Why do kids with amazing parents reject God?

Bob and Carol were an amazing couple. As a young husband and father I looked up to them as role models. They were godly. They had a strong marriage. Every Sunday their family sat together in church. They even homeschooled their kids. I hoped that someday Jana and I could have a marriage and family as solid as theirs.

One day, in passing, I asked Bob why he didn’t attend the mid-week service. “Oh, that’s our family night.”

I was impressed. We tried family night a time or two, but with small kids it felt impossible. I wished I had the discipline these folks had. But, I also thought: Why not come to church and use any other night for family night?

I also noticed they didn’t put their kids in the children’s ministry and youth programs. That was a little different but these were awesome parents and I could sure see great value in having the kids sit with them at church.

Time passed and something weird happened. As Bob and Carol’s kids went off to college I noticed their kids didn’t attend church. When my kids left home for college or work they not only immediately found a church but they got active serving in that church.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was such a lousy parent compared to Bob and Carol. Our “family nights” consisted of dumping our kids in the nursery, kids church and later youth group while we attended the adult service. I was never able to pull off consistent home devotions. We sure weren’t the model family. Why were my kids passionate about God, while the kids in this “perfect family” were running from God as soon as they could break free?

Bob and Carol could have been a fluke, but I’ve seen this same pattern over and over – great parents but their kids leave the church.

I didn’t give it much thought until folks started asking me why my kids never ran from God? As a pastor I wanted to help them keep their kids on the right path but I had no idea what made the difference. I prayed and asked the Lord.

You’ve probably heard “Family first. Don’t get so busy with church activities that your family suffers.” While I agree with that I think we get into trouble if we forget our family is just a tiny part of something much bigger – God’s family.

It’s dangerous to separate our family from the bigger picture. The kids were seeing that their family gatherings at home had priority over gathering with other believers. It says “we” (my family) are more important than “WE” (the Family of God).

No one intended it but they were being taught that their family was the center of the universe around which everything else revolves – rather than God and His people being the center around which our lives rotate.

Suddenly it all made sense. No wonder these kids wandered away from church – which almost inevitably leads to wandering away from God. Church – gathering with the people of God – was optional, a nice thing to do once a week as long as it was convenient and didn’t conflict with family or other plans.

Off at college they saw no need to get connected to the local church. The were busy with their lives, their schedule, their priorities.

I know this probably sounds hyper-legalistic but let me encourage you – when the people of God gather (a.k.a. church) you need to be there and be involved.

Not out of obligation – Jana and I never went because we had to. It just made sense, and our kids grew up knowing it was what we all did. “Family first” meant when God’s folks gathered we would be there. If traveling, on vacation, visiting family, whatever, our plans, priorities and schedule revolved around connecting with God’s eternal “Family First”.

Here’s why.

Next time you barbecue, after the coals are nice and red-hot, take about six of them out and set them aside. Then set one aside by itself and watch what happens.

The “family” of six coals will stay hot awhile but not as long as the big gathering. And the poor coal that is “living on his own” – off at college or working – will cool very quickly apart from the other coals.

If you want to stay red hot in your walk with God stay connected to the big pile of coals.  Keep your little family tied into the pit. As often as possible gather with the other coals where you can draw heat from them and help others by sharing your heat.

 We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.
– Hebrews 10:25

 Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of worship.
– Luke 4:16

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  • Reply Scott July 27, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    “their family was the center of the universe around which everything else revolves – rather than God and His people being the center around which our lives rotate.”. That’s it.

  • Reply Pastor Don August 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I really must take a moment to present another perspective here. I am sure you meant well in writing this. But with all due respect, you have not lived the hell I am living.

    I have two kids. Both are now adults…at least in body. We raised both the very best that we could. We prayed over them from the day they were born. We homeschooled both of them from beginning to end. We read every book and followed every Biblical principle we could in an effort to point them to Christ. And…above all else…we had them with us in church. We have both taught and modeled for them a VERY high view of the church as The Body of Christ…His representatives on earth. Trust me. We were/are heavily involved in church life, from Sunday and midweek attendance to small groups and community life.

    The outcome?

    One child has followed God faithfully. She is a model of Christian character and seeks to serve God with all her heart. Is she perfect? No. But she is making every effort to live out her faith consistently.

    The other child has – to put in bluntly – embraced a lifestyle of sin. From his teens to this very moment, he has tried every drug, slept with numerous girls and pursued a “party lifestyle” with little moral restraint. My heart breaks over it and tears fall even as I type these words.

    I have beaten myself up over this now for years. I have not been able to reach my own son for The Gospel and for that I cannot help but feel I am a failure. I have asked myself a million times why. Why has my son decided to live this way? Why has he rejected God? Why did one child embrace and love Christ, while the other seems hell bent?

    And I have come to the only conclusion that makes any sense of it all and helps me keep my sanity. Both of my kids, like all of us, have FREE WILL.

    I may raise my kids with a Bible in one hand and a hymnal in the other. I may have them in church every single time the doors are open. I may spend every waking moment listening to Christian music or teaching. But my faith cannot save them. Faith is a personal decision and ALL who believe must own the faith for themselves. There is no substitute for personal faith and there are NO GUARANTEES when it comes to your children. They are free to follow Christ. And they are free NOT to follow Christ. Just as God set a choice before Adam and Eve, so all we can do is set the choice before our children. What they do with that choice is their decision…and theirs alone.

    I used to be quite smug about all of this. I raised my children the right way, and I fully expected Proverbs 22: 6 to “work” for me, just like it does for all of the other Christian parents.

    So there you have it. Confessions of a broken parent. I did everything I could do…and I still am. And before someone rebukes me here, I have NOT given up on my son. I still pray for him. I fast for him. I confront him. I encourage him. In short, I still do everything I can to point him to Jesus. But only he can choose life.

    • Reply Rick Malm August 29, 2015 at 3:15 am

      Dear Don
      I can’t tell you how glad I am that you responded and shared your story. My heart breaks with you for your son and I will pray with you for him. If you want to send me his name my wife and I will be happy to even pray for him by name.

      You are absolutely correct on every point. Nothing in the Christian life can be boiled down to a formula – do this and this will always happen – even Proverbs 22:6. Because, as you mention, God chose to allow man to make his own choices. Which true love demands – we could not truly love God if we did not have the real option of choosing to reject Him.

      As the title of this blog says, there are no perfect parents. I suppose the ones who would have come closest to being perfect would have been Adam and Eve and one of their sons killed the other. Even Jesus gave his parents fits by staying in Jerusalem when everyone else left. I remember hearing James Dobson say that our children’s salvation is always a result of God’s grace and faith and not the result of proper parenting.

      There is one Perfect Parent who has done it all right but even He, the Heavenly Father, has many wayward sons.

      It sounds like you have already wrestled through these things and come to these conclusions but I just want to encourage you that you are on track with every one of them. (I’m afraid if I were in your place I might regularly second-guess myself wondering if I was just making excuses for myself.) So let me just say it again, you are on track. Don’t give up and don’t let guilt drag you down.

      Right now you are living in the middle of the parable Jesus told. In the end of that story the prodigal did repent and did come home as a changed and humbled man. My guess is the father was also changed and humbled by the experience. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know but God is still at work in your son’s heart and it’s not over till it’s over.

      Let me close with an understanding I picked up somewhere that has encouraged me in my prayer for situations like this. Obviously we can’t reduce prayer to a formula either – if we pray God will save him. Because again, there is that troublesome free will thing. But here is what I understand prayer does in this situation.

      As we pray, God will work circumstances and situations around to bring your son to a point of decision. (Like he allowed the prodigal in the story to lose all his money as a famine hit.) If your son still rejects the Lord, as we pray, God will bring him to a bigger point of decision (the prodigal now found himself, a Jewish boy, serving pigs). Each time your son rejects the Lord, God turns up the heat. I don’t believe He will violate His will but, as King Nebuchadnezzar said, “those who walk in pride he is able to humble”.

      Clearly it is not God’s will that any, including your son, should perish. So we know we are praying in accordance with God’s will and we can trust God to do all within His power to bring your son to a point of breaking and humbling.

      You have planted good seed. What you sow you will reap. I’ll be praying with you that the harvest of your son’s salvation comes quickly.

      PS – in an upcoming ebook I address some things we can do when our teen or young adult children are in rebellion. I hope to have the book ready in a couple of weeks – but no guarantee because of other priorities. As soon as it is ready I will be sending it as a gift to all who are on the email list at the time it is finally ready. If interested, you can either keep checking back or sign up to receive these posts in your inbox.

      Again, thanks for sharing your heart and your hurt and I will be praying with you. Stay in touch, brother.

  • Reply Mike August 27, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    This is called confirmation bias. And if you don’t know what that is, you should really look it up.

    If your theory is right, how do you explain so many pastor’s kids leaving church? Or how about the kids that were involved in youth and ministry leaving?

    • Reply Rick Malm August 28, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks for responding. I appreciate both your interest and concern.

      There is no way in one blog I can sum up all the reasons kids run from God. This is designed to present one aspect that is often overlooked. I strive to keep each of these posts really short which, unfortunately, means I can’t fully address the topic. Frankly I find that frustrating because I always have more to say. 😊.

      But most of my readers are hyper-busy parents who don’t have time for a book on each topic. In other posts I have alluded to other reason kids run from God and will likely address it in future posts.

      I have some thoughts on both your questions but I would rather learn from your take on it. What reasons have you seen, for example, for PKs leaving the church?

      I would like to see this blog be a place of interchange where we can learn from each other. After all, we all have the same goal – godly kids. And not one of us has it all figured out.

      I look forward to your response. If you keep it to appx 400 words I might even ask to post it as a guest blog.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond and sharing your thoughts.

  • Reply Becky September 2, 2015 at 1:30 am

    With all due respect, this post seems to make over-generalizations. It would be fantastic if there was a formula to be found for raising Christian kids who choose to embrace Christianity when they leave home. I’ve searched for it myself, but am left with the conclusion that when I’m seeking a system or formula, I’m typically operating out of a place of fear – not faith – when it comes to training my children. There’s no other area of my life where I must exercise such huge faith than parenting.
    We’re that homeschool family that you describe … We have family Bible study as often as we can, although our kids do participate in our youth group. When so many of our kids leave the church when they leave home, we should take a good look at what we (the church) are doing with our youth. Maybe there were good reasons the family you mention didn’t have their children in the youth group. Did you ask? Our kids have had a very difficult time being accepted in the youth group as the only homeschoolers. It’s easy to make assumptions …
    We’ve had experiences in the past with youth groups that placed more emphasis on entertainment rather than holiness and accountability….I know, I know – the kids won’t come if we don’t entertain. In the name of “relevance”, we’re dumbing down our kids. They don’t have the spiritual depth to counter the philosophies, theories, etc… that are thrown at them post-high school.
    There are no easy solutions to this issue… As my husband says, “I will be the one to stand before God one day to give an account for my family….” I’m sure the father you mentioned was well aware of this also. Let’s seek understanding, not uniformity.
    I’m glad to find your blog … you offer such great encouragement to parents who are trying to find their way along the bumpy road of parenting.

    • Reply Rick Malm September 2, 2015 at 4:28 am

      Dear Becky:
      Thanks so much for responding. I appreciate you taking the time to interact and share your thoughts.

      You are absolutely right about the “over-generalizations”. As I mention to Mike below, that is one of the real drawbacks to trying to keep posts short. You can never fully deal with any subject without making some broad sweeping statements that don’t apply to all situations. Especially when you are dealing with something that has so many nuances as parenting. After all, our children are individuals, created in the image of a infinitely diverse God, so – as you mention – there are no formulas.

      That is one of the fine lines I am trying to walk as I write.
      1. Obviously there are no formulas – “do this and the result will always be this”.
      2. But neither is it some cosmic roulette wheel where we just have to hope for the best.
      As you know, there are principles. In this blog I am trying to make parents aware of some of the principles I’ve discovered that apply to parenting without sounding like I have it all figured out – “If you just do what I say it will work for you too.” To me that would be the height of arrogance and, in fact, in a few weeks I have a blog coming out about that (working on writing it now).

      In this post I was focusing on ONE reason I’ve seen that kids leave the church. I have others posts in the cue that focus on other reasons. This one is just so close to my heart because I have seen it happen to so many dear, dear friends who really were, and are, awesome parents, but whose kids have wandered away from the Lord. So this one was really written through tears not with any criticism or judgment intended. In fact, I dreaded releasing it lest it seem like that was my intent. But I felt it necessary to warn other parents about this danger of isolationism.

      So, I appreciate you sticking with me, continuing to add your thoughts and telling others about the blog. May the Lord grant you and your husband great wisdom in training your children. It sounds like you are doing a super job and one phrase in your comment is what I think is a major key to success. “There’s no other area of my life where I must exercise such huge faith than parenting.” Exactly!! We have to continually be crying out to the Lord for our kids and keep our hope in His grace, not in our perfect parenting.

      Thanks again for writing.

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