“I love Pastor Stephen!” Those were the first words I heard when I got in the car with my son. We had just finished helping Stephen and his family move into their new home. You know how it is…moving is not the most fun thing in the world to do. It had been a long day. We started packing (and then unpacking) the truck at 4pm. It was now a little after 9. I thought my son might be a little grumpy. He had spent his afternoon and most of the evening lifting and pushing and carrying; but that was not the case.
With a rapid fire of words he began to explain this outburst about Stephen. “He is easy to talk to…he is funny…he listens to me…he is just a good guy to be around.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated what my son was saying. I am thrilled that Pastor Stephen is having a positive influence in his life.
As I listened to him, I was reminded of the relationships I had when I was a teenager at church. I am fortunate. My mind is filled with positive memories from that part of my past. During my teenage years the church I attended had two different youth pastors; and while I had a positive relationship with both men, it was the relationships I developed with other adults and peers that impacted me the most. While growing into a young man it was the adult leaders (Bible study leaders, chaperones and my friend’s parents) and my peers at church that taught me and challenged me to hear and follow God’s voice. I had coaches. I had teachers. I had other adults that taught me many important life skills, but it was only at church that I was challenged to be a Godly person.
It saddens me to think how many teens today do not have the exposure to God’s people I had while growing up. I realize the times are different. I understand that social surveys and cultural shifts all point to people (including teenagers) spending less time at church. I know there are many successful and educated individuals that are challenging the next generation to be kind, good and responsible citizens. Boatloads of resources are available to prepare teenagers for a career. Teachers, counselors, mentors and coaches stand ready to share the wisdom needed for a stable life. Millions of dollars are being used to develop educational tools, social awareness curriculums and community programs to help the next generation be better people. But, I have one question: Who is challenging them to love, follow and share Jesus?
One reason I want my boys to be exposed to the influences of a church is because of the people they will meet and the friendships they will develop. The activities at a church teach us things about the bible and God, but that knowledge is left wanting without the influence of the people who are there putting into practice what is being taught. My boys need the voices of men, women and peers who are actively trying to pursue God (honestly, I need those voices to). It brings clarity to all the other voices they are hearing.
When I was growing up the forces of culture and my own selfish nature constantly pulled at me. They were vying to shape my worldview and establish my values. The pursuit of integrity, the value of human life, my self-worth, the importance of hard work, my respect for others, and my stance on drugs, sexuality and social justice where all being formed. Only at church, among imperfect people, was I being challenged to view the world as God sees it. I think the same holds true for my boys today.
Many people will challenge what I am saying with the horror stories of people at church behaving badly. It’s true. The church has had and will continue to have a handful of people in it who are bad, wrong, mean and maybe even evil. I wish this were not true, but I can tell you those individuals are the exception and not the norm. Parents who hold flawed individuals up as their reason for not involving their families in a local church have missed the point of the Church. The purpose of the Church (this includes all people who follow Jesus in various local churches) is not to create perfect individuals. The Church exists to help people pursue, love and follow God in a world that does whatever is right in its own eyes. A few people in our local churches will miss this mark badly, but that does not mean the Church is a waste of time or lost its relevance. It just means the Church is imperfect people learning how to pursue a loving God who transforms us as we pursue Him. No one would call a half-baked cake horrible. Instead, they would point out that it is only half-baked and needs to finish baking before it can be properly judged. People who are pursuing Jesus in the local church are all half-baked individuals. God is not through with them yet. Don’t judge them too quickly.
My heart was encouraged when my son told me a Godly man (not a perfect man) is having a positive influence in his life. It is one of the reasons I encourage all of my boys to go to church. I want my sons to have people in their lives who love the Lord. People who will help them pursue a Godly life.