Yes, you read the title right.
Being brought up by godly parents, and being raised to respect Jesus Christ are wonderful things. Without them, I don’t know if I would be a Christian–let alone a preacher–today.
But being raised in the church also presents several dangers. These are dangers that you must take seriously, otherwise your child will most likely be one of the thousands who “leave the church” once they move out of the house.
Hypocrisy Shines Through
A child is taken to church each time the doors are opened, and is in Bible class from a young age. But what happens when that child is at home? Let me share with you what happens in the lives of many (perhaps even most) of these children’s lives.
That child comes home and never hears the Bible mentioned. He rarely, if ever, sees other Christians come to his house (except perhaps some of his relatives). In short, he sees his parents as hypocritical. They go to church and are “part of the group” on the Lord’s Day, but the rest of the time, they are no different than anyone else.
Now, perhaps you might think “hypocrite” is a strong word to use. Let me say it some other way that maybe will make sense:
If your children don’t see you as a Christian throughout the week, what you do on Sunday isn’t going to convince them.
And they will subconsciously decide that being a Christian isn’t really all that important. And they will either leave or become someone who simply takes up space in the auditorium.
Repentance is Difficult
Being someone who was raised “in the church,” I say this from my own experience. When I was baptized in my younger years, I didn’t view myself as a bad person. I was already praising God during the worship times. I was memorizing my memory verses for Bible class. I listened to the sermons most of the time. I could tell you the plan of salvation.
In short, there was not really any change in my life from what I did before to what I did afterwards. I knew I needed to be baptized, but there really wasn’t anything for me to change in my life. I’ve discussed this with others who were raised in the church, and most of them have described a similar situation.
I think this, more than any other reason, is why so many people are “rebaptized” later in life. They can’t remember agonizing over how utterly sinful their lives had been before being baptized because they were acting just like all the Christians, just without being one.
A Lack of a Personal Faith
When children are raised in the church, they often take on their parents’ faith by default. As in, they are told what is what by their parents, or by the Bible school teachers and the preacher. They simply accept that this is the way things are, and instead of coming to a knowledge of the truth themselves, they start living on an inherited faith.
If you want to know what the difference is, look at the Israelites. Those who crossed into the Promised Land who had seen God’s miracles were faithful for the most part. While Joshua lived, the people were faithful. While the elders that outlived Joshua were in charge, the people were faithful.
But as soon as people who didn’t have to work for the Promised Land came into power, things went downhill and quickly. They didn’t have to fight for the Promised Land, they inherited it. They took it for granted. And they fell away.
When someone grows up in the church, they often live on an inherited faith. And later in life, if their faith is challenged, it can fall apart because it wasn’t really their faith.
I had a disagreement with one of my instructors in school about this very topic. I told him that I envied the ones who were converted fresh, brought to Christ out of the world or from denominations, because for them it was a true life-changing decision. They knew where they were and they knew what they were leaving behind. Their faith was absolutely a personal faith.
A Lack of Zeal for the Lord
Tying in with the idea of an inherited faith, children who grow up “in the church” often have a lack of zeal for the Lord once they grow up.
Why is this? Part of it has to do with having an inherited faith. You’re not likely to be zealous about defending someone else’s beliefs. You might say, “But those are my beliefs too!” Then if that is truly the case, you’ll be defending your beliefs. But unless you’ve decided for yourself (making it a personal faith) that your parents got it right, you’re not likely to be a zealous defender of what they believe.
Part of this lack of zeal can also be attributed to the lack of seeing Christianity lived out in their parents’ daily lives. If it’s not important to the parents, the child isn’t going to think it’s very important either.
A Misguided Zeal for the Lord
Some folks who are raised in the church have an ego complex because they are raised with the “we are right and everyone is wrong” teachings. Then they get to thinking that they are so much smarter in the Bible than anyone else. Or worse yet, they think everyone outside the church is dishonest with the Bible.
The importance of baptism is so obvious! They just ignore the parts of the Bible that they don’t like.
And I can speak from experience (and others’ testimony backs it up) that when you’re raised in the church, there is a danger of being overly critical of even our own brethren. It was ingrained in my head long ago that people who use one cup during communion are lost because they are “binding where God doesn’t bind.” I fully believed at one point in time that we must actively fight anything that went against “what we’ve always done.” Why? Because that’s what I heard talked about.
In short, being raised in the church presents the very serious danger of being a heretic hunter and and a spiritual egomaniac who thinks he’s better than “all those lost people.”
What is the Solution?
The answer to this question is not easy, but it is worth it if you care about your children and their eternal soul.
BE TRUE CHRISTIANS
If you want your children to grow up to be active, faithful Christians, then the best way to do that is to be an active, faithful Christian yourself. Show them that Christianity is a life worth living outside of the walls of the church building. They need to see that the church family is important to you.
All the church programs, youth activities, and Bible classes in the world won’t have the same impact on your kids as seeing Christ lived out in you.
If you want your children to have a true zeal for the Lord and a love for the lost, then they need to see that in you. They don’t need to see condescending attitudes towards lost people whom God made in His own image. They need to see compassion and patience towards people who were raised in denominations who struggle with changing from what they were raised with. Most denominational people aren’t intentionally ignoring certain Bible passages–they are simply going by what they’ve always heard and been taught.
We also need to instill in our children a healthy dose of what it means to be faithful to God. Not just saying it, but living it. They need to see what it means to be “walking in the light.”
But finally, we need to teach our children not just what to believe and do, but why. The overwhelming majority of kids raised “in the church” can probably tell you that instrumental music is wrong, but they couldn’t explain why they believe that. Without that crucial why component, their faith will fall apart. They won’t be able to prove it to others, and that will cause them to realize they can’t really prove it to themselves.
Are your children’s lives worth the work to you?
14 thoughts on “The Dangers of Growing Up in the Church”
My Brother, you have revealed some things that really need to be studied. I grew up in the church. My parents were excellent examples in living for Jesus. I am thankful for my raising. But, I have observed a great difference in the way that I was raised and the way many youngsters are raised today and in the past 30 years or so. Parents who have time only for attending the services and then frequently forsaking those, are not bringing their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We wonder why we are losing so many of our young adults and teens to the denominational world and I believe that what you have said is a major part of the problem. I know many, many, young people today who grew up listening to me preach and some of them were children of elders and other leaders in the church. This is one of my greatest disappointments. Why did they leave for more entertaining churches? They were not grounded by teaching and example and thus found something more appealing that what they see as dead and boring activities in the church. I could write pages about this, but I do believe that your thoughts need to be considered seriously.
Thank you, Ted, for reading it. I always value your thoughts and insight.
God bless you for the courage it took for you to put this forth and for the wisdom you’ve demonstrated in the content. Brother, in my humble opinion, you could not have been more accurate in your assessment!
Thanks, brother. I appreciate you.
Your reasoning and comments are well said..,may we instill in our young people s hearts to stay faithful as a reason of necessity. But also realize that we need to show them through our actions and words that we should never allow anyone else to come between us with our relationship to God. Stay faithful to God for God…dont stumble on the actions of others. Everyone is aaccountable on their own.
I too was raised in th coC and witnessed many of the things you described. Through the years I began noticing some things in the Bible that didn’t line up with all the doctrine I was hearing preached from our pulpits and bible studies.
For example, we were supposed to be known by our love, but the first thin people would say to me was, “Yall are the ones who don’t use music and are the only ones going to heaven, right?”
Through years of consientious study and observation I’ve come to different conclusions on our doctrinal stances. I put my conclusions and thouht processes in getting to those conclusions in book form. The book is called “TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANITY. You can order it from Amazon.com. Just do a search for “Dennis Ensor” and it will pop up. If you read it with “fresh eyes” and an open mind, I guarantee that you will not look at the same verses in the same way. You will be changed.
If I’m wrong in my thinking I will appreciate any help to get me on track.
God bless. email@example.com
Please insert. By the way I am currently an elder at Outreach church of Christ in Hamilton Texas.
Brother I gotta commend you for the statements in this passage. I come from a denominational background. And I became a new testament Christian prolly a year and a half ago so I’m still a baby in Christ. Which means I don’t know a whole lot of the true meanings of the scripture but I am learning and reading and praying for guidance. But, the church of Christ I first went to right before I became a new testament Christian seemed a lot like what you were talking about. Which seemed kinda odd. I figured all would be well and all but perfect. But I guess there are problems I’m all places. Thanks for your honesty and wisdom brother . God bless.
Phillip, thank you for writing, brother, and for sharing some of your story. There are problems of one kind or another in all congregations, because there are people in all congregations, and none of us is perfect. If you ever have any questions, feel free to pass them on and we can discuss them together from the Scriptures.
I regard your piece with high esteem and praise. I, too, was raised in the church and your words resonated profoundly with me. I personally fell away from the church for many of the reasons listed. I have found my way back ONLY becasue I stepped away and began studying issue by issue and weighing options based on worldly knowlege vs. scriptual insight. My faith is still weak but it continues to grow. I have two young boys that I hope find there way in this regard but feel for many of the reason’s you’ve pointed out that we as a church community are definitely going about this in the wrong way. At least for certain head-strong personalities such as mine. I intend to challange my children prompting them to make thoughtful considerations of both scriptual truths, their application to their lifes, while at the same time carefully exposing them to the ills of the world so that the decision is their own. I fear placing them in a bubble and spoon feeding them my faith will only leave them ill-prepared to make the right decisions and leave them lacking the foundation to do so. Thank you.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read the article and especially to leave a comment. I am the oldest of seven children, and the rest have all left the church, partially because of the reasons I listed. I will pray for you and your boys’ growth in the Lord.
Thank you again.
Excellent article Bradley. My father was a preacher for 3 different churches while I was growing up, and I can count on one hand the number of friends that I grew up with in the church who are still members. I often wonder what the difference was. Why did I choose to stay with the church and become a preacher myself while they didn’t? I don’t know what all went on in their homes, but I think one of the major factors for me was that my father never pretended to be perfect. He admitted his faults. In addition to trying to live as a Christian that sincerity made a difference to me.
Thanks so much for the note, James. I know exactly what you’re saying and where you’re coming from. I wish more people were like your father.
I really appreciate you publishing these thoughts because retaining our children in the faith is a heart breaker for many parents. What you have said is true and I don’t want to take anything away from that. But I want to add to it some things I think we seem to not be addressing. I was not raised in the church but had experiences with many denominations through family and friends. So when I was baptized into the Lord’s church, I knew I was and still know I am in the right place. In training our young and new members we fail to prove that the church is perfect and that the Bible is absolutely true. The problem occurs when everyone starts looking at people. Sorry but we are all flawed and that is why we have grace. Members are always a work in progress. We are all at some level of hipocracy/maturity. All of the flawed behavior is seen by any member who doesn’t live under a rock. The lesson is you can be a fruit inspector but you should never let ANYONE come between you and the Lord nor should you ever drive a sheep from the flock by your word or deeds. If they leave, it must be after applying all the love we can muster and only because they will not accept Christ’s teaching which they are called to observe (Mt 28:18-20).
Christian parents who do necessary things right still fail often because they are caught in a hard working mundane life too busy trying to survive. What we fail to do is show our children the consequence of following the world up close and personal. Can’t elaborate here other than take them to a drug or alcohol treatment center – show them the tragedies (deal with porn, gambling. stealing, lies et al). Fight the dumb dogma, “if you ain’t tried it, don’t knock it” – you are not going to live 5 centuries – wise up.
Another oversight is the fact that the world prior to 2000 or so has made an all out assault on Christianity, in education from grade 1 through phd, entertainment, science, and politics, and the relentless media put downs. And church leadership, members and parents do little or nothing to address this sea change. The Bible was not meant to be a science book but there are more and more resources that open our eyes to pieces of information that really proves that the Bible is absolutely true and that the only evolution going on today is false science from the world.
Also and unfortunately we fail to lift up our brethern, to their children who are typically embarassed by their blah parents and add especially those who have researched and studied God’s word and can deal with the firey arrows and slings, instead we are dismissive or we put them down – a cultural flaw brought into the church from the world. Children raised inside the church are at once naive about the world until it sneaks up on them, then they have problems recovering from their sins and on the other hand if they traverse their growing up they next make the mistake of looking at flawed members in all stages of maturing and assume falsely that it is better somewhere else or in the world because they are not shown the contrast of the tragedies of those living in the world who have adopted one or made up their own seriously flawed code of conduct. Awareness of these issues are very important and thanks for your addressing them.