It’s Not Too Late, Dan Dupee. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.
Summary: A book addressed to Christian parents of teens making the transition from high school to college on the continuing important role parents may play in their teen’s faith journey.
Last week, I reviewed Losing Our Religion by Christel Manning on the phenomenon of “nones”, adults who do not identify with any established religion, often having left the religious upbringing of their family and now facing the challenge of how to address the question of religion with their own children.
This book addresses the other side of this discussion, the desire believing parents have to see their children continue in their faith, and in the context of this book, Christian faith in particular. Given the rise of the “nones”, the fact that a number of young adults walk away from their faith during their college years, and the feeling that one’s influence over one’s children ends on move in day at college (we felt that), many parents wonder what can be done other than pray like crazy, not a bad thing in itself.
Dan Dupee, the chairman of the board of a large national collegiate ministry (not the one for which I work), would contend that it is not too late to have influence in the lives of older children, that parents’ influence is still significant, and there are things parents who care about the spiritual lives of their children can do, although he argues in the opening chapter that all of this must be leavened by wisdom, that it is not a matter of simple techniques or formulas, although he will lay out specific ideas of what may be done.
First of all, he asks the question of what a successful transition to an adult faith is. He proposes this definition, based on research with a number of parents of the students his organization serves:
The young adult Christian owns his or her faith in Jesus Christ, reflects it in priorities and decisions, and lives it in community with other believers, seeking to influence the watching world (p. 20).
He then proposes eight principles to which he devotes a chapter each in the book:
- Kids who make successful transitions don’t have perfect parents who know everything.
- Kids who successfully transition have parents who acknowledge their limits of control but still find ways to maintain their influence.
- The home is still the greatest place of opportunity for shaping the faith of a young person and preparing him or her for a life beyond the home.
- Kids who successfully transition have a bunch of loving grown-ups in their corner.
- Kids who successfully transition learn to “keep good company” in high school and maintain the practice in college.
- Faith can still thrive in an unfriendly place like college.
- In youth as well as adulthood, difficulties and trials can lead to positive spiritual growth.
- Kids who make bad choices need our love and support more than ever.
He prefaces the chapters on the eight principles by identifying seven myths that undercut these principles, including the ideas that parents must relinquish their influence during college, hope religious professionals can intervene, and accept that their kids will “sow their wild oats.”
The chapters are laced with stories of parents and children Dupee has worked with in their ministry and offer both hope and practical help. As both a collegiate minister and parent, I found his proposals spot on. As parents, we did find that the collegiate years were a critical time for “influence parenting”, that the company our kids keep does matter, and that trials can often be the place where positive growth can take place, as much as we never want our kids to struggle. The process was humbling as we found we had been far from perfect parents. The conversations about that strengthened rather than weakened our bonds and influence. As a collegiate minister, I love it when I get to work with students who still have strong ties to home and a vibrant faith that was shaped in that context. I have watched students thrive and own their faith during the college years, sometimes wrestling with painful episodes of doubt, or intellectual or lifestyle challenges, along the way.
I reflected on my own faith journey and how having a “bunch of loving grownups in my corner” had such an impact. The inter-generational fellowship of the church can be critically important. I think of the elderly missionary who radiated joy and shared her life along with milk and cookies as I tended her lawn, and would always pray with me. I think of some of the very “un-hip” adults who hosted a youth group full of “long hairs” as we studied the Bible together, often struggling with questions neither of our generations were sure of. I think of elders in my church, and our pastor who opened up our facilities to a bunch of those “long hairs” who were the result of the awakening of the Jesus movement, but who came with lots of baggage and more than a few joints. They took risks, showed up personally, and loved us with costly love, and many of us are walking with Christ today because of it.
It’s easy to simply look to ministries like the one Dupee leads or the one I work with to “rescue” our kids’ faith. What Dupee contends for here, that I would affirm, is that we are only one part of a team that includes parents and the church, all engaging with teens and young adults in partnership. As far is the influence of parents and church, it is indeed not too late!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”