by Pastor Matthew Black, 7/14/2015, 7:45pm
Why Children Leave the Church
A recent study from Lifeway Research reveals that more than two-thirds of young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. Some drop out forever. Why?
The basic reasons given by young people have to do with major life changes or life situations. In fact, 97 percent of dropouts list one or more specific life-change issues as a reason they left church. Yet I believe their answers point to something that is far more disturbing. Listen to some of the excuses and you may be able to pick it out.
- “I simply wanted a break from church.”
- “I moved to college and stopped attending church.”
- “Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.”
- “I moved too far away from the church to continue attending.”
- “Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.”
- “I didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.”
- “I disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues.”
- “I was only going to church to please others.”
Did you catch the main theme? By and large, youths that leave our churches display a major lack of commitment. Underneath is the historical dilemma in churches of the second and following generations. Children from Christian homes often have parents who either assume their children have experienced an actual conversion, or they allow their zeal to turn into a carnal legalism and produce children that are superficial and Pharisaical in their faith until becoming adults, when they depart from the faith.
Why Kids Stay in Church After Age 18
According to the same survey, the most frequent reasons young people stay in church relate to personal faith and corporate community:
- “The congregation was a vital part of my relationship with God.”
- “The congregation was like a family to me, helping point me to Christ who guides my decisions in everyday life.”
- “I felt that my church family was helping me to grow in my relationship with Christ.”
- “My life was committed to the purpose and work of Christ’s church.”
In all of the above examples, the faithful young person has alluded to two important ingredients: (1) a genuine commitment to Christ, i.e. conversion, and (2) an authentic connection to the Christian community. As parents relating to our children, our living together for the Gospel means we live in humble relation to our children not only as children but as our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be sure our children are genuinely committed to Christ and that they understand their place in the community of faith. If this is not the case, then our children’s superficial commitment to Christ will be replaced by complacency, then compromise, and finally a commitment to this present evil world.
The Halfway Covenant in New England
Today is by no means the only time we are seeing a mass exodus of our children from the faith. Another interesting example is in early New England. By all accounts, a great number of the first settlers of 1620–1640 were true, biblical, born again Christians. Yet by 1662, the first generation realized that many of their children and grandchildren were shallow, nominal believers. They had to institute what was known as the “halfway Covenant,” allowing people to vote in the church who were only baptized as infants, but who as adults had never made a public confession of faith in Christ. Of course all that changed eighty years later when Jonathan Edwards got rid of the halfway covenant during the Great Awakening. He moved to have all church members prove their own conversion by a public testimony of faith in Christ. New church members needed to be “visible saints,” godly in word and deed.
When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to the earlier, stricter Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’s innovation was a direct threat. There was overwhelming opposition to Edwards. On July 1, 1750, two-hundred and thirty male members (out of 253) voted to fire Edwards as their pastor.
The parents had raised a generation of children and grandchildren who no longer loved the Gospel or sound teaching! Sadly, we are in the same situation today.
True Authority Comes from Knowing God
Christian parents are losing their children to the world every day. Why is this happening? It may be because Christian parents are often not allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives, and instead manufacturing little Pharisees that keep the rules while at home and depart from the faith as soon as they can to escape what for them feels like legalism.
Christian parents need to have a humble spiritual authority that comes from knowing God. Consider where Moses’ authority came from: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). Do you have a “tent of meeting” where you can meet with the Lord “face to face”? Perhaps a physical glory cloud does not descend, because that is just a shadow, but the true glory cloud descends, the Holy Spirit like a dove rests in peace in your heart.
The authority of parents ought to come from the Holy Spirit. The truth is, we are in a greater place than the prophet Moses. Parents who insist on being too busy for God will lack the true spiritual authority to speak the Gospel to your children.
How Could This Happen?
We’ve all observed children who seemed to have everything together, and you’d think—nothing could ever happen to them. One day they gain their independence and never return to family of God. How could this happen?
I believe it happens because Christian parents have become good at raising little Pharisees. So in order to avoid the loss of our children, let us consider 12 ways we might raise our children to be Pharisees, so that we are sure to avoid these practices our Lord condemned in Matthew 23.
Step #1: Major on the Externals
If you want to raise a Pharisee, major on the externals instead of internal issues. The Lord said in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
Remember that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Christ said of them: “This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Mt. 15:8).
Who Were the Pharisees?
Pharisees were the major religious group of Jesus’ day. There were about six thousand (6000) of them in Jesus’ time. You make a mistake if you think the Pharisees were moronic “keystone cops”. They were not insincere. They were brilliant minds—some of the most intelligent people of Jesus’ day. They were totally committed and zealous to God’s Word. They were uncompromising. For instance the Scribes who would have written copies of the Scriptures were so zealous about keeping the fourth commandment, prohibiting taking God’s name in vain, that they would take a bath every time they wrote His Name in copying the Scriptures, and they would use a unique pen for each time they wrote it.
They were the committed ones, the defenders of the truth, the separated ones. They refused to compromise. Yet they could not see themselves clearly.
Two Word Pictures
A Good actor. Christ called the Pharisees “hypocrites” which is a word that means ‘actors’ (23:25, 27). If we major on the externals instead of dealing with the heart, we teach our kids to put on a mask for us and others. Make sure they are well behaved for your own peace, and the peace of others, even though they may not have peace with God.
Dressing up a corpse. Jesus said a Pharisee is “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness…” So a Pharisee may “outwardly appear righteous to others…” but really they are “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (23:27).
And here is the most frightening thing: without a changed heart Jesus says there is no way our children will “escape being sentenced to hell” (23:33). As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:3).
Faking the Faith
It is possible to raise a good actor. There are many young people who are good at faking faith. One way people fake faith is with legalism and formalism. They put lots of extra rules around them that makes them look righteous. They are spiritually dead people propped up by rules and tradition. Some of the greatest children of hell are legalists who are filled not with love, but with self-righteousness and condemnation for all who are not like them. The true test of faith is the new birth. All who have been given a new heart and Spirit are filled with a growing love for God and others.
Touched but not Transformed: Hebrews 6
Something that ought to frighten godly parents is the realization that our children can be touched by God without being transformed by God. They can be drawn by God without being actually converted. As parents we must not stop short of seeing our children experience true regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Without regeneration, our children are just like the “fake Christians” of Hebrews 6. Their description should wake us up to the possibility of our children being simply “propped up” by others, but not converted. Consider this description from Hebrews 6:4-9:
- once enlightened
- tasted the heavenly gift
- shared in the Holy Spirit
- tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come
- they fall away
- describes their nature as a nature of “thorns and thistles”
In other words these are people that have been touched by God. They’ve made a decision for God. They’ve decided to turn over a new leaf. They’ve been touched but not transformed. They’ve not repented of their sins. They’ve not left all to follow Christ. They follow Christ for carnal benefits. Applied to our children, these young people follow Christ for mom and dad, for the sake of family tradition, or simply because they know nothing else. I’ve spoken to several children on their way to falling away, and once it was known that they were unconverted I asked them why they stayed so long with a mere formalism. Their answers ranged from “I like the music of the church” to “my parents expect me to attend.” What is clear to me is that in most cases, without conversion our children eventually go to the environment they are most comfortable in: the world.
Young people who are born again on the other hand actually follow Christ for Christ. They are touched and transformed. They are born again. I often ask my own children a question that helps them see their need for total commitment to Christ regardless of their parent’s expectations. I say, “What if you were the only Christian in our family – what if mommy and daddy somehow died and you were the only one left – would you still follow Jesus? Would you still be a Christian even if our whole family denied Christ?”
John Wesley – Who will convert me?
I think about John Wesley. In 1735, he was invited to the United States to begin a church plant in a new city in Savannah, Georgia. His brother Charles was made the Anglican parish priest. And John Wesley was to be the Anglican missionary to the Indians in Savannah, Georgia. He spent six months there. He preached, led in prayer, etc. But he was so discouraged. He knew the Word of God – but He did not know the God of the Word. As he sailed back to England he realized he was a lost man. He famously wrote in his journal, “I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?”
John Wesley struggled with no assurance of salvation for several years. He constantly prayed: “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, even then he felt dull within and unmotivated even to pray for his own salvation.
Yet one day, on May 24th, 1738 he opened his Bible at about 5am in the morning and came across these words in 2 Peter 1:4, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.” That night as someone was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans Wesley was converted. He records it in his journal. He says it was about 8:45pm that Saturday evening May 24th, 1738 at Aldersgate.Wesley writes,
“while the Preface to Romans by Luther was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley had majored on all the externals – he was a member of the famous “Holy Club” of Oxford. He was a missionary to North American Indians. Yet it wasn’t until he considered the state of his own heart that he began on the pathway to conversion.
Our Children Need the Holy Spirit
We know that only one thing makes a person a Christian, and that is the new birth wrought by the Holy Spirit of God. We experience a nature change, and we are in Christ, and we are growing and changing into His image.
Our children can all keep the rules and be totally lost. Convictions are good and quite necessary. I have convictions of holiness that I live out each day. Convictions help guide me as I please God. But we must never be content with our children displaying a mere outward conformity to standards. What matters is the new birth. Regardless of how well our precious children obey the external standards at home and at church, unless they are born again internally by the Holy Spirit they cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Step #2: Never practice what you preach
If you want to raise a Pharisee, instead of leading by example, never practice what you preach. Jesus rebukes dead formalistic religion that puts on a show on Sunday and lazily glides through the world during the week. He says of the Pharisees: “so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (23:3).
Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, But their heart is far from me” (Mk. 7:6). It’s not enough to have our children in Sunday worship and to teach them carefully from the Bible. We must be a living Bible before them. Our children need to see that our heart is so passionate for Jesus Christ that it actually affects the way we live.
Catalogs and Coffee
Have you ever ordered something online or through a catalog and when you got it, it was nothing like the picture? Integrity is important.
I’ve heard of people mistaking salt for sugar and putting it in their coffee. Substance and integrity is important. You may think you are getting one thing, but it is a real let down when you think you are getting one thing, but really you are getting something quite different.
It’s no big deal in coffee or catalogs, but it is tragic in children. So often we have heard of parents doing everything right, but the children depart from the faith. We see the result of a lack of a true knowing of God and gutting of the presence and power of God from our homes and from our churches.
Have you ever heard of identity theft? The latest statistics from the Federal Trade Commission tell us that more than 9 million people in the USA will have their identity stolen in any given year. This means, somebody who you have never met opens up new accounts in your name and spends your hard-earned money as if they were really you. Identity theft costs $53 billion dollars each year and 300 million hours in lost time annually reconciling stolen accounts for these 9 million people.
There is another kind of identity theft going on. Parents are claiming to know Jesus but have no real “abiding life” with Christ (cf. Jn. 15). Jesus reveals true identities on the Last Day. We do not want anyone to have the scenario play out on Judgment Day when the Righteous Judge will inform a shocked multitude of professing Christians, including some parents and children: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:23). These were people who had preached in Christ’s name and done “many wonderful works.” They masqueraded as Christians outwardly, but inwardly they were lawless and used Christ for their own self-promotion. They did not have the inward identifying marks of a Christian. Sadly, this includes children who saw parents say one thing and do another.
Let me illustrate it for you. What our children need is authentic Christianity. Living, breathing God-exalting worship of God through Christ.
We all prize authenticity. You know robots are becoming more and more human. They are fantastic in all they can do. I went over to a local engineering plant, and they have all these automatons doing the most amazing and precise work in engineering. They are robots. They can do things better than human beings. But they are not human beings. Imagine your son bringing home a robot – dad, she’s the one! No, she’s a robot.
That’s a way of illustrating the absurdity of mechanical Christianity. Sometimes we can do things to well, we even want to improve upon the Holy Spirit. Our children don’t need mechanical Christianity. Anyone can put on imitation Christianity. Our children need to see us loving and worshipping the Living God.
Cardboard Cutout of the Rich and Powerful
Have you ever seen a cardboard cutout of someone who was rich and famous? It’s not really them. It’s funny for a picture, but it’s just a cardboard cutout. What our kids need to see is not a cardboard cutout of Christianity, but the real thing.
Step #3: Use Excessive Control and Manipulation
If you want to raise a Pharisee, use excessive control and manipulation instead of relying on the Holy Spirit of God. Listen to our Lord warn us about the cruelty of making others try to live the life of faith in their own finite power: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Mt. 23:4).
The Pharisee’s did not rely on the Holy Spirit to convict of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Their preferred method was to use guilt and excessive control to conform behavior. God’s method is to convert the heart to change behavior.
Pasting on False Fruit
Imagine the absurdity if my apple tree were not bringing forth apples, so I began to duct tape apples to the tree. From a distance it looks real. But close up we can see it’s an absurdity. We need to look for the fruit of true conversion in our children’s lives, which is evident by the spiritual fruit that comes from the heart: a hunger for God in private prayer, self-motivated seeking after God, brokenness, repentance, etc.
How do you know if you are manipulative? Instead of relying on the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to press down on your children’s hearts, you may use an overbearing spirit in order to produce the desired behavior. We ought never threaten or put a child down. You may get the desired behavior, but you will drive his or her heart away. You may even start raising your voice to get desired behavior. Eye-rolls, huffing and puffing, and “counting to three” are all insufficient ways to reach the heart of your child.
We ought to be grace-filled parents. The grace filled parent knows we are warned never to use manipulation but to nurture our children. According to Ephesians 6:4, parents, specifically fathers, are not to “provoke their children to wrath” but to “bring them up in the nurture and discipline of the Lord.” If discipline and correction are needed (and they are at times), then it ought to be used as a teaching experience, never to punish, but to correct and then give deep encouragement to the child.
The grace filled parent believes James 1:20, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Angry parents do not produce holy children.
The grace filled parent knows that “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Raising a child should never mean raising your voice. As a parent, you can be effective in reaching the heart of your child only if you are in control. If you have a gentle humble attitude, your children will reflect that. Your tone of voice is heard louder than your words! (By the way, raising your voice is only necessary if the child is in immanent danger.)
The grace filled parent believes Paul’s warning from the love chapter: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). We’ve got to be a vessel for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit of God. If love is absent from discipline, then all our child hears is a bunch of noise.
Do not misunderstand: a godly humble spirit in the home does not mean that we do not deal with sin. It is absolutely essential to correct sin, but you must speak the truth in love.
Most importantly, the grace-filled parent knows that only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can truly produce heart-felt, God-submitted obedience that comes from a regenerate heart. Our children are by nature “dead in their sin” and need to be “quickened” and “made alive” in Christ (Eph. 2:1-6). Without the new birth, our children are subject to the heavy load of Christianity as mere legalism; but through the new birth Christ’s burden becomes light and easy (Mt. 11:30). Indeed, God promises to take out the “heart of stone” and replace it with a living “heart of flesh” that is submitted to the Holy Spirit: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my decrees” (Eze. 35:26-27).
Hear me overzealous parents. Do not disregard the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit. Many Christian parents are so fervent about keeping their children from the world than they are with making sure the manifest work of the Spirit is at work in them. Even if their children gain the whole world, what would it matter if they lose their soul?
Katy Perry is an internationally renowned pop music star. She grew up in a pastor’s home and refers to her childhood as a “strict upbringing” and says she’s from a very “non-accepting family.” Many other very worldly and lost people of fame have a similar heritage that has been forsaken. Hollywood actor Brad Pitt recently called his early life as a Christian “stifling.” Justin Timberlake, singer and actor, grew up in a devout Southern Baptist home, but fell away and into the life of worldly pleasure having found his home life restricting, though he grew up hearing the Gospel.
What each has in common is they never experienced the power of the new birth and found their Christian upbringing burdensome. “Strict,” “stifling,” and “restricting” were the words used to describe their experience. I do not entirely blame the parents, but it would not surprise me if the popular idea of “accepting Jesus” into one’s heart was the method of conversion. Let me repeat: we must not disregard the work of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives. No amount of rules or convictions imposed on children can replace the Spirit’s work. Nothing less than the crushing work of the Spirit will be enough to bring them to Christ and keep them from the world.
Rules Cannot Save Our Children
Let me say it in another way: we may be very involved in the schooling of our children (and our family is); we may keep them from the evil influences of worldly friendships (and we do); we may faithfully attend church, avoid immoral movies, and introduce our children to good theology (and we do all these things); yet if we do not compassionately evangelize, patiently and joyfully spend lots of time with our children, and diligently teach them as we walk with God, carefully looking for the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, we will likely lose our children to the world. We must not simply teach them the negatives of this world – we must teach and model what it is to walk with Christ and bring them into the positive fruit of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
The Law of the Spirit
One more insight is vital: if our children come to live in the abiding influence and presence of the Holy Spirit, we will not need very many rules and regulations. In fact, our family has found that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than any rules we may have in our household. God says to those who have a new heart that He will cause them to walk in His statutes and to keep His judgments (Eze. 36:27). Paul says the same thing: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
Only True Christians Have Power to Live for Christ
Only the new person in Christ has the power to live the Christian life. Only the true child of God can “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22), and only the redeemed life, the life “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10) is able to do good works.
Don’t get me wrong – we have important rules that must be followed in our home. Yet on the other hand, we see the work of God’s Spirit in them daily. We nurture His influence in them through natural conversations and precious fellowship together. We try to use every opportunity to build up their faith and experience the Spirit’s power. We talk about temptations, friends, and the world. But most importantly, for our middle school and high school children we talk about what they are being taught by the Spirit in the Word. We talk about what they are doing to be salt and light. For our little ones, we are teaching them who God is, their need for Christ, and what the world to come will be like for the saved and the lost. All of this is done to point them to the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Rules, standards, and convictions cannot convert the soul. That is the Holy Spirit’s work alone.
Step #4: Teach Your kids to Fear Man Instead of God
If you want to raise a Pharisee, teach your children to please men instead of God. The Pharisees were people pleasers! Matthew 23:5, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men.” Of course Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!” 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
How Do You Spell Success?
In the Word of God, human success is not the goal; pleasing God is the goal! How do you spell success in parenting? S-A-L-V-A-T-I-O-N! If your child experiences the new birth and lives a life hungering and thirsting after God, you have succeeded. Our children are not going to stand before our friends and neighbors to see if they were a success. They are going to stand before God. I tell my children often, “If you grow up and God calls you as His child to be a garbage picker for His glory, you have succeeded.” Now obviously the point is not that I don’t want my kids to have a holy ambition to do great things for God – it is that if they are born again, all things done for His glory are great. They need not live up to anyone’s ideals but God’s.
Image is Not Everything
The old TV ad says: “image is everything.” This is simply not true. Yet parents often unwittingly teach this Pharisaical principle to their children. We human beings enjoy being complimented or honored. The danger is, we can easily become intoxicated and consumed by this need, and we crave the praise of men. Among some of the leading Pharisees, there was at least intellectual confidence in the claims of Christ, but “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn. 12:41).
Peace-Lovers, Not Peace Makers
Parents who live under the slavery of other people’s opinions often keep their children from coming to know Christ. The well-meaning parents are men-pleasers and become peace-lovers instead of peace makers. A peace-lover is so afraid of conflict that he will avoid it at almost all costs. He is so concerned about “keeping the peace” with his fellow man that he is often willing to forfeit the peace of God that comes from standing up and suffering for the truth. This parent is essentially a coward at heart.
Examples of People Pleasing
Let me give you an example. A daughter in the congregation becomes pregnant. That daughter and parents need to go through a process of repentance and a true examination of that young woman’s walk with God. Instead, the daughter moves to another location with a family member. An excuse is given. No one ever finds out and the daughter is raised to believe that pleasing people is more important than pleasing God. If she does attend church (which is unlikely), she may become a Pharisee. The parents could have allowed the Lord to use this situation to draw them all closer to Christ. Instead, their hearts are hardened with pride, deception and shame. All this could have been prevented.
Another example – mom and dad perpetually fight in the home. Both mom and dad are involved in the church and know the Bible well. They know they need help, but because of spiritual pride and a bit of hopelessness never let anyone know of their constant bickering, even though help is available. Dad has an anger problem. Mom has a submission and respect problem. They could attend a marriage enrichment class with the pastor for free. They could get intensive marriage discipleship at a local Christian counseling center for a couple hundred dollars. Instead both are dying a slow spiritual death. Because of the difficult marriage any spiritual leadership of the children has been neglected. Family prayer and Bible reading vanished long ago. Church is becoming a formal event. Nothing is changing. Soon the children graduate, move out, and never attend church again. This could have been avoided, but help was not sought. The church family wonders why the children are not serving the Lord. Mom and Dad raised Pharisee children who served God while in the home, but quickly lost the children to the world once the kids had their freedom.
Pride is the Root Problem
The r00t problem with a people-pleasing mentality is pride. Actors like to wear masks. Vulnerability is not prized. To avoid this Pharisaical attitude, the church family needs to adopt a discipleship mentality. We need to invite each other into one another’s lives. Without an in-depth examination of his or her life the approval junkie might never admit that he or she loves anything more than the Lord. “Of course I love God more than anything else! Look at all the good things I do for Him! Look at all the time I’ve invested in serving him. My whole life is built around my faith. Surely I don’t love the approval of man above the approval of God!”
The Pharisees certainly have made such claims. Although they were outwardly religious, they were among the clearest examples of people- pleasers in the Bible. They wanted approval so much that they spent a great deal of their time and effort doing those things that would bring them glory from men. Even those things that are religious in nature (such as prayer, fasting, and giving) can be done with a hypocritical motive to gain man’s approval.
Meanwhile the children who are raised in this environment observe a double standard. The person at church is not the person at home. The person at church quotes Bible verses, prays, and is friendly to all around. The person at home is isolated, distant, sometimes angry and rarely prays or reads the Word. This is a recipe for disaster.
Get Help Now!
Dad and mom, open your life to another couple in your church. Husband, you need to set up a meeting with your pastor or an elder in the church. You may need to go outside the church for intense marital enrichment. There is help. Ask your pastor and elders before you lose your marriage and your children. If you want to raise a Pharisee, then do nothing. Take no action against the duplicity in your life. Keep pleasing men, grieving the Holy Spirit, and growing colder and colder spiritually. You will lose more than your walk with God. You may likely lose your children to the world.
Step #5: Focus on Personalities Instead of Christ
If you want to raise a Pharisee, focus on personalities instead of the Person of Jesus Christ. Look at Matthew 23:6-10. Pharisees “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” The Pharisees would not look to Christ. Instead they looked to all rabbis and gurus and personalities.
Exalt the Architect, Not the Hammer
As parents, we are called to exalt the Architect, not the hammer! God uses people. But let us not exalt the hammer! Let’s exalt the Architect! We are just pieces of clay in the Master’s hand.
To be a Christian is not to be a man follower, but to be a Christ follower. It is to have Christ living in you—to have Him as your Master. “You have one instructor, the Christ” (23:10). More than following men and movements, we must follow Christ. Let us rejoice with all the faithful men of God in all the Gospel preaching denominations. Our church holds to a reformed Baptist statement of faith. Yet let us rejoice with our faithful Pentecostal Armenian friends like Leonard Ravenhill, A.W. Tozer and David Wilkerson who exalt Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice with our faithful Presbyterian friends like R.C. Sproul and Joel Beeke who hold forth Christ faithfully. Let us be amazed that God uses any one of us.
Let us rejoice with all those who faithfully preach man’s depravity, the necessity of the new birth, and the vicarious atonement of Christ for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross. Let us rejoice with those who preach the power of the resurrection to transform the lives of those who believe the Gospel. If we choose to divide from others who are clearly in Christ’s fold. Remember Jesus said, “the one who is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:30).
Mere Doctrine, However Sound, Does Not Save
Signing a doctrinal statement does not make a child a Christian. Mere doctrine, however sound, does not save. We must have correct doctrine to be saved, but if a person is to be redeemed, then Christ must dwell in the heart by faith! Agreeing to good doctrine, while good and necessary, does not transform anyone. The “devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). The 18th century Evangelist George Whitefield was right when he said, “Mere heathen morality, and not Jesus Christ, is preached in most of our churches.” Sound doctrine divorced from Christ is mere hollow and heathen morality that will never save our children. Our children may quote the soundest and most faithful catechisms all the way to hell.
I certainly am not against catechizing our children – this has always been the practice of our family. Yet if I do not point my children to Christ through a heartfelt introduction to the manifest presence of God via their parents’ outpoured prayers, humility, confession of sin, songs of praise, tender abiding in Christ, then all the sound doctrine in the world will be vain for them if they miss Christ.
Godly Ecumenism (Unity)
A few ways we may lead our children into a man-centered ideology is to be issues-centered or movement-centered. Men and movements die. As parents we must never speak as if our particular church or group of churches is the best or the only one. We are not special. We are not the only faithful ones on earth. This was the attitude of the Pharisees. The word for Pharisees literally means “separated ones.”
We pray that our local churches might not be a place to play games, but a place of shelter and security and acceptance for sinners. God’s church is made up of broken, hurting people on the road to restoration in Jesus Christ. If we don’t think we fit that description then we are nothing more than people comparing masks with one another. It’s all a show. “Well my mask is better than your mask.” No, we are all hurting people. Let’s admit it. Let’s come clean today.
The Bible teaches us that we ought to have a godly ecumenism, or unity with all true believers: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). I am reminded of the words of the apostle: “… one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:4-6, NKJV).
Building Man-Centered Empires instead of God’s Kingdom
When churches become man-centered, they begin to build their own kingdom on earth. We must not be men-pleasers. We are not called to exalt a man or a ministry but to rejoice in the presence of God among all healthy churches. Let us not rejoice in men, but let us rejoice that the Kingdom of God has come! As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said so well:
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom which is to come, yes. But it is also a kingdom which has come. “The kingdom of God is among you” and “within you.” The kingdom of God is in every true Christian. He reigns in the Church when she acknowledges Him truly. The kingdom has come, the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is yet to come. Now we must always bear that in mind. Whenever Christ is enthroned as King, the kingdom of God is come, so that, while we cannot say that He is ruling over all in the world at the present time, He is certainly ruling in that way in the hearts and lives of all His people.
When churches become man-centered, they begin to build their own man-centered empire on the earth. As we lead our children, we must not exalt men, or movements, or ministries but rather exalt the Person of Jesus Christ.
How Will People Know We Follow Jesus?
When it comes right down to it, all people, including our children, will know that we are the followers of Jesus by our love for one another. John was never causing unnecessary division. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Eighty times he uses the word love. Over seventy times he used the word “witness” in one form or another. He was always the witness to the truth and always the teacher of love. John was not one-sided. He was not all love. He was not all truth. He was the mature example of “speaking the truth in love.”
Yet, John proposed a fierce unity in concert with his risen Lord who said: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).
But if you want to raise a Pharisee, instead of focusing on Christ and His powerful work among many groups around the world, focus on personalities and your pet issues and movements. But be careful, because in doing so, you will likely lose your children.
Step #6: Create an Environment of Pride in the Home
If you want to raise a Pharisee, create an environment of pride instead of humility in the home. Jesus rebuked the proud Pharisees and said: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:11-12).
The Right Kind of “Broken Home”
The kind of broken home that God loves is to have a mother and father with a broken heart for their own sin, and a contrite spirit of humility. The answer to almost every spiritual problem your child has answered by Peter in 1 Peter 5:5, “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble!” Or as David said in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (NKJV).
A Sure Way to Raise a Pharisee
If you want to raise a Pharisee, never admit you are wrong. Never ask for forgiveness from your children when you sin. They ought never see that you fail. Hide your inconsistencies from them. “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” So said the late John R.W. Stott. His succinct statement about pride and humility goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.
A Humble Example of Mom and Dad
The greatest example a child can have is that of a humble mother and father who know they are sinners worthy of the God’s eternal punishment. The kind of broken home that God loves is to have a mother and father with a broken heart. Do you have a broken heart for your children? Are you gentle with them? Are you serving them up the Gospel or do you think they are there to serve you?
Take the time to serve your children. Spend time with them. They should know you intimately. Serve them through prayer. Pray for them. Gather them around you each night and pray for them by name. Then let them pray and listen to their spiritual heartbeat.
Serve them through humble confession when you sin. Confess your sins before your children. When your children sin, don’t act as if you are holier than thou. You tell them, Daddy and Mommy are sinners too. That’s why we all need Jesus.
 Accessed Sept. 2013. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-reasons-18-to-22-year-olds-drop-out-of-church
 John Wesley. Works of John Wesley (London: Conference Office, Methodist Church, 1809), 280
 Jeordan Legon. Federal Trade Commission: Identity theft strikes 1 in 8 adults. CNN.com (online article). Posted Wednesday, October 29, 2003. Also see the Federal Trade Commission’s web site concerning Identity Theft at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/about-identity-theft.html.
 Mk. 8:36
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press
 Whitefield, George (2009-07-16). Selected Sermons of George Whitefield – Enhanced Version (Kindle Location 5690). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 16.