What’s the single biggest difference-maker in passing a vital Christian faith from one generation to the next? It is fathers.
In early 2014, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California published an unusual book. It is based on nearly forty years of research with 350 families, and it asks one question: Why do some families pass on faith from generation to generation while others do not?
The answers the sociologist (Vern Bengtson) and his colleagues (Norella Putney and Susan Harris) found are, as you would expect from such a project, complicated.
Here is a part that isn’t complicated: evangelical Christians who grow up with a warm, loving father to whom they are emotionally connected are 25 percent more likely to embrace Christian faith as adults. A warm mom is important, but she makes a difference of just one percent.
Can you see why I am addressing this to you? In all of my work, I’ve found no other cause that has anywhere near this kind of impact. Men, you have the chance to be a game changer for your son or daughter.
Here is a bit more of what Dr. Bengtson has to say: “Fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad.” Over and over in interviews, Professor Bengtson said, he found that “a father who is an exemplar, a pillar of the church, but doesn’t provide warmth and affirmation to his kid does not have kids who follow him in his faith.”
There is an opportunity here, but if we are going to take advantage of it, we will need to unwind some perceptions and maybe change some of our own habits. Both statistically and by our own experience, we who are part of the church see that women are generally more active in their faith and all of its parts than are men. I know it’s true that many of us have benefited from a faithful mom or a praying grandmother. At home, which parent tends to form emotional bonds with the kids? It is the mom. As long as they provide well and are good moral examples, Christian dads who are disconnected from their kids might get a free pass. We men are known for being doers more than feelers, warriors who have to wrench a place for their families in a hostile world. Amen to the notion of “the warrior dad,” but this is a warrior who deeply cares about his charges and is emotionally available to them.
I am talking about men who live life “all in,” with what John Eldredge describes in “Wild at Heart” as a God-given desire for adventure. They don’t have to look like a Roman gladiator or a Scottish warrior. One of the most adventuresome men I know is a kindly, soft-spoken gentleman who lives in Central America and works to help poor communities obtain small, potentially life-changing loans.
Men, you are not God, but next to Him there is no one more influential in the life of your kids when it comes to following Jesus. Your wife can work to do everything to help your kids come to know the Lord Christ, but she can’t take your place. You can yourself be a shining example at your church, but if you have no ongoing bond with your kids, the whole project may very well go up in flames.
Make it your highest priority in life from here on out to have a warm, open relationship with each of your children. Remember that every son will “crawl over broken glass for his father’s approval” and that every daughter will learn whether she is worthy and beautiful from you more than anyone else. Your kids need so desperately what only you can give them.
Dan Dupee is the former Chairman of the Board for the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a Pittsburgh-based campus ministry working annually with over 32,000 students on over 115 campuses. He brings together biblical truth, sociological research, college transition findings, and focus group work with parents of adolescents to develop principles that are fresh, clarifying additions to a growing body of research on teen faith development. Dan and his wife, Carol, are the parents of four children. They live in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Penn. More information about his book “It’s Not Too Late” can be found online here.
Editor's Note: This passage was excerpted from Dan Dupee's book "It's Never Too Late."