Navigating Theological Differences with Your Adult Children

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I’ve spent the spring watching a robin momma build a nest, feed her babies, and bathe in my birdbath. It was so fun watching her build the nest in anticipation of her baby birds’ arrival.  Then, after her eggs hatched, I could see the tips of their beaks pop up when she flew into the nest with breakfast. Now, I see their whole heads sticking up as they are growing and crawling out to the edge of the nest, with beaks open, anxiously waiting for her to bring lunch. Seems like all this poor mother bird does is hunt for worms and feed these starving nestlings. She did take a little time off for some relaxation in our birdbath, which I truly believe she deserves! Soon, her babies will learn to fly and be off on their own. 

Isn’t that the way all parenting looks? Wouldn’t it be nice if parenting children was just as predictable and successful? Did you grow up dreaming about a perfect marriage with perfect kids? As a Christ-follower, maybe you prayed for your future spouse and sought God’s direction even in your dating years. Did you ever think that if you loved Jesus, loved your spouse, and took your children to church, then they, too, would understand the truths of the Bible and be faithful followers as you launched them from the nest? 

What happens if your children do not choose Christ as their Lord and Savior? Or what if they accept Christ as their Savior, but they aren’t living by His truths? Do you feel like a failure as a parent and wonder what you did wrong? Doesn’t Scripture tell us to train up a child and he/she will get it?

In Proverbs 22:6 we read, “Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it” (CSB). But this is not a guarantee that our children, no matter how well we love and parent them, will choose to believe as we do. Regardless of the way you feel or how you parent, maybe you should focus on how to effectively have tough discussions with your grown children about the Lord in a way that nurtures your relationship with them and draws them to Him rather than pushes them away.

I talked to some friends, ministry leaders, and colleagues who also have adult children to get their thoughts about this issue. Here are practical tips you can use when you and your children do not agree on your theology of Christ:

Live it and keep living it out, personally and in front of your kids. Don’t give up because they didn’t choose it for themselves. They need to see that it is real to you and will not change even when circumstances are difficult. At times, rather than through words, they need to see the Bible in action in our own lives. Consider how you would talk to another friend or acquaintance in the same situation. The fact is I can’t live my life differently because they do not agree with my faith.

Allow your children to initiate deep conversations about their faith. Let them know you are available and even share your own faith journey as you can without forcing them to accept it for themselves. Choose carefully what to share and when.

Treat them as adults! Don’t try to fix their circumstances for them. Listen well and allow for their opinions without telling them where you believe they are wrong. Sometimes, they need your presence more than your preaching, which is hard for this Bible-loving, Bible-teaching blog post writer! I love what one of my friends said to her son when he told her all about his current life issue. She didn’t try to solve his problem. She said, “Wow, I’m sorry about that. What are you going to do about it?” She’d spent years as a Christ-follower mom raising him; now, it was time to allow him to choose for himself. Another friend told me her dad always said to her, “You will work it out.” Don’t hear me say we are not to be a source of help and information, but be cautious about continual rescue that delays their growth. Asking questions also causes your children to think about the problem without looking foolish and helps them to see you believe in them even when you disagree.

So many adult children take their theology from social network platforms and celebrities who claim to follow God. Ask them why they are questioning your theology and if they can back up their own theology with Scripture. Hear them out. Then back up your theology the same way. If you cannot, then perhaps your own is a little off.

Agree to disagree if you must. Keep in mind, some aspects of Christianity are non-negotiable to be a believer, but other than those, there is room to disagree. Celebrate the things you do agree on. You may find you agree on more than you thought!

NEVER give up on them and NEVER stop praying for them. God may be at work without you ever knowing it. Pray for the Lord to place other believers in your children’s lives to influence them when you are unable to. Pray for the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do.

Finally, JUST LOVE THEM! When our own prodigal returned to our nest after years and years of running, the only thing God asked me to do was this very thing. When I thought I had to straighten everything out and we had to see eye to eye on all issues, the Lord stopped me in my tracks. He told me clearly that He hadn’t asked me to fix everything but to just love her. That began an amazing restoration of our relationship that today is filled with so much theological discussion, and we do agree on most of it!

One of my colleagues said it so well: “The fact that you get to talk with your adult children who disagree with you is a blessing in itself. First and foremost is demonstrating unconditional love, and along with that goes acceptance—not acceptance of the disagreeable thoughts but acceptance of the person. Do this by genuinely enjoying time together without talking about issues you disagree about.”

This parenting journey is as much about our own spiritual growth as it is our children’s. Continue to seek Him and His Word because, even though we are adults living beyond our own parents’ nests, we will continue to grow in Christ until we see Him face to face. And the more we are in God’s truth, the more we will live it out well in front of our own children.

Chris Adams is an author, speaker, blogger, and women’s ministry consultant. She retired in 2017 after serving over twenty-two years as the women’s ministry specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. Chris helped pioneer women’s ministry as we know it today and compiled three women’s leadership books: Women Reaching Women: Beginning and Building a Growing Women’s Ministry, Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level, and Women Reaching Women in Crisis.  

Prior to her employment at Lifeway, she was the special ministries coordinator at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, overseeing women’s ministry and missions education.  

When Chris is not consulting, speaking to women, or training women’s ministry leaders, you can find her reading, with family, or spending time at the beach. She married Pat in 1971, and they have twin daughters, two sons-in-law, seven grandchildren, seven bonus grands, one great-grand, and a seven-pound Yorkie named Mo.  

Twitter & Instagram: @chrisadams4 Facebook: facebook.com/chrisadams4 facebook.com/chrismcphersonadamsWeb site: chrisadams.blog  

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