Children are smarter than we give them credit for – they know what you mean most of the time, even when you think you are being clever. They can tell voice inflection before they may know the definitions of words, and can decipher facial expressions, mannerisms, and tone. Not only that, as much as we love to assume we know them well and can read them like a book, children are often just as complex as adults, with needs, desires, prejudices, fears, and preconceived ideas that may have an effect on them for a lifetime. What we assume about young people, both teenagers and children alike, could lead to dangerous situations, so it is important that we tackle some of those assumptions. This lesson is not for parents alone, but for anybody who has an interest in the development of this congregation’s children. Most importantly, this lesson is for the kids, because it may open up their eyes to the assumptions that we make about them and help them meet expectations and mature into the kind of Christians that we long for them to be.
For the smaller children, it is essential that we avoid assumptions about their intelligence, their perceptiveness, and their emotions. When we hurt their feelings, they may not let it stew quite like adults do, but we will lose their trust. Children are precious human beings, containing both the most essential and tender building blocks of emotional and physical development. What is done to them, for them, by them, and around them at an early age will shape who they become later in life. We might not realize just how damaging we are being when we gossip about members of the church around them, or live in hypocrisy, or disparage them, or stifle their curiosity in spiritual matters.
Teenagers present just as many challenges, and the assumptions that we make about them are often far from true. We assume that teens are trouble makers, hooligans, apathetic, and still not quite ready to hear the truth on some things. But the real fact of the matter is that teenagers are capable of so much more than we understand sometimes. They are complex and emotional and need only the steady hand of good influences to help them develop into strong adults. The potential of our young people is limitless, if we give them a chance. But let us talk about some of the assumptions that we make about them that can lead to disaster.
“I took them to church for all those years”
Some Christian parents make the mistake of thinking that just because they brought their children to church since birth, they will just naturally grow into being Christians. It is as if some parents with wayward progeny are so surprised at their children’s unfaithfulness because of all the years they were brought to church and learned the Gospel every single Sunday. The unfortunate problem that parents in the church face is that many never actually try to convert their children. Have you ever actually talked to your children about being baptized? Do you live the kind of faithful life that would make your children want to emulate you? Rather than just bringing them to church and letting that “do the trick”, do you have Bible studies with your kids at home throughout the week? Why do we acknowledge that most adult unbelievers will never be converted without a home Bible study, and yet spend almost no time studying with the people who should be first on our list of potential converts? While going to church is a command, and we should expect our children to obey it (Hebrews 10:25), it is not the sum total of raising them in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
The real problem is that we forget just how many bad influences exist in the world around us, and how little time we spend at church, relatively. “Assuming that four hours of assembly and Bible class should counterbalance untold hours of being locked away from the family (tuned in or logged on to who knows what), humanistic ideology at school, peer pressure, moral relativism, bad examples, lack of supervision…You can drag this youth to church, but if you turn around and take a look, you will likely notice he’s not making very good use of his allotted hour for God” (“When Parents Do Not Instill Biblical Virtues”, Scott Smelser, Focus Magazine, July/August 2002, p. 21). So just how are our kids using their time here at church? Every now and then take a look – are your children trying to follow along during the lessons, sing with enthusiasm, and make themselves a part of church activities? We should all be trying to get the most out the worship service as possible, knowing that the time we spend in the sinful world far outweighs the joyful time we have with each other. Children get two hours of Bible study per week, if their parents even bring them on Wednesdays, and then they spend more than thirty hours per week at school. Many children spend more time on the computer than they do in the Bible, more time in front of the television than talking with parents, and more time in unsupervised situations than accomplishing productive tasks.
There are some practical things that parents can do to make church a more important part of their kids’ lives. First, if we expect our kids to get anything our of the worship service, then we should expect ourselves to do the same. Show your children by your actions how much you love going to church, how much you enjoy Bible study, and how much you prefer the company of quality people. If kids see how important the Lord’s church is to you, they will emulate it. Second, make home Bible study a compliment to activities with the church. Ask your kids what they studied on the way home from Wednesday night class. Help them study for the next lesson, or volunteer to help the teacher during the next class. Also, have an active family Bible reading time, leaving an opportunity for your kids to ask questions. Help them see that the Bible is an amazing book that is worth reading.
For the kids, remember this: nothing will make your parents and God more disappointed in you than not obeying the Gospel. Keep in mind that what you do with your life is your choice, but if you want to live for selfishness and the flesh (Galatians 5:13) it will cause great pain to the people who love you most. Try to pay attention during church. Make friends with other church members. Read your Bible and ask about things that confuse you.
“It won’t affect them”
Do not assume that it will have no effect on your children when you show by your example that you do not handle tough situations with brethren well. Our kids see it and remember it when we disparage other Christians on the car ride home. Do not attack and malign the brethren behind their backs, for such an attitude will eventually transmit onto your children. If you have a problem with another Christian, go to him about it, alone (Matthew 18:15). Griping about an unresolved situation in the car to and from services is a poor substitute for loving, godly action. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have for one another” (John 13:35). Despising and gossiping certainly send a different message to our young people. The real problem is that if we choose to bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15), our children may not want to stick around all of the cannibalism. One of the most common complaints of young people who leave the church is that there is too much strife, too much argumentation, and the concept of true religion is lost on them. When churches split for petty reasons, it not only leaves a bad taste in the adults’ mouths, but in the children’s mouths as well. When they have to be split up from their friends at church for reasons they do not understand, it spoils church for them.
· We need to keep in mind that the command to love one another applies to us not just when everyone is behaving in a manner that makes us happy, but also when people disappoint us. We can be angry and yet not sin (Ephesians 4:26) and confront others about sin in a productive manner.
· It is not enough to just abstain from saying bad things about brethren – we need to actively say good things (and that is the kind of thing that you an say behind somebody’s back).
· People are not perfect, and yet David never let that detract from his worship experience. He was glad when he went to worship with people (Psalm 122:1). There were Christians who disappointed Paul, discouraging him and even threatening him *Philippians 1:15, 2 Timothy 4:16, Philippians 2:21), but Paul never became bitter about worship or other Christians.
· Admittedly, there are some poor examples of Christianity in the church, but instead of gossiping or complaining, we should work extra hard on never allowing ourselves or our children to sink to their level.
“Unaware of my hypocrisy”
Let us never assume that children, especially teenagers, are not perceptive enough to pick up on our inconsistencies. And for the young people here, do not be afraid to call adults on it! Hypocrisy left untouched will only get worse, and it is a shame that so many parents allow themselves to put on a nice face for other Christians, while all the rest of the time saying crude things, making filthy remarks, neglecting Bible study, or anything else that is unbefitting a saint. “You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking of the Law, do you dishonor God? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ just as it is written” (Romans 2:21-24). If it easy enough for adults to notice your hypocrisy, people who do not even see you all the time in your natural environment, how much more will your teenage children notice it at home when you inconsistently prohibit their actions and leave yourself unrestrained?
But that is not the only thing that your children can tell at an early age. They can tell if you are disciplining them out of love or anger. They know if your marriage is happy are miserable. They know if you are tolerating them or delighting in them. They can see very clearly if you enjoy serving God or if you are just going through the motions. They know if you actually like the other members of the church, or if you only pretend when you are around them. They your quality of life and the consistency of your morals, and whether or not you are living by the Bible passages you lecture them about.
“Might as well assume the worst”
One of the most unfortunate assumptions we can make about our young people is that they are supposed to be bad. We lower our expectations so much because of the world’s influence that we just think it is normal for teenagers to be disrespectful, worldly, untrustworthy hooligans. Our society tells us that “boys will be boys” and we all have to sow our wild oats at some point. Supposedly, it is healthy for teens to “experiment” with drugs, sex, and odd religious fashion trends because it helps them find out who they are. Therefore, we should not be surprised or dismayed by their lack of morals. The problem with this assumption, though, is that many young people show more courage, faith, character, and godliness than some adults, and if we come to expect the lowest standard out of them, they may eventually live down to it. Rather than expecting your teenage boys to be sex-crazed fools who drive too fast and disrespect authority, and your teenage girls to be flirty, dumb, argumentative brats, expect excellence from them. Too many parents “brace themselves” for their child’s teenage years, yet fail to recognize that proper parenting, love, and high expectations can take care of most problems before they even sprout.
Friends, it is not impossible to have a pleasant experience raising children. Admittedly, all young people make mistakes at some point, and some to be sure never make good decisions at all, but we should never expect so little from young people. The Bible, after all, is filled with examples of young people who overcame great trials and temptations. God has high esteem for the young man or woman who maintains righteousness under adverse conditions:
· Daniel and his friends lived honorably in a very ungodly environment (Daniel 1:8)
· Timothy did not have a Christian father, yet accomplished much for God (1 Timothy 4:12).
· Joseph refused to be bitter when treated unjustly (Genesis 39).
· Samuel was a man of great moral integrity, even in the presence of evil men.
Also consider Psalm 119:9, which says, “How shall the young man keep his way pure?” It is worth noting that when David asked this question, he did not cry out, “It’s impossible!” It is not impossible for a young man to keep his way pure and make good decisions. How shameful it is when parents do not notice exhortations like this in the Bible. “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).
“Rules produce rebels”
In dealing with young people, one of our greatest fears is that if we put too many rules on them, they will rebel. In an extreme response, some parents make the fatal mistake of not having enough rules. Do we think that our kids will not love us if we enforce reasonable guidelines and regulations? Do we think that it will only produce greater misbehavior if we give our young people the structure they need? And this is not just a problem at home – many parents do absolutely nothing to their children when they cause trouble at church, at the grocery store, at the mall, or even at work. Even worse, their motivation is often appeasement, as if the children are actually the ones making the decisions and running the family. “If we don’t give little Jimmy what he wants, he might not love us anymore,” is the cry hear round the world by spineless parents. The mentality, especially as children become teenagers and the temptations of world become stronger, is that if we give in a little bit, and bend on some of the rules, that we will prevent them from outright rebellion. Since when has parenting been about compromise, though? We see this happening in many families:
· Letting teenage children have a beer party at home because “we just know” that they will drink anyway.
· Giving a daughter birth control because she is going to have sex anyway, so it might as well be safe.
· Not spanking children because such only produces children that his others.
· Believing that children raised in a godly environment will suddenly go completely out of control once they leave home.
· Making our children believe that the cost of discipleship should never make us miss out on some “fun.” We ought to train our children to appreciate sacrifice for God. They should learn to love what is right, and train them to recognize the value of standing up for a good cause.
· Rules do not produce rebels. What produces a rebel is a set of parents who inconsistently apply rules and give in to the complaints of their children.