Saturday, October 30, 2010
For many years, Scott and I were involved in children's church ministries. The Lord pulled us out almost a year ago and told us to place more focus on our own children and marriage. It took the Lord several months to convince me that it was truly Him and not the devil telling us to leave these ministries. Why would God tell us to stop teaching His children at the church? Wasn't that a good thing? God responded that we had been doing a good thing - but that His plan for us to leave was better than good. Since then, I have experienced an entire paradigm shift in my feelings about children's and youth ministries, education, and about why many of our children and youth abandon their faith once they leave home.
I am convinced that many Christian families today are more influenced by our American culture than by the Word of God. As a result, many parents don't train up their own children anymore - either academically or spiritually. Women and men have lost their way in our androgynous society. Mothers are convinced they must leave their homes to survive financially when the Scriptures clearly tell them to be homemakers (Titus 2:5). The men are convinced their wives must leave as well. Are there exceptions to God's Word when the economy is bad? On the contrary, we are to expect testing. Can God set a table in the wilderness? (See Psalm 78:19). Beware of panicking in disbelief! There is no orderly haven at home anymore. Everyone is gone, busy, preoccupied. No one is nurturing the children. The spouses are too exhausted to nurture each other. Christian families are falling apart.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Most Christian parents have memorized this verse - and yet they allow the world to train up their children - and as the Scripture promises - their children are faithful not to depart from serving the world that trained them. Forty hours a week, thirty-six weeks a year, thousands of Christian children are receiving intense teaching and modeling from strangers in the public school system. And now there is a chance that school time is going to increase. There are some Christian children who have been educated in the public school system and have remained in their faith, but they tend to be more tolerant of behaviors and ideas that contradict the Scriptures because of constant exposure and erosion. I remember debating with a group of them at our Wednesday night teen discipleship class at a former church about whether or not it was okay to marry outside the faith. Despite being shown the Scriptures, the kids just wouldn't accept that "being in love" wasn't enough. They also had blurrier lines about what was considered "modest", dating issues, and acceptable language. Simply put, they were "worldlier". There are Christian parents who have their children in public school who strive to remain in constant communication with their children, provide home studies, and prayer; and see this as a great opportunity to reach the lost, but the focus of academics is much easier for your child (and you) if he is not bombarded with temptations and false teaching all day.
To be fair, there are also children who have been homeschooled all of their lives who have abandoned Christ and fallen terribly. In these situations, it is important to examine the other areas of these children's lives. Not all Christian homeschooling families are healthy. Just because Christian parents homeschool does not mean their children are being trained, nurtured, protected, and prayed for in a Christian environment. Academics is only one component (albeit a major one) of your child's training. I encourage both parents to prayerfully seek God's best for your children, but don't be surprised if the Lord tells you that you are what's best. I taught public school for ten years and pursued a future as an administrator. My father was an elementary school principal. The fact that I am even homeschooling is an act of God. Less than ten years ago, the idea of homeschooling was appalling to me. But as I continued to feed on God's Word and grow - and listen - the Lord changed my heart.
Pray for and with your child daily and specifically. Don't just pray for safety and good behavior. You must pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to your child personally so that a relationship will develop between your child and God. Your child will never feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and be led to resist and repent if he never develops this relationship.
But my child will be a light to all those unsaved children in his school. I want my children to relate to those who need to hear the Gospel. These are major arguments of proponents of public schooling Christian children. Unfortunately, they are not Scriptural. Jesus didn't start His ministry until He was thirty. I am not suggesting that our Lord wasn't mature or capable enough of beginning His ministry at a younger age, but the Bible states that Jesus is our example. The Lord sets the timing for the ministries for which He calls us and He prepares us before sending us out. Jesus was tested in the wilderness immediately after His baptism, Moses was sent out into the wilderness for forty years before he was sent back to deliver Israel, David was pursued by Saul in the wilderness and tested before stepping up to his position as king, the apostles walked with Jesus for three years before He ascended, and 1 Timothy states in 3:10 that all deacons must first meet specific requirements and be tested before being allowed to lead. Our children are simply not ready to be thrust out onto a battlefield before training and testing. The war is for their very souls and we greatly underestimate the wiles of the enemy until it's too late. It isn't until our children leave the church that we ask, "What happened?" We must train. We must protect. We must interfere and rebuke.
Desiring for your child to relate to the lost will happen as he grows in Christ in God's timing. Kids are born sinners, but the conviction of his own sin has to make its mark before he can discern what behaviors from his peers are acceptable for modeling. Being immersed in various and sundry behaviors via school, the Internet, or television and video before one has a clear picture of right and wrong is confusing and promotes that sin is "not that big of a deal. Everybody does this....." It is written, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (First John 2:15) The ministry of the apostles was powerful (especially when the fear of the Lord came on everyone - see Acts). Jesus dined with, taught, and ministered to many steeped in sin, but these were ministry encounters. He was not being taught by these people, nor was He becoming good friends with them. The good friends He regularly dwelt with saw Him as the authority. The teachers in your child's life are the shepherds, and your child is the lamb. It is dangerous to place your child under the authority of an institution that refuses to welcome God into the classroom and practice His ways. It is also unwise to immerse him in a peer group where he is largely outnumbered by those who are not interested in pleasing the Lord.
Some feel that their children must "experience" sin in order to be a convincing witness. This is ridiculous. Though a virgin Himself, Christ was followed by former prostitutes. We must walk in holiness if we are to make an impact, and still find sin utterly sinful and shocking, so we will see it, grieve, and intercede like we should. We must remain salty.
When speaking of the Messiah in His childhood, Isaiah stated, "Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." (Isaiah 7:15) If you want your child to choose the good and refuse the evil, train and protect him until he is a "wall". The Song of Solomon describes two types of young brides, "If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar." (Song of Solomon 8:9) Children, especially teenagers, can be doors. They let in and let out. A wall doesn't move. When the bride is a wall, she is ready for battle.
But Timothy was young and Paul told him not to let anyone despise his youth. Paul wrote, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers......" (1 Timothy 4:12). Flip over to second Timothy 1:5, where Paul refers to the faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother. Timothy was not being trained by a public institution. He had been reared by Godly women in his life and was being mentored by the Apostle Paul himself. Timothy wasn't your ordinary teenager. And if you train yours Scripturally, yours won't be either. Timothy had not only been trained by the best before being given authority, he had also been ordained. (1 Timothy 4:21) Most of all, Paul was exhorting him to be an example to the other believers - not a high school.
When you feel confident it is time to pair your child up with another teacher, mentor, etc., be selective. Not only is it important for your child to be accountable to others, but there are wonderful teachers/parents who share your values, are trustworthy, and have more knowledge or skills than you in a particular subject area. It is your responsibility to protect your child in extracurricular activities as well. I am not promoting isolation by any means. I am encouraging more parental leadership and discretion. "Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33). It matters who your child's friends are and the company he keeps. You are expected to evaluate and even interfere with his social circle until his choices consistently reflect wisdom. Eli and King David refused to interfere with their sons, and there were terrible consequences.
In addition, many young Christians today are allowed to have "boyfriends" and "girlfriends" in a dating style relationship. I encourage you to seek the Scriptures on this one. This is a worldly behavior. Opening this door before the age of marriage is asking for trouble. No one needs to "practice" marital intimacy in this way. A child who is starving for affection and love will be far more determined to seek outside satisfaction too early - so prevent that hunger! Other reasons your teen may be overly interested in seeking a girlfriend or boyfriend may simply be because his/her peer group expects this behavior. In addition, a teen may also have his curiosity stimulated through exposure to pornography. It is a myth that teens feel an innate need to couple up. These desires are often stimulated from an inappropriate outside source.
In addition to your child's training in academics, it is also extremely important to evaluate your child's training in the church. Many youth leaders come to the position with a teenager's perspective instead of a parental one. Those "teenage friendly" leaders will be more likely to provide entertainment for you child rather than discipline and sound counsel. Many are frequently trying to be a friend with your child instead of being a mentor. I remember a time when the Lord had rebuked me and I cried out to Him, "I thought You were my friend!" His reply was, "I Am, but I'm your God first." Friendship is secondary to a leader's willingness to rebuke and even remove a contentious teen from a meeting. (Yes, this Scriptural!) Paul spoke of himself as "being in childbirth" and John referred to the church as "my little children". Mentoring and leading any part of the church is a form of parenting. We are the Bride of Christ. The bride is the Mama. I'd like to pose a controversial question. Should we even be having all of these youth activities? Once again, to whom should the primary responsibility of the spiritual training of these kids belong? Should our children even participate?
There is a clear difference between supporting one another in training up our children (as Sunday school teachers, etc.) and being the primary source of that training. Unfortunately, these intended positions of support often become the only consistent training many children/youth in the church are receiving. The Lord made it clear to me that the seed I was scattering in my efforts to train up the children of others in various church ministries wasn't bearing as much fruit as I thought it was. I'll never forget the morning I asked my Sunday School students to share what they had read in their Bibles that week and not one child had read it - and this was during a church wide push to get the congregation to read the entire Bible in a year. (I was still shocked that so few had already done so). Although I was passionately encouraging my students to read and pray, there was no one supporting this the remaining six days of the week. It is no wonder that so many Christians are more influenced by the culture than by the Bible. They're not reading it!
I could see that my own children were losing their focus on the Lord and His Word as they were being led - yes, led by the church to be more connected and intimate with their peers and youth leaders than to their own parents. I had asked a youth leader if my husband and I could attend his Sunday school series on finances with our daughters so we could follow up at home and do this as a family. He actually discouraged us to attend because he feared parental input during his teaching.
My young sons were becoming more and more excited about seeing their friends and attending "fluff" events. Their behavior began to resemble that of unchurched, undisciplined urchins. The Lord had my attention, and after seeking Him about this, He told me there was a better way to bear fruit - at home. "Bear fruit that will endure.......pour into your own children instead of hopefully pouring into the children of others and enabling their parents to continue in their disobedience....." I am well aware that new Christians need to be discipled and are often clueless as to how to train up their children in the ways of the Lord, but the church is not teaching these new believers how to train up their children and encouraging them to do so - they are attempting to do it for them - and exhausting healthy families in the process. Although some parenting classes exist, they are not made a priority in the church and the efforts to train them are undermined by offering options to escape that responsibility.
It is only the older women (not those with children at home) who are exhorted to teach in the Scriptures - and then they are only supposed to be teaching other women. (1 Timothy 2:12) The Bible even explains what they are supposed to be teaching. They are supposed to be teaching the women to stay at home! (See Titus 2 and 3) Even then, those younger women should not be spending so much time in their support groups and classes that "their feet never stay at home". I speak from the experience of being a very enthusiastic volunteer from everything from teaching Sunday School to AWANAS to vacation Bible school. In my sincere desire to serve, I was actually being disobedient to the Scriptures and was neglecting my family. I was no longer my husband's helpmeet. He had become mine. When my household began to fall apart, the Lord showed me my mistake. Those families (like ours) who have already been discipled are not passing the torch to their own children; they are dropping them off in classrooms taught by others and the disconnect is growing larger. In our case, we were having other people teach our kids so we could teach theirs! Despite the genuine concern and silent disapproval we felt from the brethren we truly loved, we pulled away - not from attending church - just from attending all the crazy busyness that was consuming our time and keeping us too stressed out to "be still" and really hear God - as a family.
My husband and I sought a more quiet, focused approach. We pulled the kids out of all the "events" and "clubs" and collaborated on how we could take back the reins of our own family, become less scattered as we sought the Lord together, and model our family life after the Scriptures rather than after all of our peers. We began "Humble Tuesdays" - a day devoted to prayer and committed our Thursday evenings to family Bible study/worship. We continue to homeschool the children and started attending a very conservative church that does not have a youth "program" and strong worldly influences. Although I feel that we have grown during this time, I can see the danger of becoming too inwardly focused and yearn to continue some type of outreach. This blog is one of the ways I try to do that.
My husband and I know now that we have not been called out of children's ministry, but more deeply into it. It is called parenting.