Monday, September 18, 2017
One Sunday I sat around a table with some dear friends who all have adult children. The conversation turned to the subject of children in the church who were raised in Christian homes and who no longer attend church. This was not a concern with them not attending “our” church, but the fact that these particular young adults weren’t attending anybody’s church. Let me state that my concerns here are not universal for this generation, because many of them are as solid in their faith and Christian lives as any who have lived before.
This was not a conversation solely about a certain generation, but about families and children we all knew. This was about our pain, the pain of parents who dearly love their kids, prayed for them, taught them, challenged them, brought them to church, gave them the best education we could (and for some that meant Christian schools and Christian colleges). Now, it seemed that some of these kids were spiritually wandering, living immoral lives, or in outright defiant denial of the Faith.
I am aware of articles and books about this present generation and how a growing number of their number have decided to stop going to church, let alone how many of them have never come at all. All kinds of folks are weighing into the subject, and some are trying to come up with the formula of how to design the church experience to bring them back. I tend to avoid these kinds of solutions as they always seem to support the predispositions of the one writing for how they think a church service should be conducted, such as how contemporary worship is being rejected for more liturgical and traditional worship, etc.
As I travel around the country and meet some old friends and my generational peers I am often told of the pain my friends are experiencing as they yearn to see their own children not only come to faith but to stay in it. My friends yearn to see their adult children be the godly people their parents have hoped to raise. They yearn to see the next generation taking their place of leadership in the church, no matter how it worships or where it meets.
I wish I had the wisdom to analyze the problem accurately and the brilliance needed to show parents the magic words, method, or strategy to bring their kids back to the Lord and the household of Faith. I confess that I don't. I do have some questions, and some thoughts which I will share with you. I also know some of these kids are never coming back, but my sincere hope and prayer is that even if happens after my present generations dies the seeds that were planted in them will bear good fruit.
There are various reasons adult children who have been raised in the church stop going, and stop believing. Those are two different categories but sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. As we look at any problem we often look for someone or something to blame. Whose fault is this; the adult child, the parents, the church, the culture, the age, the Devil?
I don’t intend to relieve anyone of their guilt, if they are in fact guilty. If we as parents have failed we have to own that, and repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness and we need to ask forgiveness from our kids. If the church has failed, collectively or individually, then those institutions need to own up to it and seek for renewal and revival. If it is the culture and the spirit of the age then we need to understand it and learn the methods of dealing with it. We can take it for granted the Devil is involved, but we know Jesus has defeated him. We just need to learn his tricks and fight him well.
Who is responsible for adult children of Christian parents leaving the faith and the church? Well, first of all, they are. This is a hard reality but if our children are not truly saved then they will go to eternal judgment. There aren’t any protective parents that can prevent it. If they reject Jesus, if they deny Jesus, then he also will deny them. It doesn’t matter if they were baptized as infants, baptized as a believer sometime in their childhood, or prayed the sinner’s prayer in your hearing. If they are not truly saved, then they are not truly saved. It is foolish in my opinion to keep consoling them with comments like, “I know deep in your heart you really do believe.” That might be a parent’s wish but it is not the fruit of their lives, and it is by the fruit we discern good trees from bad.
I want to be pretty up front with that, and with them, because in an analysis of our parenting some of us may have been too indulgent, and too excusing, of and for our kids. When they stand in front of Almighty God the parent won’t be there to make excuses for them. Their choices are their choices and they eventually will have to own them for themselves. One of the best things all of us can do for our children is to help them understand that, as we should have done many times in their lives.
There is no doubt some of us have made our children stumble. There are so many ways we as parents can and have screwed up. Often trying hard to be wonderful parents we have instead set up our kids for a pretty big fall. How might we have failed?
Our parent’s generation seemed to struggle with emotional detachment, being harsh and making their love conditional, and sometimes living a fundamentalist, legalistic, yet hypocritical life; full of self-righteousness while denying the realities of their own materialism, racism, and various other sins.
Our generation (Baby Boomers) became too permissive, certainly with ourselves. Our children have seen us in our addictions, our lusts, our anger, our own kinds of hypocrisies while they have seen us go to church but it not seeming to make us very different from people in the world. Many times we backed off from pushing our kids too hard, and we indulged them at almost every turn. It was almost as if we and everything in the world revolved around them and existed to make their life happy and fulfilled. Our self-indulgent congregations reflected our own family life-styles and desires.
To complicate matters our children entered into a world that does not reinforce absolutes, seems to deny eternal or even temporal accountability. They entered into a world of intensive and manipulative appeal to the sensual, to self-centeredness, to libertine indulgence without seeming consequence.
Many of our children who deny the faith are materially successful. They have the social skills, they have the education, personal discipline and ambition. These things without Christ are worldliness, but deceptively so, and we parents have too often let them get away with thinking that their progress even without Christ was okay with us.
Many of our children have a social conscience, and their peers reinforce the notion that this in and of itself is what makes a person moral, and it also makes them feel superior to anyone who does not care as passionately for their cause(s) as they do. In an ironic twist the Baby Boomer generation that tried not to be judgmental with their children created a new self-righteous generation. The passion of their compassion is often without any kind of absolute moral compass, they are swimming hard but it is often out to sea and not toward home.
Religion and dogma are too binding for them, cutting them off from their peers, bringing feelings of embarrassment upon them. To take the step of radical commitment to Jesus in full understanding of his exclusivity and his claims of solitary access to the Father can be too isolating for many of them. They don’t want to be more religious and yet less passionate about justice causes, they don’t want to lose the option of a self-focused lifestyle in exchange for the hassle of time demanding church life, church personalities, and church conflict and drama.
Some of our grown kids have and will struggle with simple rebellion against their parents, and God. Some of them will struggle with addictions of drinking, drugs, pornography, sexual encounters, and the body indulgence of sports, athletics and exercise. Some of our kids will struggle with their own educational and material success. These things are not new to human beings. Nevertheless, any or all of them of them are the thorns and weeds that grow up to choke out real faith.
Now, the good news: We have the weapon of prayer, and we must not stop using it. The Word will accomplish that to which it was sent and good seed in good ground will bear much fruit. The Lord knows those who are His. The battle is not over yet, and we may die before we see the outcome, so we have to put our hope in God’s faithfulness and not in the power of our worrying to make things change. Failure and brokenness are God’s tools to break the pride and obstinate hard hearts of men and women, and even if it scares you to see your kids go through it, sometimes that is the only way they will reach heaven.
Your tears are not in vain, but don’t weep in despair. Keep trusting in Jesus to do the work. Receive his forgiveness if and where you have failed. Have confidence in the Gospel you know your children have heard and understood. Stop apologizing for your faith or your call to them to come to Christ. Be ready to welcome them home, and assure them of that, while you remind them with gentleness, love, and consistency that they ain’t yet where they need to be.