As a pastor and a parent, I want to see kids who grow up to love church. Awhile back my wife and I spent time with some good friends that are members of the church we attended when I was in seminary. We love that church, and we love the people we knew there. We asked our friends about various folks, and what they’re doing today. Then the subject turned to kids we knew. The majority of them aren’t part of any church today. They are spiritually disengaged. Not only do they not attend church, but they show no hopeful signs of spiritual life.
The statistics show that story is common. According to a 2006 Barna poll, 61 percent of twenty somethings who were in the church before, are now spiritually disengaged. Is there anything we can do as parents, and as churches, to buck that trend? Is there anything we can do to see children who grow up to embrace Jesus and His church? I’ve thought about that question a lot. I must admit that I’m in the thick of the process of child-rearing right now. My oldest is eleven. With that warning, here are five truths that I have observed characterize kids who grow up to love church.
1. Kids who grow up to love church have parents who nurture them in the faith.
Parents simply cannot abdicate their God-given responsibility to nurture their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). As Deuteronomy 6 indicates, it must begin with parents who love the Lord God wholeheartedly. To pass on the faith, we as parents must have it ourselves. But we must also realize that we can’t effectively outsource the task to anyone else. For at least the last fifty years, I’m afraid that’s what we’ve tried to do. It doesn’t work, even to outsource it to the church.
2. Kids who grow up to love church have parents who pray for them regularly.
The Lord promised Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7). The New Testament gives us every reason to believe that promise applies to us as believers in Jesus. No, it isn’t the same thing as a guarantee for every child. Isaac had Esau as well as Jacob. But God calls us to believe His promises about our children. He must save them. It’s impossible for us to save them. That fact compels us to pray.
3. Kids who grow up to love church come to know Jesus’ love for them.
Jesus rebuked his disciples when they sought to prevent children from being brought to him (Matthew 19:14). We as parents must open the Scriptures with our children. They need to know how terrible is our condition as sinful human beings. But in that light they also need to know how much Jesus loves them in spite of their sin. And they need to know what He did to rescue them because of His love for them. One of the great privileges for children who grow up in believing families must be that they constantly get to hear the gospel.
4. Kids who grow up to love church know the church is a place for them.
In a recent post, entitled “Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith,” Abby Carr puts the matter starkly. Her article points out that kids need input from mature believers. When we constantly segregate them into peer groups, it’s no surprise that they fail to receive what they need. I think there is a place for kids to spend time with their peers in the church. For that reason, I’m not against youth ministry per se.
But I am against youth ministry that isolates kids from the rest of the church. I’m against youth groups that trade discipleship for mere entertainment. If God has promised to use mentoring relationships, prayer, and His word, why would we trade them for anything else? I’m also against alternative worship structures that train kids to think that “real church” isn’t for them.
5. Kids who grow up to love church believe the church is Jesus’ body.
They don’t expect the church to be a vendor of entertainment. They further recognize that they cannot love Jesus, and fail to love His body, for which He shed His blood. These young people recognize that corporate worship on Sunday morning is just that. They expect to worship God. They do look to God to work in them through worship, through other believers, and through His word. But they also realize that they belong there because God has called them to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ.
This list isn’t exhaustive. What would you add? Please join the discussion!