I am so blessed. For many people church is a chore or an obligation, a routine like putting in time at the laundromat. Worse, to some, church attendance is a mindless exercise not being fully aware of exactly why we do this every week or twice yearly as it is with many in the traditional Bible Belt.
To my family, church is a wonderfully delightful "family event."
Why is my church so different? Well, I will tell you a story.
Several years ago I was having serious thoughts about Sunday school and youth groups. The battle for my children's hearts seemed continual and rotated around several issues raised always by events planned by the church. I found myself arguing with youth group leaders about the types of movies that were shown, late night hours and quite a load of junk food not only available but peer group encouraged to consume. Several rock concerts (Christian rock, of course) and the accompanied "lock in" sleep overs threatened to turn me into one of those raging parents in defence of my sweet ones innocence.
The events were all "fun" activities so I guess that is why we tend to overlook them at first but it gets deeper and so does the struggle. Most of the teen rebellion, be it large or small is generally then to be expected and parents are encouraged to go with it and just get them through it.
"Raise them in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it." Why then are 75 % of our youth leaving the church...permanently? I started realizing even though I believed in home education and non age segregated social life, I was somehow thoughtlessly sending my precious little hearts off in age segregated Sunday school classrooms and groups with whomever happened to be the teacher that day. And I often did not know what they were teaching my child about God (another clue...ABOUT God)
Furthermore, the youth group that my now grown children were attending several years ago was led by leaders not much older than my own children. (fools leading fools) Somehow that seems to qualify these leaders as "they can to relate to the kids where they are."
At one point the leader decided to have a (outreach) school book burning bonfire a the end of the school year.
Did I protest?
You know me too well!
Another time one of the youth group members was tied to a street post, toilet papered and sprayed with whipped cream and left there for what was supposed to be several hours...because it was his birthday. That activity was initiated by the youth leaders. I was not very popular when I let loose on them all and untied the poor boy, who by the way was not laughing! Neither is he in the church today.
Another memory comes to mind when I stumbled upon a youth group meeting in process while attending a wedding rehersal where 10 or 15 kids were gathered around a huge water barrel. I was confused seeing one of the young boys with his head immersed up to the neck in the floating ice and water. The kids around were counting hilariously. The challenge was who could keep their head under, breath held for the longest. I still recalled the deathly grey of his face and the obvious disorientation and seeming blindness of one such boy as he came bursting out of the glacier bath. I regret standing by silently in shock. Sufficeth to say I am glad for the leaders sake that my son was not the one in the barrel at the time I stumbled upon the scene. 911 would have had two calls that night.
Fortunately, because of a move to the middle of nowhere on acreage out in the sticks of Arkansas, I had the time to actually think about what I believe and more specifically what the Bible says about youth and how they are to be raised. Many verses immediately came to memory and I found even more as I searched the Scriptures. I started afresh and simply kept my children out of age segregated groups altogether. It wasn't met with a whole lot of encouragement, and even some downright mild rebukes but I held firm, stayed strong, and gained some quiet respect. Still I was continually frustrated by the wonderfully fun type of announcements of what the next Friday night group meeting would bring all the while my boys sitting beside me in church more than slightly pulled with desire.
Then it happened. I called an old friend back in Seattle to make the announcement that we were about to move back to the west coast and she said, "Oh, that' too bad. We won't be in town the weekend you arrive. We are going to a Conference."
My ears pricked up? "Oh? What conference? "
"A Uniting Church and Home Conference."
Uniting Church...and Home... Conference? I was intrigued.
She explained only a little and I knew I had to go. "Do you mean to say that there are other people out there who believe in keeping children's hearts at home and within the family, even at church? That there are whole churches that do not divide the family in age segregated groups the minute you walk through the door? That there aren't any youth group fun filled foolishness packed activity's announced over the microphone for me to have t0 say no?
And to make this story shorter, through that wonderful conference over three years ago we found one of those rare and wonderful churches. At first, to be honest with you, it was a little different and hard to get used to. We were used to a different style of worship and quite easier messages to listen to.
Within a few short weeks though, you could not drag my boys away from the sweet fellowship of mixed ages of many wonderful home school families who believed exactly as we did. Many of them had come through the same path as we did. Furthermore, our new Pastor's wonderful expository preaching spoiled us for anything less for ever more. It is deep and accurate and he lives his faith explicitly.
I confess again, this isn't an easy church to sit in. I have had quite a bit of my theology redefined and challenged. Every week I find myself crying out to God to make me more Holy as He is Holy as I apply the Word to my heart. That, if you have never tried it, is not comfortable.
Consequently, we have all grown in our faith and we have the most wonderful friends of all ages. One of my best friends is 15, a beautiful and fully competant young lady who is the second of 11 children. One of her younger brothers I affectionately call my "little buddy." I have intimate fellowship with both adult single ladies of the church and older Saints in the Lord. Our church is filled with families, fathers and mothers, not just women attendees- a common plight in this manless culture. All over the building you can see every age fellowshipping with any and every other age and group, a teenager talking to a 5 year old, a twenty some thing young lady talking to an older man.
We also have a shared meal at the end of each service. What sweetness of fellowship. It is a whole day of truth in the Word, fellowship with sweet unspoiled home educated friends, and home cooked nourishing food. And all of this is not in a small isolated country town in the center of nowhere but in the heart of one of the busiest and most liberal cities in the US. Seattle.
Chance? No,... Providence, I say.
Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.
We are so blessed! Thank you Lord, for your direction. Had I not been struggling, I may not have recognized your blessing and found a place to both challenge us and found a place of quiet rest.
For a directory of family integrated churches in your area check out this link. I highly recommend at least a visit.
Living a Lifestyle of Learning daily