that involvement in a campus group creates a powerful sense of community for a preteen or teenager at school, the very place where negative peer pressure can be overwhelming. Our children received vital spiritual support through the encouragement and prayer of fellow teenagers, as well as through the adult leaders.

Another practical way to instill a mission mindset in your children is to go on a short-term mission trip, either here in the United States or overseas. In addition to the impact you will have for Christ, you will find that your children will change in significant ways as they move out of their normal comfort zone and see the need that others have for Christ.

One year Barbara took our three youngest daughters, Rebecca, Deborah, and Laura, on a two-week mission trip to Russia. Our girls had the privilege of handing out good news bracelets and Bibles. Two of them gave a gospel presentation through our interpreter. It was an experience they will never forget. Our girls gained a far greater appreciation for what we enjoy in this country, because they have seen firsthand what life is like for people in another land. They have tasted both the sacrifice and the joy of being a missionary.

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