Why Children Leave the Church When They Leave Home

{Heads Up! September 4th, I’ll be launching a brand new website, and no longer posting here on Mother of Pearls. In fact, you can take a look now at Cheri Dee Johnson. For those who subscribe, I’ll be send you a free printable: The Nonbiological Mom’s Declaration of Truth.}

To this day I remember how I landed …

stunned and pouty, on the floor where my mother had suddenly plunked me. I hadn’t realized I had been so squirmy, nor that the sanctuary was stifling hot in the crammed pews. All I know is that I was suddenly surrounded by big shoes attached to adult legs. Adults who sat transfixed by a captivating awareness of God.

When I was four- and five-years-old my dad was on staff at a church that experienced a move of God so powerful it impacted the entire town—the news of it landing bold-faced on the front page of the paper. Even as a young child, the overwhelming, loving presence of God was so palatable, it changed my life forever.

I remember. I remember sitting in church (most of the time on the pew) and watching faces glow and tissue boxes empty as people shared their life-changing stories. I remember seeing my mother on her face, weeping before God. I remember telling my grandmother how we had a peace in our home we hadn’t had before. (Yes, even church leaders and their families need life-changing encounters with God.)

I believe the reason many children raised in church grow up and leave the church is because they are missing two important ingredients. They don’t encounter God at church and they don’t experience Him regularly at home. It’s not that church is irrelevant – although that might be. But frankly, God is irrelevant.

Aug 21 Relevance
Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

I know full well that revival (as they called this move of God) can’t be manufactured. It’s not the result of following a set of formulated steps.

But somehow we need to usher our children into tangible experiences with God if we want them to follow Him the rest of their lives.

I have a couple suggestions for you.

Make sure you’re in a church where the leadership visibly practices humility before Christ (the Head of the church). It needs to be a place where people linger before God. A place that puts God’s Word as the foundation. A church that’s not in a hurry to accomplish the Sunday morning routine and then go home.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Colossians 1:18 (NASB)

And I cannot urge you strongly enough, the best place for your children to encounter God at church is in the worship service with the adults. I can testify loud and clear, that sitting in the sanctuary, even as a four-year-old, and seeing God change lives right before my very eyes, is what set the course for my lifelong lean into the Savior. I love the way John Piper explains it in this podcast: “Should Children Sit Through ‘Big Church’?”.

Then in our homes, our personal walk with Jesus has to be real, endearing, and top priority. We have to demonstrate more than just a commitment to an organization. We have to model more than just following a set of spiritual disciplines. Our children need to witness our hunger for the person of God. They need to watch us walk in daily relationship with Jesus. The need to smell that this relationship is fresh—not packaged. Something we breathe moment by moment, drink until we’re satisfied, and feast on as if we’ll never eat again. We must offer our children much more than leftovers thrown down like dog food in scheduled increments.

I’m not saying to not follow a routine or to ignore the disciplines. I’m saying use them as a means to experience, and model, an irresistible relationship with Jesus.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
Philippians 3:7-10

Now, let me say …

this is one area of parenting I feel like I totally failed at.

Partly, because I was so overwhelmed in running a household of seven, while attempting to keep a lid on trauma-induced behaviors. And partly because if children can’t attach to a parent, they can’t attach to God, and I had no idea how to get this message across.

But, I can also say, it was still clear that following God and living according to His Word the best we knew how was of utmost importance to both Bob and me. Our kids got to watch us do so for the four to twelve years they lived in our home.

More importantly, even though my children are all grown up with their own families, this modeling is something I can still do. Just because I’m an empty-nester doesn’t mean I’m a hollowed-out shell. Neither do I have to stalk my kids for opportunities to pry the gospel into their thinking. I just need to live it. Day in and day out.

This is a simple answer to a complicated question. But in truth I think it boils down to …

Aug 21 Soaking in Jesus. jpg

When it comes down to it, it’s not church that offers redemption. It’s Jesus. And when Jesus is alive and real in a person’s life, they tend to want to hang out with other Jesus-lovers. Church just happens to be a great place to find such people.

Was I a Racist in My Own Home?

Do you see yourself as a racist?

Probably not. You certainly hope not. Right? Me too.

You know I’m probably going to say something like “we are more racist than we like to think.” Yep, I am. But then, if we’re honest, that’s no surprise. Don’t we all prefer to hang with people just like us? People who look, talk, and smell the ways we prefer. But that’s not really being racist, is it?

The problem comes when we want to see people become just like us. It’s not limited to races. This desire nests in anything that defines us: our faith, our political alignment, our parenting styles, and even our economic status. In our heads we know that if everyone else was just like us, the world would be grossly imbalanced. But deep inside we actually believe differently.

This is evidenced in our families, as well—where our children were born into a culture different from ours. We know it will take time, but hiding deep in our hearts, is the expectation that they’ll eventually start thinking and behaving like we do. And so we either ignore, downplay, or try to root out the impact of their beginnings. It’s hard enough to transplant them into our families. But let me tell you …

August 13 Roots

Somehow we have to learn to be at home with these little people from different places in the world.

It took me several years to come to the realization that my children would never turn into “mini me’s”. How I wished I had arrived at this understanding a lot sooner.

The following are specific ways that helped me learned to embrace our differences:

1. We regularly celebrated their culture of origin.

On the annual celebration of their adoption day we prepared Russian foods: borscht, pierogies, kielbasa, blini, and other fun foods. We also purchased Russian candy and kvas (a drink I can’t stand but my kids love) from a nearby Ukrainian store.

Aug 13 borscht

2. We talked positively, redemptively about their biological parents.

I wanted my children to feel a connection to their parents, and have a sense of place and purpose in this world. I didn’t want them to go through life bitter at their parents. God’s forgiveness is available for every single human. Opportunities to change and live in His grace are available even to those who’ve hurt us the most.

3. I had to grieve the children I never got.

I didn’t ever want to be bitter that God had not enabled me to have biological children, so I didn’t let myself grieve very deeply. But one day, after about four or five years of parenting, I had to face the fact that I would never have a child who looked like me, walked, laughed, or talked like me. It took another three or four years to realize that because my adopted children would never become a reflection of me, I needed to have a funeral in my head and lay these children of my dreams to rest.

4. I had to release my adoptive children to be Russians living in America.

It probably wasn’t until our oldest had lived on his own for a year or so, that I realized I had to allow each child to determine what parts of their Russian identity and what parts of their American/Johnson identity they wanted to claim for themselves.

5. I didn’t have to change who I was and become like them.

It was a hard tension to live with, but in time I came to a peace that my children were going to operate according to a very different set of values than mine. Instead of focusing on how we differed, I chose to focus on what we had in common. For several years I remember thinking the ties that bound us were single thread thin. But that’s where I started, and in time those cords have grown thicker.

I think we all have a subconscious longing for others to be just like us.

Frankly, I suspect this indicates we actually like who we are. But, it also an indicates that we’re not sure we’re suppose to. And so we look to the choices others around us make to affirm that we’re worth liking.

Aug 13 Mirror
Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash

Maybe the racism that hides deep inside of us is something we need to take an honest look at. Partly so we can learn to accept people for who they are. But more importantly so we can celebrate who we are. I strongly believe that before we can accept others, we have to start with ourselves. Maybe that’s why the Bible records in it’s very first chapter that …

God created man in His own image
(Genesis 1:27, NASB).

We are little representations of God Himself.

Don’t you think that’s something to appreciate? Something to show off?

And if God’s image is coded into our own DNA, it’s keyed into our children’s as well. It’s displayed in every single person. How fun would it be to start looking for the evidence of the Creator built into every life? What kind of difference would it make in our families if we made a daily practice of deciphering the expressed character of God in each member?

Something I should have done, and I suggest you do, is keep a journal of the things you appreciate about each child (and your spouse, or anyone you have a hard time liking). This will not only keep your focus positive, it will usher you into genuine worship of the Father.

My Tongue Needed a Fire Escape

I have a confession to make.

Believe me, it’s not an easy confession. It’s confession of a sin I’ve never heard other moms confess—which leads me to think I was a really, really bad mom. Can you tell how hesitant I am to admit it? But in learning to deal with this horrible habit, I learned a very important lesson I’d like to share with you.

My confession: I used to swear at my kids. (Cringe.) Because I still feel the need to protect my image a little bit, let me clarify. I never used that one really, really bad word. I hate that word! To me it sounds like verbal rape. Also, … well, I suppose I could spend time trying to paint an accurate picture here, but the truth is, it just isn’t pretty no matter how much I try to dress it up.

Aug 7 lemuel-butler-515Photo by Lemuel Butler on Unsplash]

I wanted to blame my kids or the situation. I wanted to justify myself with, I can’t help it; the words just pop out of my mouth before I can stop them. Though it felt that way, I knew it wasn’t true. After all, I didn’t talk that way at church. I also knew God held me responsible for the things I said. Having memorized 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a teenager, I was convinced that He had built into me the ability to control my tongue.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
(NASB)

One day I was doing an assignment for a women’s Bible study group. The passage we studied included James 3:10.

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, THIS SHOULD NOT BE.”
(NIV)

I knew it was time to deal with my tongue.

So I had a little conversation with the Lord. Lord, I keep failing at this. I believe your Word and know there’s a way for me to muzzle my mouth. But I need your help in figuring out how. Right here. Right now. It’s time to get to the bottom of this.

Then the Lord taught me a simple little trick. It starts in your mind long before you ever get into a heated situation. …

You have to prepare.

Then He suggested I pick other words I could use. I needed to choose those words when I wasn’t angry so they’d be ready to grab and use when I was. Sort of like having a bag of tools handy at my side.

I never came up with a list of appropriate words. It was enough for me to realize that the way I could control myself in irksome situations was to prepare before such an incident ever arose. Frankly, it was enough for me to realize I really could keep bad words from popping out

In fact, this led me to a deeper realization. Any thoughts I had given attention to would eventually find a way to sneak out of my mouth when I least expected it. The key was to …

Not allow ungodly thoughts to loiter inside my head in the first place.

I learned that when an inappropriate thought or word passed through my mind, to say (sometimes out loud), Nope, that’s not landing here! I then intentionally replaced that thought with what God would think. I still do this.

A friend recently reminded me of a quotation from Martin Luther our former pastor once shared:

You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.

We all have sinful ways.

Yep, we need to call it what it is—sin. Ungodly impulsive reactions: words, facial expressions, or other behaviors. The time to replace these responses is in calm moments. It’s during peacetime we should identify our poor responses, create good ones, plant the new ones deep into our brains, and, practice, practice, practice.

When we’re in the middle of a firefight, smoke keeps us from seeing the escape route God has for us. So before the battle ever begins we have to acquaint ourselves intimately with that route. We need to be able to turn to it blind—even in our sleep.

Aug 7 Escape Route

When it comes down to it, the best way to prevent curses from flowing from our lips is to plant praise deep in our hearts.

I don’t know about you, but that’s something I can do.