December 15, 2017

What’s best for the children: A story about Bob

kids3.jpgSomewhere in this world, there is a guy named Bob. Bob is a Christian. Married. Couple of small kids. He’s got the family every church wants.

And that is the problem.

Every church in town has a children’s program for Bob’s kids. There’s a clown at this church, pizza at that one, a children’s choir over here, camp over there and Upwards basketball everywhere. It took Bob a while to find a church, but now his kids love the children’s church building at his current church, where Pokey the Gospel pony gives rides to all the kids on their birthdays.

Bob’s kids love everything his church does for them. They can’t wait to get to church on the 5 days a week something is going on. It works for them, and it should be working for Bob, too. But it’s not.

Bob and his wife are feeling muddled. They are spiritually struggling, and have been for some time. Once they were sortof happy with the happy-clappy contemporary worship changes, but lately they aren’t happy-clappy at all. In fact, they dread the appearance of the ever more erotic and distracting “Praise Team” every week and the sermons that sound suspicously like Joel Osteen. They can’t remember the last time there was a serious communion service (they aren’t counting the “What does the bread and the cup mean to you?” sharing groups one week.) They were so offended at the Christmas Eve service that they walked out of the pastor’s sermon- right at the part when Darin McGavin was yelling at the Bumpus hounds for eating the turkey. It’s like there is nothing at the church for real, adult Christians anymore.

Bob has been teaching his couple’s small group for 3 years, but the curriculum he is forced to teach is awful. Pablum, repeated every year as if everyone were totally new to the faith. He suggested to the small groups minister that the material be traded in for something more substantial, but he got the talk about “seekers” again, as if he hadn’t already heard that everything the church was doing now was for “seekers.” Bob asked his friend Harvey if there was anything for those who had “found” what everyone else was “seeking?” Harvey said Bob should join the men’s ministry and go to the cabin next weekend.

Bob asked his wife if she ever thought about moving to another church. They had been to another church several times last year to hear a friend play the saxophone, and the worship and preaching were excellent. It was wonderful. Bob was so excited by the sermon he bought three tapes. His wife said it was the best church experience she’d had all year. But the kids really didn’t like being in “big church” at all, and Bob’s mother-in-law reminded Bob that the children should come first. They loved their church and all the activities, especially the pony. She said that’s what really mattered. The kids were hearing about Jesus and were being entertained.

Somehow, that didn’t seem right to Bob. Was it a good idea for the children to be deciding where the family should go to church? With Dad miserable and mom almost as unhappy, church was easy to miss- at least the adult part. The kids were happy as long as they made it to Awana and Bible game nights. Bob felt guilty being uneasy.

After a few months, Bob’s wife said she thought she would start staying home and watching Greg Laurie on television instead of going to services. Bob knew that was a bad idea, but he didn’t want to argue. She deserved to hear something better. He figured she would want to see her friends at church in a few weeks. But instead, his wife became interested in the teaching of Joyce Meyer and kept asking him to watch her program. She said Joyce was a great Bible teacher, with lots of application. According to his wife, this was the kind of teaching they had been missing for years. She even started sending Joyce her part of the offering every month, and started making plans to go to a Joyce Meyer conference with the Charismatic girl she had met at work.

Bob didn’t mind the Joyce Meyer stuff so much as he did the idea that his family was now split three ways. His kids never saw anything at church outside their own age group. They saw no more of mom and dad at church than they did at school. His wife was excited about a television preacher who sounded like an army general, dressed like a Hollywood mogul and preached a borderline prosperity gospel. And there was Bob, in the middle of it all, watching his wife go one direction, taking his kids to activities while he continued going to a church that was interested in seekers more than Christians. It was a bad feeling.

Bob felt guilty, but his mother-in-law always reminded him that the kids were the most important persons to consider. They must come first. “You want the kids in church, Bob. If they like it, you can suffer through your part. I don’t like what they are doing at church either, but it’s not about us anymore. Whatever they are doing down there that has your kids wanting to go, that’s all that matters.”

It just didn’t feel right. Bob found himself having thoughts of things he’d heard at that Promise Keepers meeting the church paid for some of the men to attend. Men were supposed to be the “spiritual leaders” of their homes. That sounded so fundamentalist, but it sounded a lot better than what was going on in his family. No one was in charge, and while the kids were learning something about God, his wife was joining the Charismatics and Bob was just feeling useless, isolated and empty.

Weren’t husband, wife and kids all supposed to be a “little church?” Weren’t they supposed to be close to one another in the love of Christ? Bob felt like people he didn’t approve of or support were the spiritual leaders of his family. He didn’t know what his wife was hearing or what his kids were getting. But what did he know? Was it his right to disturb their choices with his gripes?

What if he told his wife he wanted to go to the other church? The church they had both liked? What if he said he wanted the two of them to take the kids, and find a church where mom and dad felt good about the church, the preaching, the congregation, the mission of the church AND the children’s program? Could they say to the kids that it was important for the entire family to look forward to going to church? Could he be that bold?

What if the kids wanted to keep going to the children’s programs? Maybe there could be a compromise. And Joyce Meyer? Bob was hoping that hearing good, solid preaching would help his wife get off that TBN mush. Maybe he could suggest they go to a conference together, like one of R.C.Sproul’s Ligonier conferences. He always thought they looked good. At least it would be something they could talk about together.

He imagined how he would tell the whole family that he wanted to look at another church….just look…and see if there was a way they could all go to church together, and say the church was their church. The family church. Now things felt like Bob was taking his kids to soccer practice, while his wife watched tv and he just sat in the car listening to the radio.

This would be hard. No one would like the idea. They would say that Dad was ruining all their fun. His mother in law would tell him to think about the kids first. His wife was happy with her tv and cds. What business did he have telling everyone else what church to go to anyway? Maybe he wouldn’t do anything. Maybe he would just leave well enough alone. He didn’t want to discourage the kids in church. He wanted them to grow up and be Christians.

Of course, one day, his kids would have to leave the children’s programs and go to adult church somewhere. There were plenty of churches with cool bands and things the kids would like whenb they grew up, but Bob wanted more than that. He wanted them to grow up and be real Christians. Better Christians than he was. He wasn’t sure all these activities at the expense of family unity was the way for that to happen. He felt like he had no influence at all; that his children were being spiritually raised by the staff at the church, and he was just the driver of the van. Or the guy who wrote the check for camp.

Is this what the Bible meant when it said raise your children in the Lord? Take them to church and let someone else do it? Bob didn’t feel like he was leading or raising anything or anyone.

But like his mother in law said….think about the children. Do what’s best for them.
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Michael Spencer is a campus minister at a Christian boarding school in southeastern Kentucky. He writes at www.internetmonk.com

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also enjoy Christianity: Silly or Serious?

Comments

  1. Outside of Ephesians 4-6, this is the most profound thing I have read today. You hit the nail on the head, Michael. Tragic thing is, this story is so real in tens of thousands of homes across the USA.

  2. I can only say that this needs to be said a lot, and you said it very well.

  3. This is how I feel, except that my wife has completely lost interest in church.
    The sad thing is, I don’t know of a single church in this area that is like those I went to growing up. They’re all, to some degree, the church in this article!

  4. It took us 4 years to escape pop Christianity and the toxic effect it had on our family. We are confessional Lutherans now. It was hard to get the kids off the spiritual ‘junk food’, but after 1.5 years in a good catechism program, we can see the fruits of learning one’s faith. Our teens are much less peer dependent, can recognize false teaching, are much less influenced by the cool leader, ‘cult of personality’ type Christianity, yet still maintain their Christian identity.

    It was one of the hardest, yet best decisions we ever made.

    Great post Michael.

    Mary

  5. God bless you guys! Thanks for the encouragement. Mary, I am so with you on that choice. It saved my kid’s faith. I really believe it.

  6. I grew up in churches where the highlight of the church was the youth group, and one where it was the kids’ choir. These were the most dysfunctional organizations that I have ever seen. Fortunately, my parents were intent that I should learn adult Christianity, and protected me from some of that. I learned to sit in “big church,” and participate there. But when I hit college, I abandoned my background (Texas Southern Baptist) because I didn’t want to deal with that anymore. I ended up in a very conservative Anglican church. One of the things that I enjoy the most is being in church with all different types and ages. The kids have Sunday School until about halfway through the service, then join the rest of the church family (and no-one is pressured to go to Sunday school; many kids don’t).
    When I made the decision to embrace the single lifestyle, I was profoundly grateful for my church: we have no singles group. I am still just a member of the parish, not “a single,” or “a college student,” or a part of any little group. I’m just Joi, a member of the parish, and a fellow traveller in this life.

    God save us all from pop Christianity.

  7. This is a great article. I am one of the two kids that decided where the parents were going to church. The church was great until it became seeker-sensitive. I spent an academic year away from home, and when I came back, my sister had gotten the family pseudo-interested in a Pentecostal church. We went there for a while, until they got utterly ridiculous, and since then we’ve been split. My sister goes Church of Christ on Sunday and Wednesday, I go Catholic on Sunday and non-denominational (and non seeker-friendly) on Saturday, and my parents randomly go to whatever church they feel like (and it is often the case that they feel like staying home).

    It’s frustrating sometimes. My dad and I both wanted to keep the family together, so the four of us would visit churches, and then evaluate them based on how close they stuck to the Bible. This system turned out to be flawed, in that it didn’t take into account how “boring” the music was, because that always seemed to be the deciding factor.

    I can’t help but worry about the future of Christianity in America.

  8. IMO Bob would do well to run, not walk to the new church. Ponies and clowns are going to do nothing for his children when they face their deepest crises. And prosperity teachers do much to pervert the gospel of grace and shipwreck faith when trouble comes.

    Just my humble opinion. Good article, thanks for writing it.

  9. While this is a great, intelligent post, and I agree with 99% of it, I know you’ve written elsewhere that the husband should have the final say about the church–and I just wonder what ought to happen when it’s the husband who wants to stay home and watch televangelists and the wife who wants to go to a church with solid preaching.

  10. I’ve said that Ephesians 5:21- mutual submission to one another and to Christ- is the starting point. The project is worship and nurture towards Christ.

    The wife should do all she can to get him out of that chair. If he isn’t going to do that—-and I would suspect that loyalty to a tv evangelist is not the issue, but something about the church is the issue- then the wife needs to do the right thing for the marriage and the kids. Get to a good church.

    He is abdicating leadership and serving himself. He’s not leading the family. And when the man won’t lead the family to a mutual decision, then the wife needs to do what is best for the family and the marriage. Mom and kids being in church is good for the spiritual nurture and foundation of that home. Dad watching Creflo Dollar isn’t.

  11. Thank you for a well written analysis of what is wrong with the “post-modern”, “emergent” or whatever church. Churches, especially mega-churches, have become entertainment facilities geared toward the latest best-selling book fad. Many churches present a worship service that is a cross between the tonight show and some PBS commentary. We get touchy feely sermons with meaningless platitudes based on a milquetoast Jesus. Youth ministry is based on good pizza and name brand soda instead of the meat of the Gospel. Whatever will entertain the most people for 45 minutes to an hour is what is required.

    Jesus said the truth is spiritual and spiritually discerned. In the American church’s efforts to please the most people at any given time, we have allowed too much America into the American church. Christian values are not as important as American social values. We dress like the world. We buy like the world. We live like the world. Or worse, we live in little Christian enclaves completely seperate from the world that needs us drinking the world’s drink and eating the world’s food, but pretending to be seperate. No wonder the divorce rate, the suicide rate and even the crime rate are no different than the rest of society.

    We need to all get to the church where God’s word is preached and we are fed the spiritual food we need to grow in Christ.

  12. Thanks biblemike. Just a note. I don’t think this emphasis on activities for youth and children is characteristic of “emergent” churches. At least the ones I am familiar with. Megachurches….absolutely.

    And as I said, let’s look at everything, not just activities and music. Especially, look at Word, ministry, Sacrament and pastoral care.

  13. >No wonder the divorce rate, the suicide rate and even the crime rate are no different than the rest of society.<

    This is true and used to bother me a great deal. Now that I view the Christian life as a confessional Lutheran, I understand that my flesh (referred to as the Old Adam) is and remains the enemy, and sanctification comes from repentance and forgiveness in Christ, not self-improvement programs or isolation from the world. This simple knowledge has returned me to the joy of His gift of salvation.

    Mary

  14. it’s interesting to see how the ‘third wave’ pentecostals and the ‘seeker friendly’ baptists are starting to look ever more alike. for example, they rarely call their congregations ‘churches’ any more. or use hymn books. gary north pointed out that fewer than half of today’s charismatics speak in tongues; most, he says, are ‘baptists without hymn books.’

    whatever else you might want to say about them, hymn books are repositories of liturgical tradition, a legacy of faith. churches that ‘do without’ may look more relevant, with their rock-band superstar imitating ‘praise bands.’ but i recall the jewish expletive ‘apakorish,’ applied to assimilationist trends, that traces back to the epicurean hellenism that seduced so many in our Lord’s day.

    are we seeing the birth of a new tradition? quick way to find out: are these seeker-friendly understated churches building christian schools? aggressively encouraging home schooling? this sounds like a worthwhile research project for someone.

    premillenialism has taught us to despise the future. the seeker-friendly folks teach us to despise the past. yet, by becoming ‘present-oriented,’ do we also lose our grip on eternal things?

  15. Awesome post, Michael. I’ve grown up as a PK and a PGK in the SBC, and I’ve seen a lot of cheese, but I’ve always seen youth/college stuff take place during the week. Do some churches actually have services for these groups during the Sunday worship time?

    Random question for any readers. I’ve just started going to a PCA church. The youth group isn’t an issue for me (I’m 23), but I’m curious: Do good youth programs exist? When I’m much older and have kids, I’d like to think that there is a church where they could learn the faith and have fun. In addition to what mom and dad have already taught, of course. Any ideas?

  16. Tom,

    What’s your take on the importance of Christian school/homeschools as an aspect of seek-friendly churches?

    Mary

  17. [What’s your take on the importance of Christian school/homeschools as an aspect of seek-friendly churches?}

    good question. I don’t have a ready answer. i note parantehtically taht the churches that take explicit Christianity the most seriously — catholic, missouri synod lutheran, baptist, and calvinsit — tend to create parochial schools.

    i rather doubt that this would be the case with churches that try to minimize/downplay the differences between Christian and unbeliever.

    what do you think? what has been your experience?

  18. You’d better hope that the dysfunctional churches DON’T build schools.

    I went to a dysfunctional church that had a school. I was unpopular enough as it was (didn’t have enough money, didn’t dress right, didn’t listen to the right music, etc), but I was also homeschooled. I.e., I didn’t go to the church school.

    It was terrible. I knew I didn’t want to go to that school and see those people EVERY day, but neither did I want to be looked down on for not going to the school.

    Believe me, it’s better that dysfunctional churches don’t build schools.

  19. I read a book over the summer that was a summary and evaluation of a serious study in youth and the church. One of the figures that stood out most was the one that said that the least successful long term projects were the ones focused on entertainment. The ones focused on teaching and practical applications of the bible all scored much more highly in the long term stakes. I can dig out the book and figures if you want, it makes for fascinating and challenging reading.

  20. Shannon Richey says:

    Michael, thank you for this. I do understand the need for churches to be ‘seeker-sensitive’, but I like the way some churches I have seen tend to do it-they have a class specifically *for* those seekers, while the ones who are interested in something more solid can find what they need too.

    And honestly…TBN isn’t spiritual food. It is spiritual poison most of the time. Ear Tickling at its finest…if this is the only alternative someone can find to their church or they find this more satisfying than their church, then they need to find a new church before they are damaged by the false teachings there.

    And I think Bob *would* be thinking of the kids by moving because, well, last time I checked a parent’s job was to do what was best for their kids even if they don’t enjoy it at the time, not just give the kids what they want all the time…if my parents had given me everything I wanted all the time and never made me do anything that wasn’t fun but was ‘good for me’, then I would not be as good of a person today at all…