Whilstresearching for his book 'How to get your kids through Church without them ending up hating God' (catchy title I know!),Rob discoveredthat thechurch children and young people experience can often be unhelpful: "I found that many of them had never been prepared in life for the disappointments that hit every follower of Jesus". Rob discoveredthat many of the young people he talked to had not walked away from God at all, but from something else.
Something else? Now that's food for thought...
When I think about my ownchildren as they journey through the various groups, activities and experiences at ourchurch,Im asking myself what willtheirunderstanding of faithbe like when they reach18 and theend of the childrens and youth ministry conveyor belt? My hope is that they will have a solid foundation of Christianity; that they believe in God and I hope that they would have made a personal commitment to follow Christ too. I also hope that they believe that no matter what they do, by God's grace He will always welcome them back with open arms. I admit that's a lot of hoping!
You may have heard the phrase 'belong, believe, behave'. It's used a quite a lot in Christian leadershipto describea shift in attitudes and approaches towards mission. Personally I prefer the word 'become' to 'behave' (as it translates betterthe transformative aspect of faith rather than simply living to a restrictive setof rules). However, regardless of postmodern views and values, the senseofbelonging to something still prevails.Knowing that you belong and are accepted, valuedand loved isnourishment tothesoul.
When Jesus was asked aboutthe greatest commandment he replied; 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' (Matthew 22:37). Providingchildren and young people withopportunities to learn, explore the Biblical narrative is paramount to their spiritual development. Churches by and large are pretty good at this sothat's the 'mind' bit ticked.But what about the heart and soul? Asdisciples of Jesus Christwe mustlove God with our heart, soul and mind.
Think for a minute aboutthe'somethings' that Robhighlights that can causeyoung people to walkaway fromtheChurch:
Many young people findtheir experpiences of church unhelpful to say the least. Many of them talk of veryjudgemental things, or people saying, 'You could never be a follower of Jesus if you've got a tattoo or you smoke.'
Children, young people (and adults too)need to understand and believe that God is interested in their hearts too. Being a follower of Jesus is not about perfection. God knows this - isn't that whyGod sent His son into the world?God calls usto do some hard things, and He doesnt expect usto make it through each daywithout picking up some scratches along the way. Followers of Christ arent made perfect on day onerather, day one involves acknowledging perfection as the goal. Every day after is about pressing toward it and that's what children and young people need to hear more about. If we're more open and honest about ourtrials and tribulations children and youngpeople's faith will become more resilient andstrong enough topersevere when disappointment and difficulty come their way, and itwill do! (Romans 5:1-5).
I think we can make people belong all kinds of people. Its easy to walk away from an institution; its harder to walk away from a family. When I was touring round the world for
Bringing home the prodigals,
I came across some incredible stories. There was one story of a Hells Angel who was dared to go to church by his friends. He was 26 with long greasy hair, and enough iron in his face to open a small hardware shop! On his knuckles he had very rude words - that was his statement to the world. Someone dared him to go to church and he went and sat on the front row. Unfortunately for him, that church allocates certain seats to certain people who welcome. Hed sat himself in Marge Staples area. Marge is almost 90 and she sees him and says: Oh young man, its so lovely to see you. Come here and let me hug you! And as shes hugging him, she feels the metal, and then she feels something else - he's crying. He doesnt stop crying until the preacher finishes, and he became a Christian that day. Six weeks later a consultant plastic surgeon gave him a skin graft to remove the rude tattoos. When they baptised him the wounds still hadnt healed, and he had to wear plastic bags over his hands tied with rubber bands as he went under the water!I want the spirit of Marge Staples. I want to say to kids on the edge that they are accepted and that God looks at the heart. I want them to feel that they belong.
Well put Rob!Nurturing a resilient faith in children; heart, soul and mind- is theDNA for resilient faith that simple? Imagine if children, young people and adults in our congregations (and communities) experienced acceptance and belonging, and encountered the love and grace of God?
Wow! What an amazingChurch that would be!
Read the full interview with Rob Parsons here