One thing children of Christian parents need to see

Our culture places a lot of emphasis on education. Without it, we are told, we cannot succeed.

Our churches place a lot of emphasis on attendance. Make sure your kids are in children’s church, at camp, in youth group, on retreats.

Our families place a lot of emphasis on activities. Make sure little Johnny is playing sports, or has guitar lessons, or all of the above. Make sure little Suzy is cheering, or playing soccer, or on the debate team, or all of the above.

what kids need from parentsBoth our society and our churches place a lot of emphasis on moral behavior. Be a good citizen. Treat others well. Be patriotic.

Parents who are also followers of Christ are bombarded with thousands of messages all clamboring up the mountain of attention. Each strives for a space on the priority list.

Amid the commotion and noise of life, one thing children must see from parents who claim the name of Christ is an authentic, humble, ongoing pursuit of God.

Kids are smart enough not to expect perfection, which means they are smart enough to recognize fraud. Kids are experienced enough to expect failure, and wise enough to expect an apology. Kids have witnessed enough to know everything is not what it seems, and hungry enough to want to see someone making an authentic effort to live what they hear on Sunday.

After a lifetime in church I have become convinced the number one reason kids leave church after high-school has almost nothing to do with atheism they face in college or a pastor who believed in 6-day creationism. I am persuaded it is because kids so rarely see lived out what they hear preached week-in-and-week-out by anyone authentically and humbly in an ongoing way. This includes–especially includes–their parents.

Parent, kids hear the all-week arguing magically transformed into the Sunday morning glad handing, “Good morning, brother. Isn’t God good?” And they know it is hypocrisy. They hear church members being gossiped about at home, yet greeting with a smile and laugh at church. And they know it is hypocrisy. They hear the pastor talk about faith, trusting with God and walking with Him, yet see their own parents worry over bills every week. And they wonder why God cannot be trusted. They hear the pastor talk about the need for Bible reading in the home, yet they have never experienced it a single time. And they know it is disobedience. They know kids are supposed to be disciplined in love, yet are only ever disciplined in anger. And they suppose God to be the same way.

In short, kids learn at home first and foremost whether the whole “God thing” is even real.

After 18 years of such is it any wonder so many leave church never to return. They aren’t walking away from God. They are walking away from an lifelong game of Candyland.

Parents, you will never be perfect. You can, however, be authentic. You can be humble. And you can pursue God as a deer pursues the cool, refreshing creek. Your kids will see. They will learn. They will remember. And they just might believe.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Jm Torrey


    Thanks for your timely words. I’ve been convinced of the same thing.The gospel needs to win in homes. Not perfection. Not morals. Just the simple truthfulness of the gospel lived out in front of children. This is how the church lives out the Shema,

    “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

  • Marty,

    Great article and I’ll add/expound on something further, which is the “Candy Land” mentality. Specifically I think part of this is due to the the fact that we have youth groups period. I’m not going to say we need to get rid of youth groups completely, but I think the way we “segregate” our youth is hurting them long-term. Yes, they are a specialized group that needs their own style of discipleship, but as a former youth minister and now pastor (with limited experience) I believe we need to integrate our youth into the rest of the church before they leave the youth group. Our youth are in the “Candy Land” for their entire life, but when they graduate from the youth program there is little for them unless the church happens to have a legitimate college and career class.

    Basically, I think it signals to the youth, “You’re 18-19 now you should automatically be grown up and just enjoy church like the rest of us. When you’re a senior adult we might have something for you again.” Rather, I would like to see more churches do what they did with me growing up. Before I graduated from the youth program I was given a job in the sound booth. This allowed me to be mentored by another within the church. As a result, I had a place of responsibility and a place of belonging that tied me to the church. Therefore, when the going became tough during the transition from high school to college and post-college I had another anchor.

    In short, I believe in youth groups, but I also think we need to connect our youth to places beyond the youth group. It will provide them mentorship from another adult, it provides another anchor to the church, and it gives them a place of belonging as an adult. Just my two-cents from my own life. Ultimately, one needs to do what works best contextually where there worship.

  • Jim Glover

    Marty – great article. My oldest heads to college next year so I am always praying that we have modeled truly trusting Christ. I think the challenge is we sometime don’t even give them enough room to have their own faith, there own true relationship with Christ. For that reason they settle for having it thru their parents – which will never work and will leave them empty when they leave home. We have to be careful not to strive for “behavior modification” and instead focus on showing we trust God in all things, even our kids!

    • martyduren

      Great point on “their own faith.” I may write about that soon.

  • Peachykeen

    I am 25, and I have many friends who have remained faithful through college to now; I also have some friends who have forgotten church like a baby bottle and never (to my knowing) turned back. Parents definitely do make a difference. (My mom turned from everything she’d taught us after my parents’ divorce, but (thank God!) my dad kept the faith and continued to lead a godly (and stable) life.

    I think (partially due to people my age living mostly around campuses), there is a void left in many rural churches, where they worshipped before. This makes for a lack of college and career groups, and my church was no exception. Prayer made a difference though. Now, one year later, my church has a C&C group that averages 8-10 attendees, many of which began coming after prayer for this group commenced. Praise God!

    Being involved, feeling needed and appreciated does, like Mike said, make a big difference. Young, especially single, people need to realize their great VALUE in the church, especially with so much free time on their hands, and many just want to meet more people their age. What an opportunity! Reach out to these young people, please, like women in my church did for me. Love them and don’t speak condescending toward people my age as if we’re a no-good, hopeless group. There may be some truth in it as many are slow to grow up, but (as I have heard it many times as a teen/young person seeking God) really doesn’t do any good to encourage those who are at a tough enough time in their life already (not at home, not having a boyfriend, and at one point, overseas). We need to admonish, yes, but also love and encourage those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ!

  • Just a Thought

    Having left the church myself, I have to say that while it is certainly good to see parents “practice what they preach”, I can’t say that I agree that is a primary reason children leave the church after they leave home. It’s far more complex than that. I grew up in a baptist school, and many of my classmates have left the church (and in some cases Christianity) entirely. They all came from very different families. Some had parents that were as honest and loving and lived out the Christian life every day as you talk about in your post. However, at the end of the day, their children made a decision to leave. It was always a heartbreaking decision and one they really try to not discuss with their parents as to not upset them further, but it was a decision they made based more on rationale and newly acquired knowledge. They simply could not believe the same way anymore. Unfortunately parents naturally blame themselves and wonder what they did wrong. But in reality they did everything as they were supposed to according to scripture and/or church. Their children simply left because they have to make the decision themselves, and once they leave home and feel free to develop their own thoughts and opinions, they don’t always chose the same as their parents.

    • martyduren

      Thx for your thoughts. Was it your experience and that of you classmates to hear sermons and teaching that engaged the deep philosophical issues of life? Did family discussions focus on how the Bible is reliable, the divinity of Christ, or a completely Christian worldview?

      The reason I ask is because a lot of preaching is oriented around making people act a certain way (moralism) more than helping people into a vital, vibrant relationship with God.

  • Salted Grits

    Maybe a majority of those of us who walked away from the church actually read the Bible and determined that it was as mythological as any other mythological tales. Maybe we can’t reconcile the jealous vindictive, murderous God of the OT with the ‘loving God’ of the new testament. Did he have a crisis of conscience or something? There is wisdom to be found in the Bible but I, in no way, believe it is an accurate historical account and I, in no way believe it to be the “holy, inerrant, inspired word of GOD”. I’ll take the do unto others as you would have them do unto you” lessons and leave the rest and I know my agnostic and atheist friends do the same. Thank you very much.

    • martyduren

      Thx for stopping by and for your comment.

      I’d have to see clear stats for you being part of a “majority” who “actually read the Bible” then turned to atheism or agnosticism. To be sure there is a number, but I expect it is far from a majority. Here’s one atheist who says it isn’t even in the top seven reasons:

      Your example falls short of proving any kind of double-mindedness in God. In the Old Testament, God is seen as demonstrating judgment, yet He is also seen as demonstrating love and compassion. At time His judgment falls on those who are not taking care of orphans, widows and the poor. While Jesus did not mount an army to take on Rome, He did promise a coming judgment and Revelation portrays Jesus Himself leading an army, returning to the earth in judgment. In both testaments God is love and justice, so, no, He had not crisis of conscience.

      I do appreciate you living your life according to some of the words of Jesus. Again, thx for stopping by.

  • Lori Metevia

    I just realized this same thing this school year as a teacher. I saw clearly how parents talk about the teacher to their child and talk about the pastor to their child. This not only undermines the authority of the teacher and pastor, it also undermines their authority and God’s authority. They see their parents being hypocritical, so they assume all authority is hypocritical including God’s.