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: A Glass of Ice-Cold Water

It started as a tiny drug store in a prairie town of 326 people. The new owners took possession in 1931, serving the community which had been devastated by the Great Depression and was just entering the dust bowl years. The owners lived in a small space in the back of the store, separated only by a blanket suspended from the ceiling.

After four-and-a-half years of hardly a customer, they considered selling and moving on to better opportunities. But one smoldering summer day, the wife had a Divine inspiration.

“The people in those cars going up and down the highway must surely be thirsty. What if we put up signs offering a free glass of ice water?” Before they’d finished setting up the signs people were already stopping by for water (and ice cream).

2017 June 19 Hot Traveling

Photo courtesy of Pablo Garcia Saldana @ Unsplash

Handing out free, ice-cold water changed the owners’ lives.

Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD now occupies an entire block, and hosts as many as 20,000 visitors a day. Our family stops there every time we travel down Interstate 90. We just can’t resist a place that has experienced God’s blessings by doing things God’s way. Well, truth be told, I guess we can’t resist their ice cream either.

Once he’d earned enough money to begin traveling, Wall Drug founder, Ted Hustead, had another brilliant idea. While on vacation in London, he hung a huge sign on a wall in a subway station. It humorously informed the locals that Wall Drug was only 5,160 miles away. The sign then offered free information about South Dakota to anyone who wrote them. In short order they began receiving 15-20 letters a day.

Signs began appearing all over the world—sometimes only as large as a road sign—with an arrow pointing in the direction of Wall, SD, and listing the distance to the store. They’ve shown up in places like Paris, Kenya, and even Antarctica. My husband saw one for the first time while touring Greece. It was these signs that drew us to make our first stop while on vacation with our children in 2001.

Since we homeschooled we had decided to take a month-long vacation that September. Temps would be cooler and crowds would be much lighter than traveling during the summer months. As their teacher, I wanted to make every day a learning opportunity. So, in researching our route, I discovered Wall Drug was only a few blocks off the interstate.

When we got there we all made a beeline for that promised free glass of water. We simply had to have a taste of history. Of course, the cooler of water was placed right inside the ice cream parlor where we discovered something even more inviting.

When planning for this trip, I decided to adopt an activity my father had conducted during one of our summer vacations. To minimize teenage sibling arguments, he prepared daily devotions. I did the same, by writing devotions that had to do with what we’d be visiting each day. Well, you might guess what Scripture I used for us to meditate on the day we visited Wall Drug. Yes, Matthew 10:42

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. … And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward”

(Matthew 10:40 and 42, NASB).

Souvenir for the Soul

When we do the simplest of things, meeting the most basic of needs, as representatives of Jesus’ compassion for the vulnerable, we are promised great reward.

Ted Hustead, in telling the story of Wall Drug’s history, said,

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

Sometimes we think we’ll make the biggest impact by doing big things. Well the story of Wall Drug begs to differ. Jesus begs to differ. It’s such a relief to know our greatest impact is made when doing the small things.

June 19 Cup of Cold Water

So maybe that’s the way we can break through the big walls our “unattached” kids have erected. We don’t have to knock down those walls.

We simply need to stand on our tip toes, extend a hand over, and offer a cup of water.

Something as simple as a smile, a light touch to a shoulder, a few words of encouragement (like “I believe in you.”), a moment to listen (with mouth closed while looking straight into their eyes). These refreshing gestures, will go along way in softening their hearts. You may not notice what happens on the other side of those walls, but in years to come you just might get to hear them tell of the little ways you quenched their thirst.