Giving Kids the Wrong Choice

Perry Emerick – Mesa Campus Pastor
Parenting today can be quite complicated and difficult. Parenting philosophies and opinions are plentiful and often in your face. It is one of the reasons I have hesitated writing this post because I want to be careful about adding to the parenting opinion conversation. However, more and more I am seeing parents giving their kids unhealthy choices that concerns me. I am not talking about healthy choices when it comes to snacks, like apples over chips, but something far more important than that. One of the interesting things I see parents do is treat their kids as fully understanding young adults able to make informed decisions about things they are often ill-equipped to make and that I believe can have life long consequences. Specifically speaking, I often see parents give their teenagers the choice of whether to go to church or not, which often they choose not to do.

The reasoning for giving kids the choice is often that they don’t want their kids to grow up hating the church, which they feel if they force them to go, may happen. That make sense, except there are plenty of areas where we don’t use that reasoning, most notably school. I know plenty of kids, my own included, who do not get excited about going to school, and would love more than anything for me to allow them to stay home each day. Yet for me, that is not going to happen, because despite what they feel, I know that an education is important for their future well being. Many kids come to appreciate school by the time they graduate even while being excited to be done. Graduating high school gives a sense of accomplishment, better job opportunities, and the opportunity to attend college. As parents, we might hide behind the legal part of requiring kids to go to school, but the truth is, we know it is in their best interest to go, even if they don’t like it. We may try to find them a school that works better for them, but we still make them go.
So why don’t we do that with church? I think the hard truth is too many parents believe there is greater benefits of a good education than there is with a sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Either that or they just don’t have the nerve to stand up to their kids. Both of these are concerning for those who claim to follow Jesus. So let’s look at both of those thoughts, beginning with the latter.
Parents must learn to stand up to their kids, even when it is hard. Kids need to learn appropriate boundaries and healthy limits. I am not advocating that you crush a child’s spirit, but you have to help them learn self-discipline, and as I once heard Dr. Henry Cloud say, in the absence of self-discipline, external boundaries must be set. This is not about control, but rather about helping them develop healthy disciplines and practices. Yet if we are not able to stand up to our kids and establish ourselves as authorities in their life, they are stunted from learning how to submit to other authority in their lives, which will have much greater long term consequences. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Training up is active and requires an ability to stand up to your kids for their own best interest…not yours.
The other part has to do with values. One of the great challenges of American Christianity is our culturally held belief that God’s greatest goal for us is the American Dream. This simply is not true. God’s greatest goal for us is to be disciples and followers of his, faithfully loving and serving Jesus Christ as our Lord. He desires people who will live the Kingdom of God here on earth, and in doing so will someday experience the fullness of that Kingdom at the end of the age. He desires people to experience the fullness of his grace and the freedom that comes from that, while seeking to help others to experience it as well. It’s not that I feel he is against the American Dream, it’s that he has a much greater dream for us to experience, the abundant life that only comes through faith in Jesus. The problem is, as parents many of us don’t live that kind of life, so it is hard for us to lead our children to it. The single greatest influence on a child/adolescent’s faith is their parents faith. And as parents, when we faithfully attend and are actively engaged in the body of Christ, and include our kids in that, they have the greatest likelihood of doing the same.
Let me also add one other note about allowing your kids to choose whether or not to go to church. Choices of this type requires an accurate understanding of what they are choosing not to do. If a kid doesn’t fully and accurately experience what church and a relationship with God is all about, it is impossible for them to make an informed choice. By having your child attend, you are giving them a solid base of understanding to choose from. They are likely surrounded with people’s negative or skewed opinions about church which can be highly influential. So, be a part of a healthy church that truly seeks to make disciples, model for them what it means to be one, and guide them through the rough adolescent years by being strong in your convictions and values. And then you can at least know that you have given them something to actually base their decision on.
Cal has often said that parenting is a sacred trust; that our kids have been entrusted to us by God to raise. That can be incredibly challenging and sobering, especially in the ever changing culture we live in. So let me close with this final encouragement…pray for your kids. Pray for the wisdom and strength to not only get them through these years, but hopefully to lay a foundation for a lifetime of Godly influence. It is a long road, but take heart that we are not alone in the journey. We have the God of all wisdom guiding us, and hopefully a supportive church family walking along side of us, and together we have the opportunity to raise a generation that will impact the world for him!
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Giving Kids the Wrong Choice

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