My kids don’t want to go to church!
My wife and I well remember feeling somewhat intimidated by the wonderful family in the church whose kids were all so compliant! Well turned out, well mannered, always seemed so happy to be at church from the younger infants to the older teenagers – how did they do it? What was their secret?!
How was it with our four? In 1995 they were aged 12, 10, six and one. They had plenty of friends in the church so they came happily but what about the future?
There were other families in the church having real battles with their teenagers. If they came at all they looked sullen and the parents distinctly hassled! What were those parents doing wrong?
Move on five years and Ben is 17 – the battles are starting! Passed his driving test, part-time job, following Cardiff City, not converted. ‘Do I have to come this morning?!’
What have we done wrong? Why is Ben not converted? And why, although not converted, is he not compliant and happy to just come?! And … this is the pastor’s son. ‘Where’s Ben this Sunday?’ ‘He’s gone to watch Cardiff City with a group of mates.’
Of course, there had been battles in the early teens with Ben and then with Rachel (our eldest girl) but we decided as parents that they would come and we would seek to win those battles until they were 16. After that, although we made it plain we wanted them to come, it was up to them.
Ben and Rachel made their choices and came when they wanted, which became less frequent, until at the age of about 18 both had virtually stopped any regular attendance.
What had we done wrong?
This was a question my wife asked much more than I did. It seems that mothers generally suffer more anxiety in this area than fathers do.
So, what had we done wrong? Well, no parents are perfect and certainly we were not. But even the most perfect of parents cannot convert their kids – salvation is of the Lord! It is the parents’ place to pray, to teach, to encourage, and to show a godly example but we cannot convert our children.
In our church dedication services parents who dedicate their child to God make certain promises before God, amongst them is this:
Do you promise that by God’s grace and strength you will surround this child with your love and prayers, that you will endeavour to give him/her all the benefits of a Christian home, that you will instruct him/her in God’s word and ways, setting forth Christ in your own lives by word and deed, in the hope that by his mercy, God will in due time lead him/her to repentance and faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
If any parent sincerely seeks to do this, they have done nothing wrong. We leave our children (only on loan to us from the Lord) in his hands.
What is the right age at which to allow our children the choice? We chose 16 because for each of the first three children we hit real resistance at 16. With our fourth child (converted at 17) there was never any resistance at all. There is no definite age, and it may well differ from child to child even within the same family – here wisdom is needed.
So, back to Ben and Rachel – both had stopped attending by age 18. Ben is now married with four children of his own and is a deacon in his local church. Rachel is the wife of a pastor in north Wales. We have two other children. Bethan is a delightful, not yet converted, 24 year old working for a recruitment agency in Cardiff. William is in his first year at Aberystwyth University – fully involved in the CU and enjoying the ministry of Geoff Thomas.
Throughout my early/mid-teens I was happy to go along to church due to the social network I had there. However, that changed at age 17 when we moved to St Mellons Baptist Church. My group of friends changed and I had no desire to be in church, so most of the time I didn’t. My lifestyle quickly became very worldly.
Being the pastor this must have been difficult for my dad. It would have been easy for him to become angry or tell me how much I was letting him down. However, my parents’ response was very different to this – I was aware that my life was going against what they wanted but their love for me never wavered. They never approved of what I was doing, and yet they continued to care for me and desired a relationship with me.
I respected my parents for this – I even went along to church on occasion out of respect for them rather than any desire to be there. It’s quite likely that an antagonistic response from mum and dad would have led to a complete cut off from church.
Amazingly, after three years of growing in worldliness, God reached into my life and showed me Jesus Christ. I didn’t deserve God’s goodness, but he is so gracious. Despite our waywardness, our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally. I’m thankful that by his grace I have earthly parents who showed the same unconditional love.
Growing up in a healthy church and home and regularly hearing sound ministry, I was the epitome of a young Pharisee. I could recite all the right answers and knew where all the books of the Bible were. My parents actively encouraged us to attend church, and I particularly remember reading through Pilgrim’s Progress at dinner times.
It was about the time that my Dad became a pastor in St Mellons, when I was 13, that I really began to lose interest (I’m not saying anything about his preaching here!). I began to question the relevance and necessity of God, who in reality seemed aloof and unimpressive. I became more enamored with what the world could offer and became something of a prodigal for many years, occasionally coming to church if I was at a low point to see what God could do for me.
Through this time, I never once felt judgment from my parents, though relations were hard due to my own barriers. I felt consistent love even when they must have been agonised by decisions I was making, and I am quite sure that this came from a knowledge of their own forgiveness from their heavenly Father.
If ever given the opportunity, my mum would gently point me to Christ and show me through her life his sufficiency. I recall an occasion where my dad told me in no uncertain terms that God was not to be toyed with. He may not remember, but it had a great impact on me.
It was at least 24 years before they saw any real work of grace in me. But I am thankful for their love of Christ, which was reflected on to me!
As a parent now myself, I am tempted to pray that God will not allow my daughter to take the path I did, but I know he will do all things well, and I am thankful I can rest in his unchanging grace.
Andy Christofides is the pastor of St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff.