Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a friend of mine share his testimony with his congregation during the Sunday Morning service. With a fair amount of emotion he told about the first time he went to church, the first time he heard the salvation message, and the youth pastor who lead him in the sinner’s prayer. As he passionately spoke about the change in his life, the love that he found in Christ, and how it drives every part of his being even now, I could tell that he meant every word.
Here was a man who knew what it was like to live without God, to be lost and then to be found. He experienced life without God, and he made his choice that he never wanted to live that way again. Instead, he chooses to live his life wholeheartedly for God and pursue evangelism---especially toward teens that are currently in the same situation he left behind.
As I listened to his sermon, my mind began drifting over what I knew about his ministry. Then I started thinking about his lovely wife and adorable son---truly, one of the cutest kids that I have ever met. The camera loves this kid!
I started thinking back over the years that we’ve known this young family. I remember when they announced that they were pregnant with their son, and I remember when the announcement came that he was finally born---several weeks late! Less than 2 weeks later, this little guy made the first of many, many appearances in church. By the time his parent’s moved to another church a year and a half later, this little guy had the run of the place!
As my friend finished telling his testimony (which I had heard before---the reason my mind was wandering) I thought to myself, “His son is going to have such a different life and testimony than he did.”
After all, his son is a church kid. A second generation Christian. All he’s ever known is Jesus and church life. He’s one of many kids who born and raised inside the pews of the church. They’ve fallen asleep in the pews and had their diapers changed in the nursery. They used the hymnal as a teething ring until the old lady that sits in front of them became indignant and made a comment about what Mom and Dad must be thinking.
These kids know their way about the church like it was their second home. They know where the good toys are hidden, which elderly gentleman has the best candy, and who they’d better stay away from if they don’t want to get into trouble
Life without church? What the heck is that? My friend’s son will never know.
Knowing his Mom and Dad, I know that this little boy will go through much less heartache and pain than his Daddy. He’s already been introduced to Jesus, and as he grows older they will nurture his soul and his faith, doing the best they can to raise him to be a godly man. In many ways he’s far more blessed and privileged than his father. However, being a church kid, he’ll also experience obstacles and things that will challenge his faith and relationship with Christ that his father could never even imagine.
Although he’ll walk a different road than his father, he’ll have his own obstacles to overcome. He won’t be the only one. For as his parents already know or will quickly learn, raising kids inside of the church can be a daunting task that will take a lot of prayer, hard work, wisdom, and strength. Like many parents who have gone before, they will be faced with the challenge of passing not only their religion, but their love and passion for Jesus on to the next generation that never knew what it was like to live without Jesus.
It may sound odd to those of you who are first-generation Christians not raised in the church, but being a church kid can be both a blessing and a curse. Obviously, it’s a blessing because, as a second-generation Christian, you never know life without Christ. You are never fully exposed to the sin and suffering that many who are raised without Jesus face with every day. From a very early age, you are taught God’s principles and the truths of the Bible which will help make wise choices and face tough times in your own life. For the most part, kids who are raised in the church grow up with a sense of community having a second family within the body of Christ. Looking at these and the multitude of other benefits to being a church kid, it’s hard for a first-generation Christian to imagine that there could ever be a flip side to the equation.
Still, there is.
Because as great as it is to be a church kid and as charmed a life it may seem, there is a downside to being a second generation Christian. Some of the challenges church kids face are:
The challenge of moving beyond their parent’s religion and into their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The heartache, pain, and confusion when a child gets and up-close-and-personal look at fighting within the church, the moral failure of a respected leader, or the ugly side of church politics.
The questions of “Why can’t I do what my friends are doing? It looks like harmless fun?”
In the teen years, they face the challenge of creating their own identity within the church community and the world at large without falling into a sinful lifestyle.
Faced with these challenges and more, many church kids stand at the crossroads asking themselves, “Is this Jesus thing really for me?” Sadly, many decide that they don’t want to continue following the path in which they were raised.
Statistically speaking, 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School.
Nearly a decade later, about half return to church. Half.
What happened to all the rest? What did the half that returned to the church in their 30’s experience during the teen years they were out searching for answers? What consequences will they and their families suffer for the rest of their lives as they reap the wild oats they sowed on their hiatus from the church?
Let’s be honest: If you’re a Mom or Dad raising kids in the church, when you read statistics like this there is only one question on your mind: “What can I do to help my kids decide to follow Jesus today, tomorrow, through their teen years, after high school, and for the rest of their lives? Is there anything that I can do to keep my kids from becoming one of the statistics of young adults who walk away and say, “Christianity is not for me?”
The good news is that, yes, there are things that you can do. In fact, I believe that parents can be one of the greatest influences in whether or not a child chooses to follow Christ or reject Him. Looking back on my own years as a “church brat”, I can see a direct correlation between the way that my parents and my friend’s parents confronted the challenges facing church kids and the choices the children made about whether to stay in the church or walk away.
Although there are no fool-proof methods that will assure your kids make the right choices when it comes to church and their relationship with Jesus Christ, I do believe there are things that Moms and Dads can do to steer them in the right direction. That’s the purpose of this new series of articles: to make parents aware of the challenges that are common to church kids and to offer advice for how parents can help their kids successfully face and overcome these challenges to their faith.
This series will not cover all topics related to parenting---we’re going to talk specifically about the challenge of raising church kids to become committed Christians. I’m neither a parent nor a psychologist, so I’ll leave the bulk of the parenting teaching to the experts. However, I am a former church kid---a card-carrying born-again, Bible-believing Pentecostal since I was 4 years old. I believe that my experience as a veteran church kid gives me a certain amount of insider information that will help and empower parents on this unique journey.
Using a combination of my own experiences and the experiences of friends, over the next few months we’ll address four of the biggest challenges facing church kids:
The need to move past religion and into a personal relationship with Jesus.
The challenges of church life
The Rules and Regulations and the never ending question, “Why Can’t I Do That?”
The Persecution that Comes with Living for Jesus
Throughout the course of this series, we’ll take a look at specific things that parents can do to help their kids overcome these challenges and not only survive church life, but thrive in their walk with Christ. We’re going to answer questions like:
“How much church is too much church?”
“How do I keep a healthy balance between legalism and liberalism?”
“How do I enforce God’s Laws in my home without taking away my child’s personal freedom?”
Along the way I’ll share with you some of the struggles that my sister and I had while we were growing up---some of the things that my Mom and Dad did right and some of what they will admit they did wrong. Using our experiences and the experiences of our friends, we’ll talk openly and honestly about the challenges facing church kids. We’ll also share with you the things that we believe our parents and others within the church community did that helped us make the decision to follow Christ wholeheartedly in our own lives.
You see, we’ve been where your kids are now. We’ve seen it all and we’ve heard it all (because in the zoo that is the world of church kids: the monkeys talk---A LOT) We’ve been through the church splits and the moral failures, we’ve experienced the persecution that comes with being a Christian teen, and we’ve worked our way through the doubts, fears, and questions of “Is this real?” Like soldiers who’ve been through the battle and lived to tell about it, we’re passing on the battle strategy that our parents and the leaders in our lives used to bring us safely to the other side.
Above all else, it’s my prayer that this series of articles will encourage you that it is possible to raise church kids who grow up to have a passionate, personal relationship with Jesus and a healthy view of the church. Our goal is to inspire, encourage, and challenge you as you seek to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
This series is to help you, as parents, but even more so it’s to help your kids. It’s time to change the statistics---it’s time for the church to start raising up mighty warriors for the kingdom of God and stop losing so many of our kids as casualties to the enemy.
This is our challenge---let’s gain the victory together!