Raising Christian Kids

Pam and I have two children, Katie and Will, and like all Christian parents, our prayer always has been that they would grow up and embrace Jesus as we have done.  Praise God, they have, but it’s more a tribute to divine grace than parental skills.
The two of them are grown now, in their twenties, and out on their own. I once had a guy on staff with me, an older guy, who would proudly introduce himself by saying, “I have two self-supporting daughters.” That’s not a bad claim to fame—particularly in today’s economic climate—and my wife and I are fortunate in being able to say the same thing.
Unfortunately, the fact that the two of them are out on their own means they don’t live anywhere near us. Katie is in Japan for three years with her new husband. And Will usually lives in upstate New York, when he’s not in Georgia, or Morocco or Ireland or any of the other places he runs off to when given the opportunity. Our home life has essentially become a series of fly-bys, when we see one or both of the kids for a period of time before they’re off again. Last night, we had them both on video-chat at the same time, which was a schizophrenic experience. They couldn’t see each other (we haven’t figured out yet if we can do a three-way video chat yet) but could faintly hear one another. The strangest thing was that Katie’s dog—which we’ve inexplicably inherited during her absence—heard her voice but of course couldn’t see her image on the computer. So she just wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for Katie.
Somehow, through all the colleges, internships, military training, new friends, new experiences, exposure to people, thoughts and beliefs I would never endorse—in short, through the stuff all children encounter when they leave the safe confines of their homes—both kids have not only retained their essential Christian faith, they’ve also integrated it into their adult lives in thoroughly authentic ways. They both love Jesus; more today than they did growing up.
Pam and I talk about it sometimes. Especially since I’m a preacher, and the kids were reared in the fish-bowl that often accompanies the lives of ministers. The general perception that PKs (preacher’s kids) become wild and unbelieving adults is, unfortunately, often true. For people who make snide remarks about that, though, I usually respond by saying PKs learn their behavior from  DKs (deacon’s kids).
Of course, that Katie and Will are today believing adults is due to two factors above all else: one, God’s grace; and two, their choices. I’ve talked to far too many grieving parents, who reared their children in much better ways than I did, whose children abandoned the faith as quickly as they left home. It wasn’t the parents’ fault. Nor was it somehow that God abandoned the kids. It’s just that the world is a broken and unpredictable place and sometimes, despite our best efforts and most fervent prayers, things don’t work out the way they should. Children choose to do things that are wrong.
Looking back, I don’t know any simple formulas or magic bullets that Pam and I used to place our kids in the best position to choose right. But as we’ve talked about the blessings our kids are to us, there are a few things that come to mind:
·        Faith at our home was a long way from being perfect, but we did try really hard to make it real. The things we did at church and that we talked about at church were the same things we did and talked about at home.
·        Church was important to us; obviously so. But the center of our family life wasn’t the church. A relationship with Jesus was much more important than church.
·        We didn’t care much what anybody at church said about our family life. It wasn’t any of their business.
·        I missed a good many meetings and functions at church and in the community in order to be home most evenings. From the time they were very young until both kids were older, I read to them almost every night before they went to bed. In fact, one of my happiest experiences as a dad was reading the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings to Will when he was pretty young. When I got through—after months and months—he wanted me to do it again. So we read it through twice.
·        We didn’t force the kids to do too much at church. We of course constantly contended with the normal “Do I have to go to church this morning?” complaint. “Yes, you do. Quit whining and get dressed or I’m going to wear you out” is the appropriate Christian parent response to that question. Still, we didn’t feel obligated to make them attend a  long list of events, meetings, excursions and other things church life is so filled with. We let them pick and choose.
God is good. And for all of us, our children are our greatest blessing. In the empty-nester season Pam and I are now in, the kids continue to enrich us and bring us joy. More importantly, we both hope and pray that we’ll be a source of wisdom and support to the kids as they build into their own families and pass their faith down to their own children.