The title of Rob Parsons book "How to get your kids through church without them ending up hating God" was eye-catching enough in its own right to make me pick up this latest work from the whimsical Welshman. Let's be honest though - while the title speaks directly and powerfully to so many Christian parents' experience - that this title is even thought of, is a deep, profound and awful tragedy. So many of us find that when the church is good, it can be really, really good - like very little else in fact. Of course, it can be lame and useless, or just irrelevant too (as can each of our contribution to its life, I might add!). The fact is though, that Christian parents draw a significant distinction between church and faith; which means that when church either disappoints or bores, we ride the storm because faith remains. Things for kids, as Parsons explains, are much more complicated however. While we would wish for our kids to have a positive experience of church which would help them to kindle a faith of their own - Parsons pitches his book towards situations where the church is being part of the problem, not the solution. Into situations such as these, the chairman of Care for the Family pours his deceptively simple sounding wisdom.
Highlights in the book include his warnings against trying to compress our children into our mould - that is compressing them on secondary issues. He warns against over-busyness of parents who don't invest in an adequate relationship with their kids in easy times, so that the children can turn to them on a meaningful level in more difficult periods. He also challenges parents to live out what they say they believe - as hypocrisy is a faith killer for kids! He advises parents to be very guarded about how they speak about the church or about other people, especially when young ears are listening, pointing out that destructive cynicism is a highly contagious disease. Chapters on judgementalism, hypocrisy, cynicism and overfamiliarity are contrasted with the positive material on 'creating a sense of Belonging'. The only reason he ever advocates for jumping ship and joining another fellowship - is if the church to which you belong is not creating a sense of belonging and place for the kids and teenagers!
The final chapters are all entitled, "Get Them Ready for......" and are about preparing children for realities of a hard world, which requires robust, rather then sentimental faith. Disappointment with themselves, with others and with God will come - says Parsons, and the wise parent will not paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the life of faith, for reality to then shipwreck. Instead, he urges us to talk with our children about our failures, sins, disappointments and experiences - and how we have walked with God through such times. Likewise - he warns Christian parents against ghetto-ing children, and not exposing them to the real world. Finally he tells us to do all we can to impart a positive vision of the Christian life to which they can aspire, and which they can explore for themselves. A young believer will be healthy and happy in their faith, not of they are driven by a fear of the world which becomes a long string of 'thou shalt nots' - but when they gain a sense of calling from God to achieve something in this world for Him. So we should actively expose our children to the positive work of organisations doing great work in areas such as combating people-trafficking, or disaster-relief; he says.
This is a really easy book to read, in which Parsons' many insights are littered with nicely observed anecdotes. It is written with genuine spiritual, pastoral concern to see young people emotionally and spiritually thrive. Helpfully too, it is not guilt and law-driven; but gently gracious, in encouraging us parents to do the best for the children we have. While it is easy-reading, there is a lot to chew-on here. Most immediately challenging is the reminder that the greatest thing which will go towards shaping our children's character, is not what we try and impress on them, nor the values which we espouse; but that which they see us modelling in the course of everyday life, over almost two decades of parenting.