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Back in 2012, my wife, Amy, and I wrote a book together called It's Personal: Surviving and Thriving on the Journey of Church Planting. I like to joke and tell people that writing a book together is the third hardest thing we've ever done together.

A close second was a planting a church together. We planted West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, in 1997.

What could be harder than writing a book or planting a church? Raising kids! Our sons, Taylor (23) and Zachary (19), are great young men. We're proud of them. But parenting has been, by far, the most challenging thing we have done as a couple. Nothing has created more conflict between us. Nothing has made us cry more together. Nothing has humbled us more. Nothing has caused us to lose more sleep. Nothing has caused us to pray together more. And nothing has brought us more joy or been more rewarding.

Parenting is hard work! The rigors of planting a church adds a whole new level of difficulty. And once they become teenagers, well, it can get downright hard.

Here are two important things Amy and I have learned along the way.

Give your teenagers the gift of time

Nothing speaks more powerfully to your teenagers than giving them your time and attention.

At my seminary commencement ceremony, I remember our keynote speaker, James Dobson, giving a memorable talk on the two most important words he learned about relationships: "Be there."

So, early on in our boy's lives, we decided to be there for our children. Both our sons played baseball, football, and our youngest son wrestled. I coached several of their teams. When Amy wasn't cheering from the stands, she was working a concession stand. There were times Amy was not in church because she was sitting in bleachers somewhere. I spent priceless hours driving with them to ball games and sitting in dugouts with them. But our boys knew the gift of time was a value for our family, and so they could count on us to be there.

Another thing we decided to do was look for naturally occurring opportunities to influence and spend time with our kids.

Several years ago, Amy and I were in Boulder, Colorado, going through a process called Life Mapping. Our guide was Pete Richardson, one of the founders of Promise Keepers. Amy and I shared with Pete some of the guilt we felt about not doing an adequate job with structured family devotions and Bible memorization. I will never forget what Pete told us. He said, "You two are not wired for that, and neither are your kids. Put off the guilt, stop forcing things, and start looking for naturally occurring opportunities to influence and spend time with your kids."

He told us to slow down and listen to them. Listen carefully to them talk and, as life is happening, ask God to give you moments to speak into their lives.

He also said, "Build a fire. People start talking around a fire." So we bought a fire pit!

Last year, I jumped in the truck with my son and drove for eight hours to Lakeland, Florida, to watch the Detroit Tigers in spring training. Just me and him. I listened to a lot of his music, but I also got to listen to him talk. And every once in a while, he would say something that would turn into a teachable moment.

I have heard it said, "People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel." When this drive was over, my son looked at me and said, "Dad, I know you're busy. I can't believe we took this trip. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed hanging out with you."

Teach your teenagers to rely on the character of God

Several years ago, Amy and I asked ourselves, "What do we want our kids to know about God before they leave our house?"

As they are out on their own, and they go through tough times, as they face moments of disappointment and relational challenges, as they deal with grief and loss, when we are no longer around, what will sustain them and keep them anchored in their faith? What will cause them to stand firm in the face of persecution or danger or suffering?

Will it be church attendance?

Will it be keeping a list of rules?

Will it be all about "being good"?

Will it be about their music preferences?

No!

So we went to work on a list, and we spent a lot of time talking and praying about it. We even sought wisdom from a Christian counselor. He took a look at our first list and said, "This is a nice list, but this is all about performance. This list is all about what you want your kids to do for God. I don't think this is what you want."

So, we went back to work. What are the spiritual anchors we want our sons to have before they leave our house?

We decided we wanted them to know and understand four truths about God's character:

  • God loves them unconditionally. (John 3:16, Eph. 3:19)
  • They can trust Him completely. (Prov. 3:5-6)
  • He will never leave them. (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5)
  • Everything they need is "in Christ." (Col. 2:9-10)

It's knowing and learning to trust the promises of God. It's knowing His heart and character and knowing the truth about who they are in His eyes. It's knowing and believing what their heavenly Father says about them.

That's it! There is so much great truth in God's Word, but that is where we landed.

I want to encourage you to come up with your list. Feel free to use ours. It's not original. What are things you want your teenagers to know about God's character? What are the anchors you want your teenagers to have in their lives before you send them out into the world?

When we focus on giving our teenagers the gift of time, and we point them to the character of God that will sustain them, we invest in them in such a way that they grow to lean on God and love his church.