Requiem for a Church Kid


In the last several years, I’ve noticed a trend among fellow parents. And I’m frightened for them.

What I’ve seen is that they are progressively letting their grip on their children’s spiritual lives loosen.

It starts usually with innocent things—sports activities, family days at home—that are allowed to take the place of worship on a Sunday. I watched as they rationalized that these were all good things…which is true, mostly. The few parents who objected were accused of being judgmental and legalistic.

This de-emphasizing of church and Sunday and God should not have surprised us. We could actually predict it by the way they looked for a church. They flocked to the ones who “offered the most” to their children. Whichever church or youth group kept them the most active, the most involved, the most “entertained”—that was where they went.

They would leave churches where they’d built relationships and put down years and years of roots, and do it in a New York minute with zero guilt. That’s because they were doing it “for their kids.” And a good parent would do anything for their kid, right?

So it was inevitable that those youth groups and church services, as elaborate as they were,  could still never possibly compete with the action and instant gratification of sports teams and competitions where their kids were given accolades and trophies.

All the church promised to do was make them better people by knowing God. And the trophies for that aren’t passed out in this life—only the next.

Still, other parents heard a strange logic in the idea of not forcing our kids to go to church. Conveniently, we ignored the fact we gave them no choice whatsoever about attending school, getting to the doctor when they were sick, or sitting through boring driver’s ed classes to get a break on their car insurance bills.

Somehow, all those things were considered non-negotiable, boring as they were. But if our darlings didn’t get up thrilled on Sunday morning about going to church, well, perhaps it’s best to let them sleep in a day. Want them to be fresh for school, you know.

And if someone looked at them sideways at youth group, or if they didn’t get picked to sing on the praise team, or weren’t asked to serve on the youth council, then it might be better to focus on things that would pay more obvious dividends.

I’ve watched my friends parenting this way, but said nothing. You probably wouldn’t say anything either. Parents don’t like to be told they’re not doing the best thing for their kids…even if they aren’t. And they’re not my kids. It’s not my place, none of my business.

Except that since I’m a parent, I can’t help but care. I see my own kids in theirs. I know how I want the best for them, but fear the worst. I fight with myself to keep quiet, wondering all the while if keeping quiet is perhaps the greatest sin of all.

Because unless something changes, those kids will leave Christianity, giving it only a weak lip-service. Many will eventually embrace full-blown atheism. Don’t believe me? Just look at the stats.

So I watch, and I pray. I ask God to grant those parents a moment of clarity. In that moment, they would see that all the things they let their kids focus on will barely get them through this life, much less the next. In fact, as soon as trouble comes to them, they will have nothing deeper than the shallow water of those recreational diversions to draw on.

Somehow, we believe the illusion that our children’s lives will be unscathed by the tragedies that plague every other single life on earth. We don’t think of those things while sitting at their ball games or attending their dance recitals. But their momentary fun and happiness will melt away like cotton candy in their mouths when real life comes upon them. As it inevitably comes upon all of us.

It is in those hard, painful moments that all the boring lessons of Sunday School and a hundred sermons delivered too early in the morning start to ring again in their ears like a forgotten hymn. When our children can find no other solace, a relationship with a very real God will soothe their wounds and raise them up again stronger. They will be scared, yes. But when the battle is done, they will be victorious because of the spiritual power invested in them.

I don’t look on self-righteously at the others. I watch with deep remorse, as if watching a funeral procession.

No, that’s not it exactly. It’s like a nightmare where you’re on a beach. You look out in the ocean and to your horror see a child on a raft, drifting out to sea. You want to scream, but you’re trapped in a nightmare where your mouth is gagged.

You look around frantically for their parents. Surely they will see. Surely they will run to save them.

But they can’t. For the parents themselves must have already floated away long, long ago…

Why else would they have left their children to drift into oblivion?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Dave Gipson
Comments 1
  1. Some of us were treated too harshly by Christian parents, and so wanted nothing to do with the church. Many of us came back later, but we don’t want to be so strict and harsh that we also drive kids away from Christianity. And we go too far in the other direction. By the time we realize our mistake, they are already grown up. So it goes.

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