It’s not just about keeping children in the pews, but about them having open hearts to God, says author and speaker ROB PARSONS
How do you get your children through church without them ending up hating God?
By getting them ready for disappointment, says Rob Parsons.
In his new book, Getting Your Children Through Church Without Them Ending Up Hating God, Rob stresses that there are three disappointments and five faith-wreckers – and parents need to be aware of all of them.
“The first is disappointment with themselves. We have to get kids ready for the day when they feel they have let God down – and they have to know, there is always a way back.
“I meet lots of young people and I say: ‘Why don’t you go to church any more?’ And they say: ‘I was doing lots of things that were wrong. I was drinking’, or ‘I smoked’, or whatever – and it breaks my heart.
“Yes, it would have been better if they were not doing these things, but there are a million other things they could have been doing, and there are people sat in the pews who are doing them, and who manage to sustain some measure of Christian life.
“We put up this image of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and so many kids just get disappointed and think they cannot live up to it – and that everyone else is doing so.
“Secondly, we have to get them ready for disappointment with others. Some of our deepest hurts will be at the hands of people inside the church. Sometimes the things we do to each other are unspeakable.
“So when a church splits, and they fight over the building, and some of them start up again in the school down the road, there is collateral damage – the children whose spiritual home has been blown apart.
“And kids are affected by leaders who fall – maybe their pastor, their youth leader, a national leader. Sometimes we build them up too much, and when these people fall, a whole bunch of kids fall with them. Because they almost look at these people as though they are Jesus.
“We have to say to our children: ‘You can admire people, you can look up to them, but these people are not Jesus.’
“And, hardest of all, we have to get them ready for disappointment with God. When they are little, they pray: ‘Give me a fine day for my birthday’, or ‘Make my hamster better’, but the time is coming when they will ask God to make their best friend well from cancer, and next year they will be praying by their graveside, crying in the rain.
“So many people never recover from that day. We don’t tell them the truth about unanswered prayer because we don’t want to put them off.
“But it is not our job to defend God. If we are not honest about these things, then it will be much harder for them to survive. I am not just talking about keeping kids in church, but about them having open hearts to God.”
And what of the five faith-wreckers?
“Cynicism. If we come home from church, and rubbish the worship leader, and say the preacher was bad, and the youth leader needs shooting – our kids hear us. If we have a cynical attitude, we will have cynical kids.
“Then there is hypocrisy – all parents are hypocrites and we all let God down. But I am talking about calculated hypocrisy, where we pray long prayers openly at church, but the kids know we never pray at home. Or we give openly and preach love in church, but treat people badly at home. It destroys young people’s faith, and makes them think that nothing is real.
“We have to be wary of judgementalism. One young person said to me: ‘I know Christians are supposed to hate the sin and love the sinner, but it seems to me they often hate both.’
“Or there is over-busyness. One young girl said to me: ‘I never see my father. He is always up to his neck in church work.’
“If we are that busy, our children will see God as the one who robbed them of their parents.
“And finally, there is familiarity. They just get used to Jesus. We need to keep a sense of awe and wonder. And no matter how old they are – never stop praying for them.”
As told to Alison Hull
• Getting Your Children Through Church Without Them Ending up Hating God by Rob Parsons is published by Monarch, £7.99
YOUR CHANCE TO QUESTION ROB
We’ve arranged for Rob to field some questions from Inspire readers on the issues raised in the book and this article. Please send a question of no more than 25 words to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: Rob Parsons Q&A) by 27 May.
We can’t guarantee your question will be answered, but we will send a selection to Rob and publish his answers at www.inspiremagazine.org.uk by 20 June.
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