I send my children off to school every morning.
Right into a war zone.
And you do, too.
Wait. What? I’m not talking about how you choose to educate your kids. If they attend anything outside your home –Boy Scouts, reading time at the library or soccer at the YMCA, or if you let anything inside your home through media–they are being influenced by others and exposed to a culture war.
A culture war is a struggle between two sets of conflicting cultural values.
And if you haven’t noticed, our society has one set of values and Christians have another. I’m not going to talk about the differences and list all the things we should or shouldn’t do. Because that’s not Christianity.
Simply put, Christianity is following Jesus.
Which isn’t really simple at all. Because it cost Jesus his life. It will cost us ours, too.
I’ve followed Jesus into some places that scare me. They aren’t safe or pretty and loving others who are different than we are, can’t be wrapped up with a neat little bow. Sometimes following Jesus is dirty, hard work.
By living in this world, my kids are exposed to sin. And no one on either side of the battle line likes to think about sending kid soldiers into war. But as we teach right and wrong, instill values, develop a moral compass, we are doing just that.
Because following Jesus doesn’t make sense to our culture. (Jesus said it wouldn’t, so don’t panic).
The first ten years of my marriage, I was married to a youth pastor. We spent all of our time, work hours and after hours, loving kids. Even back then, it was a crazy time to be a teenager in our culture. Kids were experimenting with all kinds of things and most of the parents were clueless. They were exercising a little bit of freedom, trying on different experiences and learning from their mistakes.
And some parents forced their kids to come and made church a battleground while others grounded their kids from coming to youth events as a form of punishment. Some kids stayed in church, others left, but the kids that ended up choosing to live their lives for Jesus were the ones who got to know Him.
I believe one of the absolute best things we can do for our children is help them build community with believers their age. My kids are now the age of some of the youth we led. And I watch my kids fight the battle at school, struggle when they don’t fit it and test the waters we’ve warned them about. And I recognize their deep need for a safe place to commune with kids and figure out how to live this Christian life.
These days, it’s sort of a fad for kids not to attend church with the family. We value sports practices, part time jobs, just about any and everything more than we do church. It’s a dangerous trend.
Recently, I signed my daughter up for an Encounter Weekend with her youth group and when I told her she freaked out. Nothing sounded fun about staying at a stranger’s home (from our church) with a group of junior high girls she didn’t know.
I told her I wanted her to go, but wouldn’t force her. It was her choice. And then I prayed my heart out that she would choose to go. And she did. And not only did she encounter other girls her age, she encountered God.
Sure, I wanted her to connect with girls her age, but even more I wanted her to experience God without me.
There’s all this crazy research on why so many kids are leaving the church once they can (6 in 10). Why? Some are leaving because it’s the first time they have the freedom to do so. Here are 6 other reasons.
But I think most leave because they don’t know Jesus.
They have heard about him their whole lives. They have the t-shirt. But it’s not that personal.
I don’t know if there’s a right way to go about it. But I do know it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship.
One of the best things we can do for our kids is introduce them to our Savior. If we are living in relationship with him, they probably know that. Kids are smart. They can see the One who has turned our lives around.
We lose them to our culture if we fill our home with a lot of rules and legalism in an effort to produce morality. Because you can have all these things and not have Jesus.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” Romans 12:2 (MSG)
So, what can we do?
1. Pray for our children-like on our knees. It’s a tough world for them to navigate.
2. Talk openly. Let them ask hard questions. Over lunch the other day, my kids asked why we left the denomination we were raised in. We were honest. It turned out to be a very meaningful conversation about religion and what it really means to follow Jesus.
3. Admit your mistakes and doubts. I think it’s good to let our kids know we struggle, too.
3. Refuse to let culture dictate your calendar. Most kids simply can’t fit a midweek Bible Study or youth group into their already busy lives. I wonder if that is being too busy.
4. Give them opportunities to connect. If your church doesn’t have a good youth group, help them find one.
5. Don’t give up-no matter what, no matter how far they run, no matter how wild the battle rages. Do not stop fighting for your kids.
I don’t know if my kids will continue to follow Jesus once they leave our home. I can’t make the decision for them. But I’m going to do my best to love Him and hope they’ll follow.