“…whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God!”
1 Corinthians 10:31I
I had a fabulous conversation with my daughter centered around the topic of expectations, obligations, guilt, and truthfulness. We talked a lot about growing up in the church, how that affected her, what her true feelings were concerning her faith, and how that translated into her everyday life now that she was out on her own.
For children who grew up in the church, each of their experiences were likely different. I imagine some were good and maybe some were not so good or a mix of both. I was not raised in an evangelical environment; so growing up was a completely different experience for my kids than it was for me. They have told me so on many occasions. My children endured the additional pressure of having a father who was a public figure in Christian media. They kept their noses clean for the most part but were not perfect. It is funny how you can grow up in the same house, but have different experiences, thoughts, and feelings toward various situations. My children certainly did.
I remember a recent discussion with Hope, when I visited her in New York City. We had a fun time shopping, painting, cooking for her friends, and visiting a new church that was just a short train ride away from her apartment. We headed out Sunday morning, jumped on a subway, grabbed a coffee, and arrived at church just in time. It was a small church compared to the church she was raised in, but welcoming and warm with great worship and teaching. We enjoyed it.
Later that day, while food shopping, we had an interesting discussion about the church service, next to the chicken counter. Hope said she really liked it and would like to go back to the church, but asked herself this question, “Would I return for my parents or for me”?
Hope decided, I will go back for me
Of course, my heart leapt. Every Jesus-loving parent wants to hear these words.
As much as my heart’s desire is for my children to have a growing and living relationship with Jesus, I know I cannot make them, persuade them, or force them. This must come from the breath of the Holy Spirit.
If we coerce commitment, it will not be genuine on their part and will cause resentment, anger, and distance in the long run. Giving them space and time, just like God gives us space and time, may be just what they need. Quite often, we expect (and desire) our kids to continue down the same spiritual road the family has always traveled; and when they don’t, it is upsetting and frustrating. I get it. I’ve been there. However, thinking through the best way to continue engagement with our children is wise. My answer would be this: Love. Space. Prayer. Encouragement. Acceptance. Intentionally adopting all of these actions will make a difference with your loved one, morethan trying pressure or guilt tactics.
I have often thought about how millennials are leaving the church in droves. Why is that? What are they thinking? What has caused them to leave, and how can we help bring them back to an intimate relationship with Jesus and fellowship with gracious believers?
I’m not sure formal church, as we know it, is the answer for younger generations. But bringing them back into fellowship is the heart of our Father. Fellowshipping with other believers, possibly with welcoming home churches or smaller group gatherings, might help draw them. A lot of home churches seem to be popping up for young adults. This makes me wonder, What is it about the formal church that repels them?
For whatever reason, church, as they know it, or as it is today, may be the reason young people are leaving Christian fellowship. Honestly, I don’t know the answer to keep them engaged in growing their faith; but I am making efforts to figure that out by looking for opportunities to ask lots of questions. I’m inquiring about the experiences these young adults had while growing up in Christian homes and church.
Were there rules and regulations around their faith? Did they understand the difference between the grace of God compared to the law of God? Did they ever feel they just couldn’t cut it as a Christian? As young adults, were they given the freedom to choose once they left for college or after graduating high school? All of these questions are worth exploring with your child, if they have already left your home or they are about to leave.
Opening up a conversation around these queries may provide the key to unlocking where children are at in their walk with the Lord. Leave judgment out of your response. Do your very best to be attentive and discern what they are sharing. Let them feel they have been heard. Being empathetic toward someone and listening to their opinions will go a lot further than giving them a Bible verse (unless God is prompting you, of course). Asking them for the twentieth time if they’d like to come to church on Sunday rarely gets results. Give it a rest. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. Keep praying until the child’s heart opens.
About five years ago, God gave me a verse concerning one of my children. “God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!” (Exodus 14:14 TPT). Ouch. What it comes down to is this—it is an encounter with the Holy Spirit that will move a teen/young adult back to the heart of God. When we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way with us, we can be confident He will do the same for our children. He is faithful. Always.
How are you doing in the arena of keeping your mouth closed? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to speak into your life and the life of your children? What has He said to you lately? Are you obeying?