The kids were grandma’s greatest concern on our journey across denominational borders. But I don’t really want to start there. I think it’s better that you know our kids and where they were when this journey began. And grandmas worry regardless. (Sorry, Moms.)
My kids all come from the same gene pool. A point I remind myself of almost daily, and a point that Dave has questioned jokingly before stopping short and avoiding a night on the couch.
Our eldest is the stereotypical oldest child. She is an enneagram 8; a fact of which she is greatly proud. She is a born leader but a hesitant joiner. She is an intellectual and one of the most determined people I know. Before the recommended college reading assignments, she was our bibliophile, and her bible was/is the most important in the heap. She scours the pages. She studies and takes the Word very seriously. She doesn’t take it lightly when others take the Bible lightly. She fact checks every sermon. She carries a Greek New Testament or a parallel bible to church. Just because you have letters after your name doesn’t mean she won’t double check that what you say is accurate and not just your schmoozy opinion. It was not rare during this year for her to call out a preacher as heretical. She noticed whether or not the church mentioned caring for the poor.
Our eldest left for college early in our journey and solidified her preferences early on. And now that she is out of the house these are her words as she describes the church with Mennonite roots where she attends now, “I like small, Bible-centered communities of people from diverse backgrounds. The liturgy and other semantic type things don’t matter as much to me as long as they are trying to honor God by being true to his word. “Denomination” is a word I have come to wince at in general. Because any group of people who believe in the will of God and live by scripture are the church, and are all tasked with the same mission: go and make disciples. Care for widows and orphans. Love one another. I do enjoy high church for the reverence and sanctity. But I also like to go into a church building and feel as though I am on the same level as everyone else, and often high church puts priests on pedestals, just like megachurches do with their staff.”
She is a good representation of Gen Z from what I’ve read. They are not brand loyal. They are Jesus loyal. They are not bothered with the lines that generations before them drew. Anything other than doing good, seeking justice and walking humbly is suspect, and they will walk. Our journey did not shatter her faith. It enhanced it. It made it her own.
The Middle Man
Our middle loves people. He always has. He is a giver by nature. He finds the outcasts and creates a team. He believes in his heart that everyone loves everyone. He’s an includer. He smiles. He hugs. He laughs. He is the joy in my day. Middle man has dreamt of being a minister since he was five years old. He idolizes his daddy. He feels big. He has never met a stranger, as they say, and will be your friend without question or hesitation. And his heart breaks hard when he learns the dirty truth about how people behave toward each other in the church and outside. He has scars.
Our middle was the most wounded when we left our last ministry. He could not fathom that people who claimed to love us would lie or be on a mission other than his own. He lost his friend group and his faith in church leadership even though we told him little details about our leaving in the beginning. He sorted out the ugly on his own. So we filled in the gaps to help him heal. He is still struggling to forgive us and those who hurt us. He is still struggling to want to trust anyone including his parents. And for four months he no longer wanted to go into ministry. I confess we were relieved for his heart’s sake. He’s been fighting a dark depression for months and is in a good season today as I type this. He told us just a couple months ago that he is still interested in ministry, but he plans to double major in something else as well. We fully support him to have a back up plan. (Please pray for him as he continues to fight this forgiveness battle and depression. Please pray for him as he feels called to join the ranks of minister.)
The journey to him was somewhat boring because he is so relational. Corporate experiences are not particularly relational no matter how excited the praise band is. He has been left wanting. When we started the journey, he wanted whatever was loud and fun, but the more he experienced, the more he saw through the showtime. He realized what he missed was family, church family. And there’s nothing quite so lonely as a concert by yourself.
(My pontification on this point is: if corporate worship is all you offer as church, you are not operating a church, you are running an event center. And if Sunday is all you participate in as a Christian, there is so much more to being a part of a church and to following Christ. You are limiting your spirit and not living into what God has designed you to be as a active part of the family of God. There’s nothing wrong with corporate worship, but it is not necessarily a biblical demonstration of a church at work.)
Our youngest is about as machiavellian as a child can be. He is a skeptic and highly intelligent. He is exceedingly private and introverted. You must win his trust, and he can sense insincerity. Inauthenticity repels and disgusts him. He told me when he was five that he didn’t buy the Noah story. He said it was highly improbable. I didn’t argue. Whether Noah is factual or allegorical really doesn’t matter. I just pray that this kid knows Jesus. So far he does, but he’s watching the church and that has done the most damage to his young faith. And even now, my prayer is that the church will make it on his list of priorities. Once you betray a kid like this, it is difficult to win him back. He will just want to destroy you and light the world ablaze with a sign proclaiming your lies, and you’ll never quite know what hit you. But all that will likely only play out in his head, and in reality, he will walk and never look back.
Our youngest appreciated small church the most especially high church services with liturgy. He appreciated being able to follow along with the order of worship. His introverted nature felt peace during contemplative silences and prayer. Overly zealous greeters made him absolutely squirm which tickled all of us a bit. His preference of speakers were short winded and to the point. Joking did nothing for the kid.
There was not one visit that all of my children agreed upon. Not one. If one claimed the preacher was a heretic, then the other thought he was hilarious. If the worship made the middle man soar, then it absolutely infuriated our youngest. And every one of them could back up their opinions citing scripture.
I was lucky to stay home with my kids for many years. Part of what I did as a stay home mom is study the bible with them, and I don’t just mean read from a Bible story book. We sat at the kitchen table and went through bible curriculum for about an hour every day. (If you want to know what we used, message me.) My two oldest kids learned Bible not doctrine nor tradition. Our youngest was young enough when I went back to work full time that he barely remembers our time at the table together which breaks my heart.
We’ve questioned whether we failed in being too open with our kids about the church. For better or worse, when the two older kids revealed signs of wanting to work in ministry we both decided to tell the truth rather than paint them rainbows. But the fact of the matter is, all kids are smart, and if you honestly believe that they don’t see through the pretense at your church building, you are the crazy one. What we have is a generation of kids who have friends with gender confusion at school, but they come to churches who still want youth ministries solely providing Veggietales and skating parties. They need clear honest conversations. They need peace. They need a safe place to ask questions. They need parents who care about their spirituality more than whether or not they fit in with the popular crowd. They don’t need more skating parties. As a minister’s daughter and a youth minister’s wife, I’ll let you in on a secret, no church and no minister regardless how dynamic will convert your child to Jesus, only you will. And if you are depending on the church or a Christian school to do that job for you, you will be greatly disappointed. Your family doesn’t have to look like mine, but your God given responsibility as a parent is to teach your child about Jesus. You can’t outsource that ministry to the church and every day you wait is wasted time.
So for grandma’s sake, yes, this journey impacted my kids, and it probably could have destroyed their faith after a year of wandering, but we never left them alone. After every visit we openly discussed what we saw. We let them ask questions. We went back to the bible and sought directives. We let them share what made them uncomfortable and what they liked. And we reminded them over and over that the reason why differences in the church exist is because we are each different just as they are, and humans have a hard time sacrificing for one another to get along. We made a point to tell them that regardless of where we land, we land together and we will worship together as a family. We will live sacrificially as a family and love as a family.
The sweetest and most intimate moments for us have been when we’ve worshiped in our home this year. Most churches do not practice weekly communion which to me is big priority. So we take the Lord’s Supper as a family. We circle up and take turns praying over the bread and the wine and share the memory of our Savior together. This is how we’ve remained grounded in what matters.