What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In early April, we started a discussion between me and my daughter on the church, the generational divide, and world peace.

Not really that last one. But it sounded good. In a good lead-in to Mother’s Day, we then talked about what we appreciate about one another’s generation. Now, the saga continues.

What Are We Teaching Our Kids???

Jill: Let’s talk about the idea that we don’t really have to worry about the next generation returning to church. You will, as every generation has done before you, come back after a requisite season of rebellion. 

I’m a little concerned about that laissez-faire attitude for a few reasons.

jesus doesnt want you to be good. Jesus wants uou to be his.

First of all, church is increasingly not a core value in our society, or in your generation. Being a good person and showing love are what it’s all about. Unfortunately, those values are divorced from a foundation in knowing God, largely because we Boomers in the church have taught that being good is the goal. We’ve told you that Jesus wants you to be good, when really Jesus wants you to be his.

Rules versus relationship.

According to that flawed theology, “praying the prayer” and leading a good life are the elements of being a Christian. Not surprisingly, younger generations have latched on to leading a good life and largely dispensed with the praying the prayer part. It sounds like magical thinking to you, and there is therefore no need for it in your efficient, ethics-based world.

Will you really, like the Terminator, will be back?

Emily: Did they have children’s ministries when you guys were kids? When did Sunday School in the modern sense become a thing? I mean the time when it just became a place that kids were sent because otherwise they would be bored or would cause a disruption or wouldn’t understand what was going on. 

That’s where your “do good” stems from. “Be good for mommy, and daddy, and Jesus, too.” True and simplistic as it might be, it lacks action. It lacks depth. It lacks roots.

So, yeah, you’re right. Without the roots leading us back to the church, we can go off and do more than we ever got to in Sunday School (or Children’s Ministry, if it’s a hip new church) and without the restraints of the church to tell us who or what to do good for. It leaves us in control over how we use our resources.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Jill: Well, I remember my parents sending me up the street to Sunday School. I vaguely recall something about a guy in a blue robe involving lots of flannel.

According to Christian History, the original philanthropic Sunday Schools always had an aspect of religious education, as they used the Bible for learning to read and write. They also imported moral behavior into the curriculum. When the government established mandatory public education in the 1870’s, churches moved to teaching solely Christian doctrine and behavior rather than general education.

Given that Rational Theory (i.e., human society is perfectable through the use of reason) still coursed through the church’s veins at the time, moral education would certainly have been the focus. Be good for mommy, daddy, and Jesus, indeed, has a long history.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, laments the present disinterest in church among children she has interviewed:

“These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible stories. These are children who probably also know all the right answers — and yet they have somehow missed the most important thing of all. They have missed what the Bible is all about. It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson. When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. . . . When we tie up the story in a nice neat little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.” –Sally Lloyd-Jones

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So she seems to be saying what you are. We need to start young to let children explore the Bible story — not simple or simplistic Bible stories, but the entirety of the Big Story. We need to let them ask questions, see how the smaller stories, and their story, fit into God’s big picture, and give them something to do about it now.

Emily: I mean, I wouldn’t recommend certain stories from the Bible told straight up to four year olds (Jezebel comes to mind). But when the Bible becomes a tool or vehicle with which to deliver a human-devised moral, it not only puts God in a box, it puts us into a box too. And that box can get kind of constricting as we grow, until finally we break out and, believing the box itself is religion, we walk away, refusing to ever be constrained again.

Jill: There’s this book by some lady where she says something like this.

“Research tells us that 75 percent of young people in our churches today will leave them when they leave home. Why? Because they increasingly believe that church is irrelevant to their daily lives and out of touch with the culture. In other words, they don’t see the point. And in ever-busier lives, everything we spend our time on has to have a point. 

What would happen if, instead, our churches taught kids from the time they could walk that they were ministers? That they were the hands and feet to make the church relevant? That the ends of the earth weren’t as far away or impossible to impact as they thought? I truly believe we could turn those statistics upside down.” –Jill Richardson, Don’t Forget to Pack the Kids

Emily: Blatant self-promotion.

Jill: Yeah. But I completely agree with you. Teaching kids to “do good” divorced from the grand story of why only creates people who know how to follow rules. Once they internalize those rules, who needs the church to continue doing good? You can cut loose from the strings now that you know the rules. Plus, you can create your own rules. Christian education has got to be about a connection to the story more than a moral to it.

Photo by dimas aditya on Unsplash

Emily: But the box isn’t God. I think we worry that if we try to teach kids God as God is, that their heads are going to explode. Or maybe our heads will explode if we have to start thinking of God as God is.

Jill: So if we want future generations to stay in church, we need to start connecting them to the whole gospel, and the whole God. We need to teach them how being Christian isn’t about rules and being good but about the entire creation to redemption story of why we are trying to do good things and what our role is in the story.


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Discipling Today’s Kids Like Yesterday’s Church

Because kids can sign a church charter.
And mean it.
Third installment of discipleship articles published in Light and Life Communications.

Most Christian parents have one main goal—ensure their kids grow into mature believers. But we also know the scary statistics. About sixty percent of those raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. Only four percent of Millennials attend church regularly. Discipling kids has never been so important or so challenging.

But what does that discipleship look like now? A lot like it looked in the beginning.


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need….They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2.42-46).

The number one reason youth stay in the church is they have seen a Christian lifestyle modeled with integrity–first in their parents and then between their parents and other church members. Their parents genuinely love God andhis people. They’ve grown up in a community—not a building.
An Acts-like community of believers doesn’t seem very normal in today’s disposable-relaytionship culture, does it? But if we could keep our kids in church, would it be worth it to start making some changes in our priorities, schedule, finances, or church programs to create that community? What would it look like for your family?

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos teaching), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).

Barnabas mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul mentored Silas and Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos. It’s tough to find a place in the new church where relationships did nottake priority and disciples were not made as a result. Young people remain in churches where someone took individual time to listen, model, and mentor.

*If you have teens, who in your church could come alongside your child in this kind of relationship? How will you move forward on that?


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1 Timothy 4.12, 2 Timothy 1.6).

Paul felt young people should be active in the ministry of the church, not fans watching the game. When young people feel valued, they are much more likely to find value in church. We need to stop calling youth the church of tomorrow and empower them to be the church today. They are not a threat to our power. They are our hope. Yes, they will make mistakes. So do we. Life is an imprecise science.

*What gifts do your children have from the Holy Spirit?
*How can you help them fan them into flames of ministry?

 *Where is there room for that in your church?

It’s not as difficult as we make it to disciple kids. Just–listen. And take time. Not much has really changed in that respect in 2000 years.

is safe overrated?

Fear. Risk-taking. Change. Becoming. All words in popular use right now. All words I use a lot in this blog. Words that, on this day after Father’s Day, I want to put into the perspective of parenting.

I can’t say my parents were the overprotective sort. As the parents of seven kids, they considered crowd control their main activity and lack of injury on any given day a bonus. 

As the last of those seven, I basically flew under any radar that remained. I could have done just about anything. But I didn’t. Like Binkley, I lived with a closet full of fears that didn’t make a lot of sense if one examined them, but I never did.

Naturally, with that background, I followed the masses who tried to make certain no nasty beasties harmed my wonderfully special children. I covered their ears; I fought their battles; I slapped helmets on their heads and blinders on their eyes. It made sense. Then. (And bicycle helmets still make sense—let’s be quite clear on that, my children.)

Now, I have children who want to skydive and take flying lessons and go on archaeological digs in the Middle East (and that’s only one of them).

I have a theory. Maybe this regeneration of thrill seeking and risk taking is a result of a generation that has been trussed in bubble wrap and carefully structured from sunrise to bedtime since the day they were born. It’s their rebellion against the can’t-be-too-safe paranoia of their parents. I don’t really blame them.

In fact, quite often I’ve joined them. It’s been terrifyingly freeing. Honestly, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re zipping down a mile-long cable over the Costa Rican canopy.

I wonder–maybe all the half-pipe skiers and shark swimmers are one big reaction to American paranoid parenting.

And now, we have studies like this one that surprise us by showing that, when we allow kids to be kids and use their common sense around risk, they actually do better. They are less bored, less violent with one another, and more engaged learners. Maybe, we were wrong to take away the slides and dodgeballs.

Might I turn a corner and suggest this is also true spiritually?

With three-fourths of youth leaving our churches and not intending to return, we have to ask the reasons. And while they are probably complex, I wonder if one of them might not be that we focused too much on protecting said youth. 

We spent too much of our time holding their little ears lest they hear a bad word and too little of our time opening their ears to the world around them and their place in it as God’s person.

Young people are turning away because, according to Barna surveys, they find the church too judgmental and too ingrown. Might that be code for “You taught us to stay away from what was wrong but never told us how to make those things right? You kept us in our sanitized Sunday school rooms and homeschool classes but never accepted the messiness of honest life? You kept us safe but pointless? 

(I am NOT blasting homeschooling here. Let us be clear on that. Only some of the reasons people give for doing it. I believe it’s a great alternative for reasons other than protectionism.)

Our kids want to go down giant metal slides and feel the wind and yes, sometimes feel the concrete beneath. They want to get on the dodgeball court that is the real world and see if they have what it takes to play hard and long. They find our Holy Grail—safe—overrated. They are leaving the church that has told them that safe is their highest goal. I don’t blame them. We lied.

And there’s one of my terrors. Going up stairs
you can see through. Many, many stairs.
I see two choices for the church and parents. We can equip them to take on their yearnings with Christ, or we can retreat and let them go at it alone. We can guide them toward the battles worth fighting and the thrills worth seeking, or we can let them jump off cliffs for their thrills, desperate for a feeling but devoid of purpose. We can smugly watch them “get it out of their systems,” or we can point them to the heart worth following, the one that took a giant risk to love us and live among us.

Theywill go at it. This is a generation that believes in blasting the door off the anxiety closet. If we want them back in the church, we’ve got to stop steering them away from the doors and instead put the light sabers in their hands. And honestly? If we want to be taken seriously in that, we’ve got to go through a couple doors ourselves.

Afraid? Try ziplining somewhere. It will put you in the mood.