As a pastor-dad, I couldn’t figure out why my church friends’ kids were walking away from God when they hit 18.
Bob and Carol were one example. They were an amazing couple. As a young husband and father, I looked up to them as role models. They were godly. They had a strong marriage. Every week their family sat together in church. They even homeschooled their kids. I hoped that someday Jana and I could have a marriage and family as solid as theirs.
One day, in passing, I asked Bob why he didn’t attend the midweek service. “Oh, that’s our family night,” he replied.
I was impressed. We had tried family night a time or two, but with small kids it felt impossible. I wished I had the discipline these folks had. But I also thought, Why not come to church and use any other night for family night?
I also noticed that they didn’t put their kids in the children’s ministry and youth programs. That was a little different, but these were awesome parents, and I could sure see great value in having the kids sit with them at church events.
Time passed, and something weird happened. As Bob and Carol’s children went off to college, I noticed that the kids didn’t attend church. When my kids left home for college or work, they not only immediately found a church but they got active serving in that church.
I couldn’t figure it out. I was such a lousy parent compared to Bob and Carol. Our “family nights” consisted of dumping our kids in the nursery, children’s program, and later youth group while we attended the adult meetings. I was never able to pull off consistent home devotions. We sure weren’t the model family Why were my kids passionate about God, while the kids in this “perfect family” were running from God as soon as they could break free?
NOW I KNOW
Bob and Carol could have been a fluke, but I’ve seen this same pattern again and again—great parents, but their kids leave the church.
I didn’t give it much thought until folks started asking me why my kids never ran from God. As a pastor I wanted to help them keep their kids on the right path, but I had no idea what made the difference. I prayed and asked the Lord.
You’ve probably heard, “Family first. Don’t get so busy with church activities that your family suffers.” While I agree with that, I think we get into trouble if we forget that our family is just a tiny part of something much bigger—God’s family.
It’s dangerous to separate our family from the bigger picture. The kids were seeing that their family gatherings at home had priority over gathering with other believers. The message they got was that “we” (my family) are more important than “WE” (the family of God).
No one intended it, but these children were being taught that their family was the center of the universe around which everything else revolves—rather than God and His people being the center around which our lives rotate.
Suddenly it all made sense. No wonder these kids wandered away from church—which almost inevitably leads to wandering away from God. Church—gathering with the people of God—was optional, a nice thing to do once a week as long as it was convenient and didn’t conflict with family or other plans. Off at college, they saw no need to get connected to the local church. They were busy with their lives, their schedule, their priorities.
I know this probably sounds hyper-legalistic, but let me encourage you: when the people of God gather, you need to be there and be involved. Not out of obligation. Jana and I never went because we had to. It just made sense, and our kids grew up knowing that it was what we all did.
“Family first” meant that when God’s folks gathered, we would be there. While traveling, on vacation, visiting family, whatever, our plans, priorities, and schedules revolved around connecting with God’s eternal “family first.”
Next time you barbecue, after the coals are nice and red-hot, take about six of them out and set them aside. Then set one aside by itself and watch what happens.
The “family” of six coals will stay hot awhile, but not as long as the big gathering. And the poor coal that is “living on its own”—off at college or working—will cool very quickly apart from the other coals.
If you want to stay red-hot in your walk with God, stay connected to the big pile of coals. Keep your little family tied into the pit. As often as possible, gather with the other coals, where you can draw heat from them and help others by sharing your heat.
“We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.” —Hebrews 10:25*
“Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of rest—a holy day.”—Luke 4:16
* Bible texts are from GOD’S WORD Translation. Copyright © 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.