And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.
“Cat’s in the cradle”, by Harry Chapin
Statistically, about 80% of teenagers who are active in their church youth groups throughout middle and high school, end up leaving church completely within 3-4 years of graduation. That is a sobering thought to every parent who thinks that adding more “churchy” stuff to our kids’ lives is a solution to the world’s spiritual assault. While there is no absolute formula for raising godly kids into godly adults, it is almost certain that these weekend fixes, by themselves, do not accomplish the task as much as we would like to believe.
We have become an activity-based culture in America, taking our kids from baseball to gymnastics to swimming to the next mega-pirate-ninja-jedi-princess-castle birthday party. We entertain our children better than any culture in the world, and give them more to do by the time they are 18 than our grandparents did in their entire lives. Unfortunately, church, youth group, and the like often become just one more check on our list of a “well rounded” kid.
Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with playing baseball, pretending to be a princess, or attending youth group. All of these things are beneficial in themselves, when approached correctly, and I am certainly not advocating pulling our kids out of any of them. The problem is that we often use these things as a substitute for biblical child-rearing. What pleases God more, and what is the greater benefit…putting my son on a baseball team, or spending an hour throwing baseball with him in the front yard myself? What about spending gobs of money on a princess party for my girls and their friends, or sitting down with my girls to be thier prince for a day myself? The same principle is true with church, youth groups, and spiritual training. It is our responsibility as parents to invest in our children. Part of that could be finding a good youth program for them, but if I am not spending quality time as a dad, training up my children in righteousness, then apart from a miracle, the youth group is no different than the baseball team…just another activity that can be discarded when I get tired of it.
So, how do we want our kids to turn out? What are your visions and dreams for their lives? The way we approach them every day will send our children a clear answer to this question. The average Christian kid probably thinks that his parents want him to be a star athlete, who earns a scholarship to an elite secular college (getting free tickets for mom and dad along the way), earning his masters degree, and making millions in big business by the time he is 30, while consistently attending church on a weekly basis, and producing several grandkids down the road. Why would he think differently based on what we push as parents, and when most of us sit down and think about it, we really do want this don’t we? But, you might reason that “sports will provide a sense of teamwork and dedication, while college will open his mind to the things of the world, and teach him independence, and the master’s degree will give him more opportunity, and the millions will provide insurance, retirement, and income to keep the grandkids healthy and fed, and going to church…well, it’s just the right thing to do for a young family.”
Again, each of these things might have some degree of truth, and they can be individually beneficial. But, as Christian parents raising Christian kids, shouldn’t we set Christian goals above secular ones? Even in Christian circles, I rarely hear parents say, “My dream for my child is for him to to completely devote his life to Christ, no matter what that might look like, or where it might take him.” What if that means he ends up ministering to homeless folks every day, or sharing the gospel in the lost world, or even taking the grandchildren to Africa as a full-time missionary? Our first inclination as parents is often to say, “how will you make an income?” “Is this normal?” “I mean, Christianity is great, but don’t you think you have taken this a little too far?”
When it comes down to it, we just have a hard time resisting the temptation of the American Dream for our kids, even if it costs them spiritually. Ironically, most Christian parents would be more excited if their kids got a high-level job in a secular corporation than if they served the poor on the mission field. Again, I am not saying that God could not call someone to either of these options, He certainly could. But, we must be careful to allow God to make the choice, not us.
Do you really want to give your children the best opportunities in this world? Phillippians 4:13, says “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” All things? All things! How? Through Christ Who strengthens us. We are way too incapable in ourselves. Can our kids do all things through a master’s degree? Can our kids do all things with 10 million dollars? Can our kids do all things through athletic accomplishments? We would all agree that they cannot. So, if we believe the Bible (and that really is the question, isn’t it?) is true, then why don’t we push our children toward Jesus more often, instead of all these other things? Even deeper, in John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” So the home runs, touchdowns, doctorates, and riches are completely meaningless without a real relationship with Christ? Yep. When He says “nothing”, He means NOTHING.
Here’s the kicker. In Luke 6:40, Jesus tells us that “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” This can refer to professional “teachers”, but in reality, refers to those who spend the most time with a child (parents, family, teachers, coaches). In an average week, my kids spend approximately this much time in various parts of their lives:
3% at church
8% at activities (sports, friends, etc.)
24% at school
30% awake at home
35% sleeping (they sleep alot on Saturdays)
Doesn’t this list stand to reason (prompted by the above scripture) that home has the greatest influence on a child, followed by school? Then, why do we seek so many other options to create successful kids? This is why my kids attend HCA. Gayle and I only have 30% of our kids’ lives under our direct supervision. And, when we reduce this to our true quality time, it is certainly far less than that. Taking sleep out of the picture, this means that about 35% of their lives are spent being influenced by someone else. If Jesus’ words are true, then whomever is teaching them during this 35% will significantly mold who they will become in life. As a Christian dad, it is my responsibility to make sure that those people are leading my kids in truth and righteousness, allowing them to be “transformed by the renewing of their minds”, and not “conformed to the world”.
The key, as in any human relationship, is time. How much time am I investing in my children? How do I lead them to use their extra time? What does their time away from me look like? Is it spent in action, discussion, and thoughts about what is “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise”? (Phil. 4:8). Or is it spent on worthless things, like video games, television, or gossipping through texts and Facebook? (By the way, texting and Facebook can be used for good purposes, but if you are not supervising these things with your child, you are making a grave mistake) As parents, let’s commit to monitoring our time and our kids’ time. Let’s invest in them completely. This is the only chance we get.
HCA would like to renew our commitment to partnering with Christian parents in promoting scriptural holiness and righteousness to our kids, through adults who are devoted to the Lord in their personal lives, so that we can all be excited about the fact that our students will one day be just like their teachers. None of us are perfect, but there is truth in the statement that “there is strength in numbers”. We are all in this together, for the same purpose. Our kids, families, friends, and our God deserve our very best. Nothing else matters.
It continues to be an honor to serve Him while serving you.