I was recently talking to a mother of a 7th grade student who was sharing with me that her son didn’t want to come to Sunday school and Youth group at church. “Every Sunday morning and every Wednesday evening is a battle,” this Mom shared. “I make him go, even when he doesn’t want to, and he ALWAYS enjoys it at the end and wonders why I show up early to pick him up.” She was fascinated that her son oscillated between the two extremes: not wanting to go prior, but once he is there, then he doesn’t want to leave.
I laughed because, though I don’t yet have children in middle school and high school, that has been my observational experience at our church. I’ve witnessed countless situations where a parent will walk down the hallway at church on a Sunday morning, arrive at the door to their room, and ask their child if they want to go into the classroom or not.
Think about that for a second:
Does a 7th grade student, let alone a 6 year-old, know what they need spiritually?
Do you give your child or teenager whatever they want even if you know that it might be bad for them? Of course not (hopefully!)! We give our kids and teenagers what they need (not what they want) because they don’t know what they need… that’s why we call them dependents.
The reason I am writing this letter is that I see, not merely a growing trend, but a full fledged pattern of behavior among parents and families to give both kids and teenagers what they want, not necessarily what they need. And what students want is to not go to Sunday school or Youth group. And parents seem to accommodate that want.
Now there are probably a multitude of reasons why a child or teenager doesn’t come to a regular ministry program at our church, and I imagine that there are a few legitimate ones. What I’m afraid of is that most of the reasons are tied to an inability of parents to be willing to do battle with their children and teenagers on doing the right things. One could argue that coming to Sunday school or Youth group is not that important, and as long as one goes to church on Sunday or connects with God spiritually during the week somehow, then that is enough. No. It’s not enough.
If any of you understand the world of sports you know the importance of practicing, not by yourself, but with a team and doing it regularly. Growing in the Lord and in one’s spiritual life is no different than growing in proficiency in a sport. Actually it’s more important to grow in the Lord (especially if you are a Christian) than it is to invest any and all spare time on a sports team. Athletic seasons end. And while I am not criticizing sports as a whole, what I do see in our community is a religious obsession with sports and a lackadaisical and haphazard approach to growing in the Lord.
Our church’s children and teenagers need to spend time around other believers their age and adult spiritual coaches (we call them small group leaders). This is a phenomenal environment for spiritual growth and proficiency to occur, and our church has intentional spiritual environments doing these kinds of things.
Let’s be honest, if we don’t push and encourage our kids to grow spiritually, then we probably aren’t growing spiritually ourselves. So while I might be imploring families to push their children to engage in spiritual environments with their peers, I also need to implore parents to do the same.
This is true in my own life as well. Believe it or not, there are some Sunday mornings where I don’t want to get out of bed to get ready for church and it would be so much easier to have another day of the week where I don’t have to push my kids to get ready to get out the door on time. I know it’s difficult. I understand. Do you want to know why? It’s because my own spiritual fervor for the Lord has waned, at times, and I want to take the path of least resistance rather than push for what I believe to be vitally important for my family.
What’s even more apparent is:
If we don’t push our kids to grow in their faith then chances are we don’t really have a thriving faith ourselves and our kids know it.
Research and common sense all agree that the best predictor of thriving faith in the life of a young adult is because they grew up in a family where faith thrived! So when we don’t push our children and teenagers to engage in their spiritual environments we are teaching them that faith doesn’t really matter.
Now if that’s what you want to teach your kids, I cannot stop you. I cannot make anyone grow in faith. However, my job as a both a pastor and someone who cares deeply about families, is to encourage and challenge you and your kids. I encourage you to do battle against this culture’s drift toward apathy and irrelevance in Christianity with your children and teenagers. And I challenge you to do battle in your own life and grow in faith. The best thing you can do to encourage and equip faith in the life of your family is to grow in faith yourself.
Our church faith community is here to support, encourage and challenge you. I have been quiet for too long and been far too passive about our culture’s drift toward apathy and our complicity in it. We need to encourage and challenge one another to do the things God wants in our lives. These kind of things are not things that our culture finds valuable, but they are things God deeply wants in our lives.
Doing these things will make our church a light of faith and surrender to Christ, rather than faith and surrender to our cultural drift toward apathy. Can you imagine what it would look like in our town if the families that participate in our community of faith challenged their children and engaged deeply in faith themselves?
Yeah. It would change our community!