So, every once in a while I’ve been following the links that Jeff Asher makes to posts on “Why I left/Why I stay”. It makes for fascinating reading, but oddly, no one actually manages to strike at the truth of the matter, especially when they are talking about why youth are leaving the pews.
It strikes me that many of these posts are extra-ordinarily self-centered. “I stay” or “I leave” based upon what I think or on how I feel. When we have the wrong touchstone, it makes the decision to stay or leave easier. When it is all about me, then my thoughts and my feelings are the only thoughts and feelings that matter.
How did we get to have this problem? It’s a pretty common issue and one that has been identified and given various labels through the years. My personal favorite label is that this is a problem involving “God’s Grandchildren”. The real issue is that we’re not training our children to have a searching and inquisitive, but very personal faith in God.
How often in Scripture do you hear about God having a relationship with your children? Simply put, that’s not the New Testament’s plan. God’s plan has always been to have a relationship with each and everyone of us. The New Testament talks about us being the “sons of God” not the “grandsons of God.”
The result of this lack of training? First, our children never learn anything more than a high school version of the history of God’s people. What did you learn in high school history about American (or even world) history? Probably that everything was a grand march from ancient times to where we are today. No mistakes were made, everything was part of a seemingly larger plan or happened by entirely happy coincidence to make us the great nation that we are today. People didn’t struggle with problems, there were no stomach turning moments when it looked like the Constitution might not be adopted, Woodrow Wilson was never a white supremacist, and Helen Keller doesn’t grow up past about 18 (and certainly never grew up into a radical communist who advocated the violent overthrow of the US government).
We give our children much of the same kind of history when it comes to the Bible. They know very well that Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans because God told him to leave. But, they’re never challenged to think about what he had to give up forever in order to follow the command of God. They know that Peter denied his Lord three times, but they are never asked to think about the sorrow and guilt he must have felt at abandoning Jesus to the mob in the garden as well as the fear and peer pressure that likely led him to actually deny his Savior.
And worse, they look up to us, but how often do we tell them of our own struggles? One of the very hardest things that I’ve had to do as a parent is admit my shortcomings. In many ways, the easiest shortcomings to admit are those that are associated with what I’m doing right now — when I’m exasperated and become a little short tempered with them. What’s really hard is to describe the times that I fell down years ago. To admit that I have not always been the man that they see before them today and that, even now, I am not perfect — because I so very much want to be the perfect example for my children.
But, see, that’s centering things on me again. What my kids need, if they’re going to grow up and not lose faith, is to understand that Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah out of fear for his life as he lived the life of a stranger in a strange land, that Peter felt the same urge to fit into the crowd that they do, leading to his great sorrow for his lack of fidelity, and that I sometimes struggle, stumble, fall, and find myself in need of forgiveness (both from them and from God).
Why? Because this cursory learning of what the Bible says leads to people expecting perfection by the faithful. John certainly tells us that what is written is so “that you may not sin” but he quickly follows that with the understanding that we can and do sin and remain in need of an Advocate with the Father. And without a deep understanding that we don’t live perfect lives, they find their own meager faith being symbolic of a lack of faith, rather than demonstrating that it is a tender, growing plant which is still in need of a great deal of nurture, thought, and care. And, like the dead, rootless plant that they think they have become, they dry up and blow away.
And without that grounding, they find it easy to make “going to church” entertainment that is centered upon self (and is thus easily left) rather than worship offered to a loving, caring, understanding God who desires for us to help each other to grow stronger in our own faiths rather than trying to get by on the faiths of our fathers.