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.

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Souvenirs for the Soul: When You Have to Stay Home

I wanted to go!

Oh, I wanted to go. But the Lord said, “No. Not yet. Not this year.”

It was the summer before my junior year of college. My church denomination offered a summer missions program for college juniors and seniors. I so wanted to sign up and see where I might find myself for ten weeks. I did get to go the next year, to Anchorage, Alaska. But for the summer of 1983, the Lord told me to stay home.

Really, God? What could you have for me in Des Moines, Iowa that would be better than serving you in a remote corner of the United States?

He pointed me to Psalm 37:3.

Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. (NASB)

July 31 Climatis

It would be years later that I’d come to understand the word “cultivate” means “feed on”. But at this point in time, I thought it meant that I needed to grow in my ability to be faithful to the Lord‘s direction. A good thing for me. And I did learn more deeply to trust the Lord, His timing, and His ways.

But the real meaning of this verse is that …

Sometimes the Lord wants us to sit still and feed on His faithfulness to us.

Today I’m concluding my Souvenir for the Soul series. I’ve talked about lessons the Lord has taught me in new and unfamiliar places. But you know what? He also has much for us to learn in those stuck-at-home, hot-and-sticky, droopy-eared days.

He wants us to take long, cool drinks from our own wells.

He knows the most nutritious food grows in our own gardens.

He wants us to embrace the joy from the wet gigglers that jump through our sprinklers.

He knows our richest treasures will be found sitting around our own kitchen tables.

July 31 God is Faithful When We Have to Stay

You know that verse I just mentioned, from Psalm 37? The very next verse is one we know well—and often misunderstand.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4, NASB)

Something in our brains (probably from our preschool days when we believed fairy tales) tells us that if we put God first, He’ll grant our every wish. As we’ve grown older, we’ve learned (probably in heart-wrenching ways) this is not true. That same part of our brain wants to think God’s not fair. Or, He must not love us. Or, we haven’t figured out how to truly delight in Him.

But I think our spirits understand that the truth is …

When God is our foremost pursuit, He will plant His desires inside us.

And as we trust Him, wait patiently, and watch expectantly, He will be faithful to fulfill those desires.

So for those of us who didn’t get to “go” this summer, God still has souvenirs for our souls.

Souvenir for the Soul: God’s most precious treasures aren’t discovered in the wow, but in the right here and now.

Lord, teach us to look hard in our own places and discover the riches you’ve set right in front of us. Help us savor that honey-sweet manna that arrives daily on our own plates—Your goodness.

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
(Psalm 37:5-7a, NASB)

Taste and see that the Lord is good.
(Psalm 34:8, NASB)

Souvenirs for the Soul: Never Judge a Four-Room Motel by Its Size

Talk about last minute.

In three days, Bob and I discussed, decided, and departed on a 4,000 mile trip. We hadn’t planned to go to my niece’s wedding. The distance and cost seemed prohibitive. But my sister-in-law was in her final days of life* so we made an impromptu decision and headed west.

Last minute airfare was too expensive. So we drove most of the 1900 miles in two long days. Needing low-budget accommodations, we chose to spend the second night about 150 miles from the wedding venue, in the small town where my husband had lived most of the first nine years of his life.

Silver Lake, Oregon

Silver Lake is in the middle of high desert, where its lake had dried up long before my husband lived there in the nineteen-sixties. The town itself sits at an elevation of 4345 feet, encompasses a whopping one-and-a-third square miles of land, and boasts a booming population of fifty. The night we drove into town, we’d traversed hundreds of miles in desolate darkness, dodging thousands of little jack rabbits. Sadly, we weren’t able to dodge all of them. (Oh, the things we remember!)

July 10 Oregon High Desert

Despite its remoteness, Silver Lake does offer a four-room motel that sits about fifteen feet south of the highway that runs through town. You know, the kind of motel where your double-sized bed is a mere eight steps from your car door. And if you take an additional six steps, you’ll step out the bathroom window. It’s more like a concrete tent, but with actual beds (yes, there was also a single bed in the same 12 x 12 enclosure), and an in-room bathroom.

It’s a good thing we liked adventures, especially those that hold a touch of nostalgia.

But you know what we discovered that night (or rather in the wee hours of the morning) when showering the highway grime off our weary bodies? This itty-bitty, hole-in-the-desert motel had the best towels ever. Big, soft, and absorbent. They were even better than the towels from the Hilton Hotels my husband frequents for business travel. Who would have thought?! And the next morning we got to stop at the general store next door and help ourselves to a free cup of coffee and friendly conversation.

Souvenir for the Soul:

Never judge a motel by it’s size. You never know what little comforts await you.

Isn’t this true of life? Where the experiences, especially from our childhood, that really stick out in our minds are the simplest of things? They cost little, if no, money. They involved laughter and usually other people. They may have required some imagination and creativity. And they were likely something hands-on and multi-sensory.

Like playing in the rain, making turtles out of walnut shells, mimicking Dad with his tools or Mom in the kitchen. It didn’t involve a trip to Hawaii. And even if we’d gone to Hawaii, we’d probably most remember something like eating fresh pineapple around a kitchen table in a rented room.

My most poignant memory of my own childhood travels from Missouri to Arizona is of long hours in the back of a hot station wagon, eating Snack Pack pudding. Seriously! My mom was from Arizona and we were traveling there to spend time with family. But had that not been the reason for our travel, my parents could have easily thrown us all in the car, driven an hour down the road, and fed us individual cans of sweetness to create the same feeling. Right?

July 10 The Simplest Things

You see, we may think we’re small and have little to offer. But we never know when some little thing we do, ministers welcome and comfort to a weary soul. We all have those special little touches we like to extend to others. Itsy-bitsy extra miles we like to go. We need to quit downplaying these. They matters. They make a difference. They spark a smile and invite pleasant conversation. Those that partake of our simple offerings may scoot on down the highway in short order, but chances are, we probably touched their lives in ways we’ve never dreamed.

And if you’re feeling guilty about your minimal vacation this year? Don’t. Engage those little things you specialize in and I think you just might be surprised at the baskets-full of leftover memories you’ll create.

“Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets …”
(John 6:11-13, NIV)

Do you have any simple childhood pleasures that are fun to recall? Are there ways you’ve created similar memories for your family? Would you honor us by sharing them in the comments below?

*In case it sounded like it, this sister-in-law (Jane) was not the mother of the bride. Jane got to meet Jesus face-to-face the day we started our impromptu journey. We were sad to not get to say good-bye but know we’ll see her again someday. Driving to Oregon allowed us the opportunity to spend a couple weeks there and so we were able to attend Jane’s inspiring memorial service.