Our newly adult daughter and I were discussing what she has liked about our church – the church she has literally grown up in. Yes, we have hit that point in parenting when our choices are now being evaluated and graded by the children we made them for – through their now-adult lenses. This paradigm shift could be a post in itself, but I’ll stick to the topic she and I were discussing: our church.
Her response regarding what she liked about our church floored me. I thought she was going to talk about the great youth programs, the fun events or her small group that she’s been a part of for the past six years. Aren’t those the main priorities for parents as they choose a church for their family? (Whether they are or should be parents’ main priorities could also be another post in itself.) While the programs, events, and groups have created fun memories and been tremendous blessings, none of those even bubbled to the top.
Instead, she started rattling off example after example of Jesus healing those in our church from the lying lure of this world. She said she loves the fact that one our teaching pastors is a recovering alcoholic who does not let anyone forget who he was before Jesus. She was awed by the fact that he didn’t want to hide his past and even showed the entire congregation a supremely unflattering picture of himself at the height (or perhaps depths) of his alcoholism. She then mentioned another teaching pastor who was employed and then fired by our church when he was young adult. After being fired, he stepped out of church leadership, repented, and had a significant redemption that was evident to all who crossed his path. Years later, our church recruited him (with giddiness and excitement) to come back and lead. The first sermon he gave at our church referenced his firing, that he deserved it, and all that had happened in the years since he allowed Jesus to be the Lord of his life instead of his flesh. My daughter also mentioned the couple who recently gave their testimony in which the husband became addicted to drugs, stole tens of thousands of dollars in equipment from our church, and after years of healing, is now on staff at the church (and has a key to every single room, including the rooms that house the expensive equipment). Then she proceeded to give other examples of people she knows at our church – whether members or leadership – who have not-so-perfect pasts but have been healed and saved by Jesus.
She said, “I love going to a church where everyone is not pretending to be perfect or tries to hide who they were before Christ made them a new creation.” She has seen clear examples of how we as Believers are capable of choosing sin over holiness in our day-to-day lives. And how Jesus is our only source of redemption and restoration.
I’m still blown away by her response. I don’t think as parents we try to curate a spiritual portrait like the one my daughter described. Yes, I think it’s ultimately what we desire, but I don’t think we want the ugly parts of the stories necessary to show Jesus in all of His glory. We typically – whether consciously or not – try to put the best light on the Christian experience, “See, everyone who loves Jesus behaves this way….” But what my daughter was communicating is that she’s had an experience that cuts through all of that. Jesus is not merely behavior modification and a means to turn out a “good kid” for parents who show up with their families on Sundays. When Jesus is displayed in lives that previously succumbed to the temptations of this world – and those temptations come packaged as all we’ve ever wanted – and that life says, “Jesus is better than what I thought would make me happy,” that’ll preach.
Her response showed me how much we as Christian parents and as church leadership sell our kids short. We often look for churches that have a lot of programs, seem “fun” and in a lot of ways are entertainment with a little Jesus sprinkled in here and there. What my daughter was telling me is that the difference she’s seen in our church is the desire to not just mention but showcase the change Jesus marks in a life given over to Him. And that being given over to Him is a daily submission.
She has not grown up with a theme of perfectionism or what I call “bootstrap salvation” of which there is no such thing. She has not grown up believing church is a place where “perfect” people come to gather and celebrate how wise they are for choosing Jesus. Instead, she’s had her eyes wide open to the fallibility of even those who claim Christ and our daily dependence on Him. There is nothing for a Believer to boast in except the work and grace of Jesus in their lives. Nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9).
No, it wasn’t the loud music, lights, pizza parties, or other low hanging fruit we associate with engaging our youth in church that stirred my daughter. It was the bearing fruit of those healed by Jesus, those who humbled themselves to boast about their life in Christ. As our oldest daughter is now making her final decisions on colleges, she will also be making a decision on a new church home in her college town. But I think she already knows what to look for.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
Dear Lord, thank You for being bigger than we can imagine. Thank You that for all of our love and great plans for our children, You love them more and Your plans are greater. Make Yourself known to them. Lord, blow out the lie that this world has anything better to offer than You. And in Your Name and for Your Kingdom, please don’t let our children ever be satisfied playing church – and don’t let us be satisfied playing church, either! Lord, be Yourself with our children and may they never be fooled by the gold of this world. We love You more and more each day as You take us deeper still. Maranatha! Amen.