Friday, 15 February 2008

Could this be your church?

One terrible blind spot of many otherwise very encouraging contemporary evangelical churches is the lack of Biblical teaching or example in raising children and young people, and the correspondingly vacuous youth work of the church itself. Sadly it's not uncommon to find that a church which, in other areas is applying Biblical principles very well, has disastrous policies for evangelising and discipling its youth, or teaching its members how to train their own children in godly wisdom.

Unfortunately churches have been busily absorbed some of the world's most foolish ideas about young people:
  • That they can only be taught if they're entertained too.

  • Preferably the entertainment must come first, and occupy three-quarters of the time.

  • That young people must have separate activities provided from the rest of the worshiping congregation until well into their teenage years.

  • They certainly can't be expected to listen to sermons, or indeed anything over 10 or 15 minutes in length.

  • That the best or necessary companions for young people are other young people.

  • That the way to be relevant and respected is to be cool.
And so on. One tragic fact of this kind of dumbing-down approach to youth work is that it's so deeply patronising and offensive to young people, and many of them know it. It's a sure-fire way to put off the proportion of them who don't care about whether or not they're the cool kids, and actually are hungry to learn something substantial! Young people are ready and willing to respect leaders who will sit down with them and teach them the deeply serious things about God, life, death, heaven and hell - who will show them that Christianity isn't just like the world with a few God bits stuck on the end, but actually the fundamental truth about all of reality. The UK desperately needs young people who are willing and ready to live differently in this world for Jesus' sake - and it's parents and church leaders who need to prepare them for that task.

The following (lightly edited to preserve anonymity) quote comes from a frustrated homeschooling mother posting on a mailing list that my wife lurks on. She's struggling because her children don't fit in at her church - not because they're odd, but because they're normal, or at least what normal ought to be. This isn't one of those churches you couldn't distinguish from the Wacky Warehouse - notice that the church she speaks of is "is doctrinally sound [and] our minister is very supportive of us as a family." Notice as you read it that the struggle of her children isn't to be godly in an ungodly world - that's part of life in a sinful world, and no-one gets exempted. The struggle is to be godly amongst the other young people in the church, who are indistinguishable from other worldly young people and obviously feel no expectation that they ought to be. Could this be your church?

I am struggling with the impact of our choices as parents on the lives of our children. We have a son and a daughter, just starting the teenage years. It is one thing to choose a lonely path for yourselves i.e. to follow God and to homeschool as part of that choice, but I am suddenly hit with the full impact of these choices on our children's lives.

At our church we have chosen to keep our children with us during the sermon and not send them to junior church. This Sunday our children were the only ones standing up and joining in the worship. After church our son went to play snooker and for much of that time my husband was present in the room although at a distance - church rules that the children are not unsupervised. Our son found the conversation of the other lads he played snooker with foolish, unkind (not to him) and much of the time they were messing around with mobile phones. He came home to tell us he feels he doesn't fit in and he would rather play snooker alone. Our daughter went and sat with a group of teenagers - the boys spoke to her in a way which seemed to her as though they were teasing but to my mind does not sound thoughtful to a much younger child and my husband says is not the way to treat a lady.

She also witnessed a 15 year old girl kissing etc. with a lad - a different lad to the one she was kissing the previous week. I felt I wanted to ban my daughter from spending time with this group but felt God holding me back. Within minutes our daughter decided she would not sit with them anymore after church. Much of the conversation seems to be about who fancies who, calling people gay and mobile phones.

Where does this leave my children ? Our church is doctrinally sound, our minister is very supportive of us as a family and we have a few good friends. But I am beginning to realise our children are not going to be interested in the youth work at our church and are going to struggle to build friendships. They do have some good homeschool friends but I know my daughter paticularly would like more friendships.

Both the children are showing an amazing resilience to the whole thing and are being faithful to our teaching and instruction as parents. I am so proud of them both. But I am really struggling !

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