The Christian Home as a Training Ground, not a “Safe Space”￼
The term “safe spaces” is often met by Christians with mockery and derision. “These overly sensitive snowflake college kids need to learn to handle free speech and challenging ideas!” At the same time, there is also a widespread perception that university is a brutal gauntlet where Christian faith goes to die. The concern is not based on a myth. Statistically, as many as 60-70% of Christian young adults leave the church once they graduate high school and go off to college.
Thus, there is a tension between the Church’s desire for young adults to live in a world that is an open forum for contrasting ideas, and also the understanding that so many young Christians are proving unable to withstand this reality. Complicated problems rarely have simple solutions, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Nevertheless, I suggest that if the Church wants to raise up young adults that don’t need “safe spaces” at college, then we must strive to give our children something more than safe spaces in the home.
A Training Ground
In one sense, the family is (or should be) a safe space. The world is filled with evil and difficult trials, and the home should be a refuge of love and unconditional support. But the home should not be a safe space in the same sense as a college “safe space” where children are insulated from all alternative ideas and beliefs. Instead, it should be a purposeful and intentional training ground.
A question I’ve found myself asking is this: What am I preparing my children for?
As a father of two 7-year-old twin boys, I realize (sometimes reluctantly) that I may only have eleven years left to be a daily, physical influence in their lives. When this blissful period comes to an end, I pray that I will launch two Christlike young men into the world who are ready to go into the hardest areas of culture and shine the light of Jesus. Therefore, the next question to ask is: What must I do now to prepare them for that calling?
There is a world of difference between a college student and an elementary student. But just having birthday parties doesn’t produce wisdom. Children do not suddenly become discerning because they are handed a high school diploma. Discernment is taught and learned.
Jesus told his followers, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Christians are called to be innocent and holy. They are also called to be shrewd, wise, and discerning. A Christian home should foster both callings. Unfortunately, in my experience—and according to the sobering statistics—we are often sending children who are innocent as doves, but not shrewd as serpents, into a world of wolves and they are getting devoured.
A “Worldly” Education
When it comes to Christian views on media and entertainment, there is often a hefty dose of concern that can even border on sensationalism. The amount of persuasive power frequently attributed by Christians to today’s popular entertainment might lead you to think that if a child so-much as walks past a Harry Potter novel on the shelf of the school library then they will be dragged into a life in the occult. When I’ve reviewed movies, I’ve earned several ALLCAPS comments telling me that I had no right to claim the title of “Christian” if I dare to do anything other than angrily denounce every Hollywood film as demonic. Not only is the entertainment evil, but Christians should have nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Stripped of the sensationalist expressions, I understand the valid concerns. I have a PhD in aesthetics and culture and have researched the topic from every lens possible—philosophy, psychology, sociology, theology, etc.—and there is almost universal agreement that art and entertainment do impact people, often in subtle and unexpected ways (wherein lies the peril). Christians would be foolish to underestimate the power of entertainment. Yet, there is also a danger in overestimating it. The primary danger in secular entertainment is not that it exists, but that it is consumed uncritically. The issue is not just that Christian young adults are growing up in a culture permeated by such entertainment, but that they never learn how to navigate and engage with it.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Many Christians take this as a need to pull out of culture and shelter children from its harmful influence. Yet, Paul follows the statement by writing, “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In other words, the path to nonconformity to the world is not by withdrawing from it, but by changing the way we think in order to be wise and discerning in the middle of a sinful world.
If any exposure to an unbiblical worldview presented in an animated movie is enough to cause a child to grow up and reject biblical truth, then there has been a serious breakdown in discipleship. If the faith that I have labored to instill in my children for years as a father cannot withstand them watching the occasional Disney movie, then I’ll be far more concerned with evaluating my own shortcomings than being outraged at secular Hollywood. I desire to guard my children’s young hearts from impurity and moral filth, but I also want to train their minds to know how to discern God’s truth from the world’s lies.
To be clear, this is not at all to suggest that every tragedy of a child abandoning their faith can always be traced back to some failure in parenting or church discipleship. Satan is the father of lies, and sin is persuasive and seductive. Judas Iscariot had three years of discipleship from Jesus himself, and he still was sucked in and destroyed by the lies of the world. The intention is not to cast blame, but merely to examine what we as the Church can collectively do to best equip our young adults for the real challenges that lie ahead.
Protected But Prepared
The world is filled with dangerous and seductive messages and worldviews, and that is why isolation is not the answer. If the church wants to raise up faithful young adults to go boldly into the world, then we can ill-afford to squander their most formative years sheltering and hiding them from the world. If a college classroom is the first time a Christian becomes aware of contrasting worldviews and secular ideologies, then the church has not done all it should have done to prepare them to “give an answer to everyone who asks” for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15). We may have provided them with a quiver full of answers, but never allowed them to actually engage with the questions.
The church should not be surprised when our young adults are unable to withstand the intelligent and persuasive assaults on their faith in university, when just a few short years earlier we didn’t even trust their biblical foundation enough to withstand watching Frozen 2. The ideal time to teach children how to navigate secular worldviews is when they are sitting beside us in the living room, not when they live hundreds of miles away in a college dorm reeling from well-articulated challenges to their faith that they don’t know how to answer.
Notably, when Christian exiles and nomads (those who abandon or drift away from the church after high school) are surveyed, the reasons they give for their spiritual wandering is almost never because of exposure to some movie or entertainment (which is not to suggest that these did not also play a role). Rather, many of them express a similar sentiment that the church was simply not a safe place to ask questions, express doubts, or talk about important real-world issues. They did not leave because they were exposed to too much of the world, but because they weren’t exposed to enough of it. They were ready to engage with cultural issues and questions, but when they found no welcoming forum to do so in the church, they went searching for those answers in the world.
Does a 10-year-old need to watch raunchy R-rated comedy movies filled with a barrage of profanity and gratuitous sex to “understand what the world is really like”? Of course not. In fact, adults shouldn’t be watching that content either. Christians—both young and old—are called to be holy, and to guard their hearts and minds from filth. Exposing young people to a “worldly education” does not mean recklessly exposing them to everything before they are ready. Parents need wisdom and much prayer for how they navigate these issues. But those philosophies and worldviews are out in the world, and children must be prepared for them.
When Jesus prayed a final commission over his disciples, He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Christians should be careful about allowing the Evil One a foothold in their life. Parents should protect their children—but retreat from the world was never God’s plan. After all, we are not equipping our young adults for a life hidden away in safe bunkers, but for a courageous life on a spiritual battlefield.