Christian parents hope that their children will come to love and follow God—and attend the same kind of congregation that they do. But a large percentage of Church of God young people do not follow their parents’ beliefs. This problem has existed throughout the history of the large corporate groups, and it exists in the small independent groups now. While parents are studying the fine points of various doctrines (God’s nature, calendars, etc.), they are sometimes shocked to find their young people have totally rejected their congregation’s teaching, the Sabbath, the Bible or even God Himself.
The reasons for this are complex and varied. But in this single page, we will discuss the most important ones and make suggestions whereby parents may live at peace with their young people, and help them to follow God.
See How God Works with Us
Have you ever realized that the way God works with people is much different than the way parents usually work with their children? While little children certainly need to be told what is right to do and have obedience enforced, how many parents fully grasp that the teen years are a time to give up control and to let their teens make decisions? Yes, they will inevitably make some mistakes. Parents need to try to simply prevent their older teens from major disasters—they should not try to prevent them from all sin.
Does that sound radical? The Bible and history show that God does not give all truth to every person—or even every Christian. The churches in Revelation 2 and 3 had different problems, but Christ worked with them all. But He did not jump in and stop them from each sin. He observed how they behaved, He showed them what was wrong, and He commanded them to repent. Most mature Christians realize that it took many years for them to recognize and overcome some of their sins—and that they still are not finished. We should not expect our children to be much different—nor should we cut off communication with them because they have some sin. God does not cut off communication with us when we sin.
Why Young People Leave
Young people often leave their congregations because parents expect more out of their young people than they expect out of themselves. Sabbatarian groups place great emphasis on commanding obedience to law and so Sabbatarian parents command their children to obey law. But “doing” the laws is a much better teacher than commanding them (Rom 2:13; Jms 1:25).
Major reasons why young people leave their church group include:
Parental hypocrisy. Parents hold their children to higher standards of Sabbath-keeping, cleanliness, cheerfulness, etc. than they personally practice.
Church hypocrisy. Church leaders preach a higher standard than they personally follow. Church headquarters are much more tolerant of minister’s sins than the ministers are of member’s sins.
Lack of fruit. Young people may hear many good doctrinal sermons, but find their church group lacking in love and lacking the positive works that Jesus said His followers would have. Indeed, some Sabbatarian groups come across as extremely self-righteous: “we are better than the others”.
Situation impossibility and/or lack of faith. This problem is part the fault of parents and part the fault of young people. The “fault percentage” varies—only God knows. Many parents have simply not thought out what they really expect their children to do with their lives or whether their goals for their children are even possible to achieve. On the other hand, some parents present very realistic alternatives. Young people, of course, vary greatly also. Some have the faith to live up to the most difficult of Biblical, church and parental requirements, others do not believe God will see them through comparatively easy situations.
Making It Possible
Young people typically have the following questions about their future:
What is my relationship to God?
Where am I going to school/work?
Where am I going to live?
Who am I going to marry?
Parents need to realize that becoming a Christian is more than just baptism and attending the same church. Young people must be serious enough to dedicate their lives to living God’s way—they may learn a few things “the hard way” before seeing the value of God’s way.
Parents often forget what a struggle they had with their job when they began to keep the Sabbath. In general, jobs are harder for young people to get than they were 30 years ago, and first jobs for Sabbath keepers are even more difficult.
“Who will I marry?” is often greatly underestimated by Sabbatarian parents. Thirty years ago, there were Ambassador Colleges, huge Feast sites and big church meetings. A young person had many chances to find somebody they liked and who was “in the church”. Today, with many small groups, some young people may no know even one person whom their parents would accept as a spouse—not to mention somebody whom they love.
The practice of most CoGs of inviting all Sabbatarian singles to their singles outings is a good start. Hopefully, parents have the wisdom to let their young people attend. Unfortunately, if a cross-CoG dating relationship ends in a marriage, the young people will still find that most church organizations will not let them freely attend both husband’s and wife’s groups on a regular basis. (See articles on “Hierarchical Leader Letter” in the six Servants’ News issues from Sept/Oct 2001 to July/August 2002.) If they are to ever have any position of responsibility, they must attend primarily one group and forsake the side of the family in the other. The church organizations must solve this problem by allowing members to attend similar groups.
Parents Must Rethink
Rather than think “how much they can demand of their children”, parents need to think about what their children can do, ask that they follow the basics of Christianity, and hope they will desire to do more. This is much better than parents forcing older teens to “do everything right”, then seeing them leave home early, or depart from God completely. Parents must remember that they learned truth as their life went on—so will their children. The article sent out with this issue, Love That Lasts, is a good example of the basic information that teens and their parents should know.
— Norman Edwards