The whys of church and faith
Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson
November 14, 2019
My son was rejected for a job because he could not work on Sundays. At the age of 16, he hoped for weekend employment to earn a bit of pocket change. However, the would-be employer, learning that he was available only after Sunday worship, was not interested. That employment rejection caused issues in our home.
Presently, my son is one of two high school students who regularly attend our church. We have watched what was once many young children in attendance dwindle to a small few as they have aged. And as they have aged and protested church attendance, parents have acquiesced, feeling that there were bigger battles to wage with their teens than whether to attend church. So, when church conflicts with things that young people want to do, be it playing sports, hanging out with friends, or working, church is too often the loser. But when parents insist upon worship, as my husband and I did with our son, then church becomes a source of resentment.
We have too often relied on rote mimicry where faith is concerned in hopes that our children would simply follow in our footsteps. However, the children who are coming of age now want to know why.
To my son’s credit, he was willing to engage in conversation and share his opinions. Of course, we got into the highly anticipated, “Why do I have to go when no one else my age is in church?” But beyond this surface discussion, we went deeper. My son acknowledged belief in God, yet he asserted that he did not believe God was this cosmic power who was in control of the world. Rather he felt God had largely left humanity to their own devices. I said to him, “Oh! You’re a gnostic.” He said, “I thought the term was deist.” We both laughed, but that opening led to an informative conversation and I was doing most of the learning.
What I learned first was that we need to speak more specifically about what we believe to our children. I am guilty of the religious shorthand that says, “God is in control.” Yes, I believe that God is in control, but it’s not quite that simple. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever present, which is why we say that God is in control. But as Genesis 2:4-5 intimates, God gave humanity stewardship of the earth, even to the point of preventing rain from watering the earth because there was no one to till the ground. To me this says that while God may be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, God has given humanity a work on earth and does not interfere. That is what free will is all about. Nevertheless, as we seek God’s will through prayer, study and discernment, God is available to us. Jesus Christ has walked out the path and plan that we are to follow. The Holy Spirit is available to illumine the way. As I took the time to explicitly explain what I believed and how that belief is applied in my life, my son understood and could receive those words for himself.
Secondly, we need to speak more specifically about what we do and why we do it. Too many people my age and older go to church because we were socialized to do so. For those of the builder, silent, and boomer generations, church became a social outlet. It was the place where women connected with other women and men networked with other men before networking was a thing. And back in the day, when few activities competed with church attendance, church was literally the only game in town.
But that is no longer the case. There is much that competes for our time on a Sunday morning and because of that, we as adults are occasionally resentful of church too. Have you ever found yourself complaining about going to church or grousing about why it must last so long once you got there? Kids pick this up and see the hypocrisy. “If you hardly want to attend, who are you to insist that I attend?” is effectively what they are saying.
Therefore, we must get back to the root of why we attend worship. If we cannot speak specifically about our motivations, then we will be hard-pressed to convince others. I attend church because I want to praise and worship God through Jesus Christ. I want to gather with other believers where together we support one another. I want to hear the preached word, from which I receive encouragement. I shared this because I want to speak truthfully about why I do what I do, as it is one of the ways that I live into my faith. By the same token, there are those Sundays when “Bedside Baptist” is awfully attractive. I shared this with my son as well because I am not “holier than thou.”
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” We have too often relied on rote mimicry where faith is concerned in hopes that our children would simply follow in our footsteps. However, the children who are coming of age now want to know why. Truth be told, we did too; we just didn’t have the nerve to pose the question. But offering a trite “because I said so” will not cut it. It only increases resentment. If we will instead engage our children in conversation, explain why our faith and beliefs are so important, I do believe that they will remain on the path with us. At least that is my hope as I watch my child age and make decisions for himself.
The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is an independent consultant and author who leads custom, high impact engagements for non-profit and faith-based organizations. She was previously the Director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Her book “Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of SANCTUARY for Pastors” is available through Judson Press.
Her latest Judson Press book “Meant for Good: Fundamentals in Womanist Leadership,” is scheduled for release in January 2020.