We pulled out of our driveway at 8 a.m. headed to Lincoln, AL. Never heard of it? Me neither. This small town could pass as the logo for a backwoods, stuck-in-yesteryear Alabama community. On my way through, I passed as many Confederate flags as Red, White and Blue ones.
I apologize if you reside in Lincoln or feel a special connection with it. I mean no disrespect. Well, maybe I do. Only a touch of disrespect, though, and a touch is fair, don’t you think? If you don’t, see the paragraph above about the Confederate flags.
I would’ve never traveled through Lincoln, but my oldest son, Noah, had a baseball tournament there. On this day, Noah and I left the fam at home and set out on the 45 minute trek by ourselves. It was Sunday, and for the fifth or sixth weekend in a row, the first day of the week began with a ballgame. Since February, I’ve only seen the inside of our church building a time or two.
The Powell’s have entered that season of life where kids outgrow sweet local, everyone-wins-and-eats-cake-afterwards sports and move into competitive events. To be honest, I’ve looked forward to this season for a long time. I love kids, and I love sports, so when God blessed me with two sons, this is the season I envisioned. While the world of competitive sports is busy and hectic and a bit ridiculous, I love seeing the joy on Noah and Micah’s face as they run hither and thither around baseball and soccer and football fields. They love sports as much as I do.
There’s a problem, though. Maybe you’ve diagnosed it. You’re a good Christian, so I’m sure you have. We miss church. A lot. What message are we sending our kids? Are we telling them sports are more important than God? Are we placing their well-being before the well-being of myself and my wife? Are we not feeding the demon of travel sports, the demon that’s ruining the modern-day church?
I used to answer yes to these questions, and if you answer yes, that’s fine. But I don’t answer yes to them anymore. The drive to Lincoln with my son changed that.
As we left the house, I wanted to turn up the radio. I wanted to tune out. But I stopped myself and instead spent the 45-minute drive talking to my son about God and life and the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
He asked me at one point if I ever made mistakes, decisions I regret, choices that hurt people. I told him I did, and he was shocked.
Really, he said, and I thought he might cry. You make mistakes?
I then told him that everyone makes mistakes, and he will too, and sometimes those mistakes hurt people. I told him you can’t spend your life trying to avoid failure. The most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, that you don’t repeat them, and if your choices hurt someone, you ask for forgiveness. That’s how you grow, I said.
Until that moment, Noah thought I was perfect. Kids assume their parents are flawless, and it’s our job to explain to them that we’re not, so that when they make mistakes, they don’t drown in shame.
I asked Noah where he sees God. I told him where I look for God and how you can find God anywhere, if you have the eyes to see.
The entire drive was a holy, divine experience. I arrived at the baseball field alive and closer to God than I had in a long time. God descended on my white mini-van and filled every square inch of that steel frame. I could feel the Divine’s presence.
Loving God and teaching your children about God isn’t about showing up for church every Sunday. The American church has done a disservice to parents by making us believe we can raise strong, mature Christians if we show up at a building and prioritize God one hour every week. Not only this, but the church has made us believe we can pass our children off to teachers and task these teachers, mostly volunteers, with their spiritual development, that this is an okay and acceptable and even proper way to raise godly Christians.
You, the parent, are the single greatest determining factor in the spiritual growth of your children. If you want to glimpse the spiritual future of your children, look in the mirror. There you will find it.
Do I believe Christians should attend and be involved in a church? Of course. But let’s stop pretending we can outsource our children’s faith to a group of volunteers for one hour a week and expect them to mature into faithful followers of Christ.
HOW TO RAISE KIDS WHO LOVE GOD
There are a lot of articles and books and talks about how to raise godly kids, how to build in them a faith that withstands the disappointments of life. I’ve read a bunch of them. And while there’s nothing wrong with how to articles, most of them miss the point.
Like most things in life, the right thing is usually the hardest.
What is it? It’s sitting down with your kids and talking to them about God. It’s not about going to church once a week. Church is a good thing. Church is part of the formula, but one hour a week isn’t THE formula. Surely we don’t think it is.
If you want your kids to love God, you must show them the way. You, as their parent, the human being they spend the most time with and love the most. You must do it. You must be intentional about pointing out God and showing your offspring how to look for the Divine.
God seemed to know this, too. When the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, God gave them a lot of commandments. Why did he give them so many? Two reasons. First, because he wanted the Israelites set apart from the other peoples, so he could reveal his glory. Second, though, God knows humans forget. So, this is what God says in Deuteronomy 6:7-9:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
When God wanted to ensure that the next generation didn’t forget him, he told the parents to create a rhythm of God-talk and God-awareness. He instructed parents to talk about God as they walked down the road of life, in the little moments here and there. This is how you lay the foundation for a God-consciousness that will last a lifetime.
This is how you raise children who love God.
You build God into the rhythm of your life. You talk about God wherever you go. At the grocery store. On the baseball field. On the way to school. On the ride home from school. When you play in the yard. When you travel on vacation. Wherever you go, as you tread through life, you talk about God. This is our task, as parents. The same task that God gave the Israelites he gives to us.
This isn’t some earth-shattering exercise. It’s quite simple. You look for opportunities to inject love and joy and hope into the conversation. When you see a homeless man, for example, give him some food. Or talk to your kids about how Jesus would love them. When you see the flowers blooming, mention their beauty and ask your kids where beauty comes from. And so on. This is how we raise the next generation to love God with all their heart and mind.
We don’t do it by passing them to volunteers one hour a week. We do it by consistently exposing them to the language and character of God.
THE BIGGEST THREAT TO RAISING KIDS WHO LOVE GOD
As we talk about working God-talk into the rhythm of our lives, I must say this.
Technology is the greatest threat to the spiritual growth of our children. Why? It eliminates boredom, and boredom is the open door to the divine. Too many parents throw a screen or a device in front of their children every moment they’re awake, and then wonder why, as their little ones grow to teenagers and young adults, they don’t care about people or the things of God. Well, they were never shown how. Technology crucified their boredom, and without boredom, I don’t know how you make room for God.
Tiffani and I might be making a mistake, but we refuse to solve our kids’ boredom with technology. This is the hill we’re willing to die on. The one thing we’re willing to be wrong about.
We let them watch tv. Our mini-van has one built in, and it’s a life-saver on long trips. But we don’t watch it unless we travel out of town. Our kids don’t own iPhones and won’t for the foreseeable future. We don’t have gaming systems. I’m not against these things. If you have them, fine. No worries. In my experience, though, it‘a harder to engage with your children and invite those God moments when they’re face is in a screen. The first moment they sense boredom, they turn to technology, and they never learn how to tolerate boredom and therefore never learn how to look for God.
On the ride to Lincoln, Noah didn’t have a screen to pacify him. This gave me the open door to talk to him about life and God and so on. Not every moment like this shakes the foundations of your life. Sometimes I’m alone with my kids and try to dig below life’s superficial terrain, and hit nothing but solid stone. If this happens, I don’t force it. I thank God for this moment, just as it is, and move on.
Regardless, this strange truth remains: God seems content with not forcing himself onto anyone who doesn’t want to give him room. And in a culture where technology fills the void where boredom once lived, I fear God will disappear from the consciousness of our children. It’s our job as parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.
I want to give God room. I want to allow space in my life and the lives of my kids for God to show. This won’t happen at church one a week. This happens when we make a conscious decision to look for God as we go throughout our day. It starts with us. We can’t show our children what we don’t see ourselves. Look for God. Pray for opportunities, for wisdom and clarity and courage to integrate God into the rhythm of our lives.
Grace and peace, friends.