Inspired by a True Story:  What You Can Do When a Young Person Drifts

Kara Powell

Two nights ago I had the chance to speak about Sticky Faith to an amazing group of parents and grandparents.  In the Q and A that followed, someone asked the toughest question for me to answer:  What can we as parents or grandparents do when our teenage or young adult children radically drift from the faith?

That’s hard for me to answer for a few reasons:  I haven’t parented teenagers yet so I know I am naive, and just like with all things Sticky Faith, there is no formula.  

In our Sticky Faith parent book, Chap Clark wrote a fantastic final chapter entitled “The Ups and Downs of the Sticky Faith Journey”.  Some of his research-based insights are: 

  • Growth and change are necessary and often messy.
  • Children need to own their own faith.
  • Children who experience unconditional love are more likely to have Sticky Faith.  In other words, more important than getting that young person to darken the door of a church building (which folks often think is the silver bullet to returning to faith) is that the young person know their parents and other adults love them—no matter what.

I saw the power of unconditional love in a grandmother I had lunch with earlier this week.  When her two teenage grandchildren were no longer able to live with either parent, she took them in.  The grandson had quite an “up and down journey” (to quote Chap).  His journey included drugs, drug rehab, a boarding school, being suspended from that boarding school, and multiple accidents.  

Yet it was this grandmother’s unconditional love that ultimately wooed him back to Jesus and to a more healthy life.  After one car accident in which he narrowly escaped death, this grandson wrote his grandmother a letter that includes the following: 

I love you more than anyone I know.  You have the most glowing and pure spark about you.  I admire your lifestyle and the way you maintain relationship with unconditional love.  You are my role model. 

As time slowed down in my car crash, my final prayer consisted of the thought of you while I begged God for forgiveness.  I apologize for my delusional priorities growing up.  I could never imagine drinking/smoking another God-given day of my life and you inspire me to grow closer to God.

Thank you so so so much for adopting me and raising me; putting me through rehab, college and surgery.  You have always been there to support me.

In the midst of young people’s journeys, including my own kids and the students at my church, I hope they will someday think about me, “You have always been there to support me.”


Published Jul 25, 2012
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of over 20 years, she serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women You Should Know", Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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