A few years ago, a new family began attending my previous church. Dad rarely came, but the mother and her three daughters (blond hair, big blue eyes) were there consistently. I had a chance to visit with the oldest girl after Vacation Bible School that year. She had made a commitment to Christ during VBS, and I found her to be entirely sincere in her desire to follow Jesus. I baptized her soon after, and even old Dad showed up for that! But then I started noticing I hadn't seen the family in a while. Finally, I happened to bump into the Mom somewhere and asked how they were doing. I can't ask that question without people assuming I mean, "Why haven't you been in church lately?" (It's an occupational curse) She apologized profusely for dropping out of church, but explained that her oldest daughter was in a softball league that frequently held games out of town on Sundays. "She's a really great pitcher. Her coach thinks she could get a college scholarship someday. So I feel like we need to let her chase that dream as long as we can."
She was eight years old, by the way.
While I saw them sporadically after that, they never again came on a weekly basis. I didn't get to baptize any of the other kids, nor nurture that oldest daughter's brand-new faith, nor reach out to the dad. Frankly, it still bugs me today. A large part of me wishes I had tried harder to reach them. Another large part wishes I had said something to her about an important and--I believe--unfortunate decision she and her husband had made as parents.
I know it's a dangerous thing to tell someone how to raise their kids. Every day that I'm a father, I see the numerous ways I fall short of the ideal in that important task. So I DON'T speak as some sort of self-appointed expert in parenting. But I believe God's Word is clear: Our number one job as parents is to do all that we can do to lead our kids to Christ. We cannot choose faith for our children. But we can do numerous things to make that decision likely. We can:
--Bring them to church, Sunday School and other spiritual activities.
--Teach them Bible stories at home and pray with them.
--Live out an example of authentic faith.
--Discipline them in accordance to biblical principles.
--Pray daily for their spiritual well-being.
God had a purpose for our kids when He created them, and no one on earth will have more of an impact--for good or bad--on whether they experience His love and live out His purpose than we (their parents) will.
To the Jews of Jesus' day, Deuteronomy 6:4 was the most important verse in the Torah. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." It was the verse they said everyday, that they bound to their doorposts and wrists. That passage goes on to say, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." God's plan for Israel was that the parents would teach the children to follow Him. This wasn't supposed to be complicated; Just talk about God when you're going through day to day life with your kids. Mention Him when you walk, when you lay down, and when you get up. That was always God's plan...and still is.
You know by now how much I love sports. And kids' sports are great. But when our child's recreational activities regularly interfere with the life of our church family, the choice we make at that point teaches our child what is truly important in life. The vast majority of young athletes will never get an athletic scholarship. Of those lucky few, only a tiny percentage will play pro ball. Yet even if one our kids is part of that exalted group, is important enough to justify him missing out on active participation in the Body of Christ? If you'll pardon me for paraphrasing our Lord's words, what does it profit a kid if he has a major-league curveball but loses his soul?
I know that kids are busy with more than sports. Schoolwork is more and more time-consuming than ever before. Yet we manage to get our kids to their other responsibilities on time. Couldn't we--shouldn't we--"crack the whip" to make sure they have their homework done in time to be present at Wednesday Night Live? Shouldn't we budget so they can attend preteen camp? Isn't it worth our while to make sure they get enough rest on a Saturday night to make it to Sunday School the next day?
One more thing: I know it's conventional wisdom to say, "I hear too many stories about kids who were forced to go to church, and then hated God for it later. I want my kids to choose faith on their own." I understand that perspective. Certainly once a child is a teenager, it's hard to make them go somewhere they don't want to go. And if he or she truly doesn't want to go to church, to youth or children's activities, come talk to us. Maybe we need to change the way we do certain things. At the very least, maybe we can help you. But let's address the issue of "forcing" our faith on our kids. As parents, one of the toughest parts of our job is to decide when to let our kids "be themselves." We may decide that a funky hairstyle is no big deal, but if they start doing something truly dangerous, we have no qualms about being heavy-handed. For instance, if our child were hanging out with drug-dealing gang members, we'd certainly "force" our values on them. Here's my point: If we truly believe Jesus is who He said He is, then following Him is the most important decision any of us can make. We owe it to our kids to do everything we can to help them know Christ and His purpose for their lives. Their childhood and teen years are such an important window of opportunity for them to establish a real relationship with Christ. Can you think of anything that should be more important to us as parents?