I feel like I need to begin by saying that as a twenty-something without any children I am not at all qualified to talk about parenting or how parents should raise their children. However, a friend recently sent me an article that I thought was very good. I am curious to hear the thoughts of our readers with children, and their experience of raising children in the faith.
Shelly Wood recently wrote an article over at the Huffington Post titled “When Church is a Choice.” She opens her article with a statement often heard among parents today:
We have decided to let our kids choose whether or not they go to church and to pick their own religion. We tell them God exists, but how they choose to believe in God, or whether they go to church or not, is up to them.
Wood then goes to express her concerns about this way of parenting, and is quick to point out the problems with this line of thinking:
When kids are told that church is a choice and that religion is a buffet of entrees in which they can pick the one’s they like the best and ignore the ones they don’t, kids hear this:
Religion doesn’t matter. God is there if you want Him, or not. Take Him or leave Him. He’s around, if you want to give Him a call. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Live a good life. Be a good person. You will be fine.
If I told my kids that bathing was a choice and that they were free to decide whether or not they wanted to bathe or brush their teeth… my kids would opt out of the practice and ritual of good hygiene. Gross, I know. But true.
Despite her reservations, Wood is convinced that parents who adopt this principle are well meaning. She writes: “It’s not that they are saying that God isn’t important. They are saying that religion isn’t important to know God.”
Ultimately, however, Wood sees the buffet style of religion and spirituality being advanced by parents today as detrimental to society. For this reason, Wood creates a list of do’s and don’ts for ministering to this generation of parents. Her ideas for getting back this generation of parents are very insightful. Here is a quick summary of her points:
- Shame them, it never works.
- Preach hell, fire, and damnation.
- Develop programs. These are a short-term fix.
- Cultivate honest conversations about God and science. Let people know that even if they do not ascribe to a certain church teaching they are still welcome in the Church.
- Be willing to have really honest conversations about suffering and death, about prayer and discipline, about mission and service.
- Support honest conversations about money and sex, about power and greed, about love and struggle.
- Work to develop conversations outside of the church, where God becomes a friend before a major life event happens.
- Work on developing authentic rituals and spiritual practices.
Does Wood’s insights resonate with your own experience? I am especially interested to hear how our readers’ church communities are seeking to develop authentic rituals and spiritual practices that reach out to modern parents and their children.