When you think about those people who have most influenced your faith throughout your life, who comes to mind? Is it a parent or a grandparent? A pastor or teacher? Maybe you were inspired by a faithful neighbor, or a godly coach. According to research done by Fuller Youth Institute, authentic lasting faith is directly correlated to the influence of faith role models, especially during the teenage years.
Fuller’s Sticky Faith findings suggest that teens who can identify at least five of these role models are considerably more likely to remain committed to their faith as young adults. In fact, intergenerational relationship was the leading “sticky factor” on FYI’s list of faith influencers.
So what exactly is a faith role model?
First, it is someone who’s own faith is real. Not perfect. Not exceptionally educated. Not even especially articulate or gregarious. But REAL. This person knows and loves Jesus in a way that permeates their life. Their faith shapes who they are and how they live. The overflow of faith is easy to see. When you think of this person, you are reminded of Jesus.
Second, this person is available. The idea here is relationship. A faith role model is willing to invest some extra time in hanging out with a young person. This doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, simple and organic is actually better than regimented and coerced when it comes to connecting with teens. A good role model is available to periodically do life with a kid.
Third, a role model MODELS! This is actually more important than you might think. Most of us have a tendency to think it’s our words that count. With teens, not so much. Think back to those who inspired your own faith. How much do you remember of what they said? Chances are, not much. Our memories of people are usually less about what they said, or even what they did – but rather, we remember the kind of people they were. We probably remember a person’s kindness, love, sense of humor, generosity, etc. A role model exhibits character in a way that makes an impact. They make people think, “I want to be like that!”
Finally, a faith role model points to Jesus. It’s not just about following the example of a good person. Ultimately, the real example is Jesus himself. The best role models are those who humbly give testimony to the good news of Scripture. It’s like Peter wrote in his letter the Church: In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). A faith role model is one who leaves a lasting impression of what it means to be a genuine and devoted follower of Jesus Christ.