Barna: Parents’ Discipleship of Children Is Critical to Transforming Culture
Surveys show that Christian identity is in decline in America. A study conducted by Family Research Council suggests that only 6% of the adult population has an authentic biblical worldview. So how can believers more effectively spread the gospel and begin to reverse the trend? Sociologist and researcher George Barna has an answer: it starts with children and how they are raised.
Barna, the director of research at the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and senior research fellow at FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview, has authored a new book, “Raising Spiritual Champions: Nurturing Your Child’s Heart, Mind and Soul,” which is scheduled for release on Labor Day. In it, he argues that a biblical worldview must be instilled in young children in order for it to last into adulthood, and parents must be primarily responsible for this critical undertaking.
But as Barna explained on Wednesday’s edition of “Washington Watch,” it took him a while to come to this realization.
“[In my] early to mid-30s … I had bought into the myth, the lie, if you will, that effective ministry is all about focusing on adults,” he admitted. “Now, I’ll tell you, in the 25 years since then that we started doing that research — and I’ve been building on that for the last quarter century — one of the things that I’ve discovered is that adults basically don’t change. Now, the Holy Spirit can change anybody at any time. I’m not questioning that. Don’t doubt that I’ve seen that. I get it. But I’m a sociologist and a researcher, and I deal with averages. And I’ll tell you that on average, adults do not change unless they encounter a major crisis in their life.”
But this is not the case with children, Barna argued. “Children are in a period of their life where they’re trying to figure out, ‘How does life work? What matters? Who am I? Why am I here?’ All kinds of very fundamental questions that once they answer … they retain the answers for the rest of their lives, and they build on those as foundation stones.”
Barna contends that a big problem with the church in America is that millions of Christians simply accept Christ as their savior, but never take the next step of living a life committed to Christ and knowing Him more deeply. He maintains that understanding how a person’s worldview develops is key to helping more people take that next step in faith.
“[W]e found that there are four different worldview phases that people go through,” Barna explained. “And the most important of those is the first phase. And it starts when somebody is 15 to 18 months of age. … And that worldview development phase is essentially completed by the time they reach the age of 13. Now, during the teens and 20s up to the mid-20s, sometimes later 20s, what we find is that people take that worldview that [they developed as] young children as the foundation for their life.”
So why does worldview matter so much? “It’s the decision-making filter that every single person has,” Barna observed. “Every decision that you make, every decision I make, every decision [a person makes] is made on the basis of their worldview. And so their worldview is their intellectual, their emotional, their moral and spiritual filter that helps them to understand how things work, what’s right, what’s proper, what’s appropriate, how they’re going to navigate life.”
Barna further asserted that the modern parenting tendency to delegate others to teach their children has contributed to a societal decline in biblical worldview.
[E]ssentially what’s happened is we’ve developed a kind of a new model of parenting, which I describe as outsourcing,” he noted. “… [W]e … look for people who can do the best job in different dimensions of our children’s lives. And so we’ll look for the best teachers, the best coaches, all of these kind of people who we can hire or cajole into spending a lot of time with our kids to give them whatever kind of training and development and experiences that they may need. But what’s happened as a result of that outsourcing model is that parents have stepped back, and they’ve handed over the worldview development process to all of these outsourced experts, the professionals, the ones who allegedly have better experiences, better processes than we do.”
“[W]hat we discovered,” Barna continued, “is that most parents have no plan for what they’re going to do to raise their children up. Less than 10% of them have any kind of a spiritual development plan for their children. And that includes worldview development. And then when you look at the parents themselves, what we know is that only 2% of parents in America today actually have a biblical worldview. You can’t give what you don’t have. So we’re in a situation where we’ve got a lot of parents who are winging it.”
Barna went on to encourage parents to take their primary educator responsibilities seriously and invest the time to form deeply authentic relationships with their children.
“We found that parents that had a spiritual and worldview development plan are much more effective at raising spiritual champions,” he emphasized. “Those who are consistent with their children over the course of the 15 to 20 years they have their children — they’re much more effective at building deep relationships with their children, which means investing a lot of time. [It’s not always about] telling them what to do or [what] to think, but spending time listening to what the child is saying so that you can respond appropriately, knowing where you want to take them, hearing where they’re at, and then bringing them forward to a different place and making sure that the Bible is the foundation of your conversations.”
Barna continued, “We found that these conversations have to take place around real world events. Tell stories, get examples from your children of what they’re going through in life, and relate biblical principles to those stories, but do it not by beating them over the head with God’s Word, but by asking them questions about what they believe, why they believe it, what they did, why they did it, asking if they’re familiar with different biblical principles. Do they think that might have worked in the situation?”
“Those kind of conversations are so critical, but none of it will take root unless you as a parent model that in your own life,” Barna concluded. “That’s part of that consistency element which is so critical.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.