I want you to do something. It may seem weird and uncomfortable, but I want you to see what I am seeing.
Before I tell you what it is, I want to give you some context. Our church is in a university town. A huge perk of this is that I get to sit across the table from a lot of college students talking about the church, the Gospel, and their journeys to this point.
College is such a formative and exposing time of life. It is where one’s roots start to break the soil and see what kind of fruit results. The majority of students I get to talk with are ones who are chasing after Christlikeness (that’s why they are meeting with a pastor to talk about the church). They feel the push of the Holy Spirit, are woven into accountable community, and are interested in being a part of a healthy local church family.
I often find myself marveling at the depth and Christian courage of these students.
Almost without fail, as I lead with open-ended questions about background or faith, the answers funnel down two ideas: parents matter and churches matter.
1) Parents matter. I talk with students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Take courage – God uses and is saving kids from broken homes, single parent homes, Christian homes, and everything in between. Regardless of your past, your children have a future. But also know this: your kids know. They know if you wear a Sunday School mask. It is highly influential on emerging adults as they watch their parents go through church motions. They can spot a phony from a mile away. Authentic Christian parents, they relate, are those who know their Bible, ask and answer difficult questions, walk through adversity with their kids, and place themselves as shepherds in their home keeping their kids within biblical boundaries.
2) Churches matter. Pastors are important. They often serve as wise guides and teachers in the minds of young adults. However, beyond the pastor, the church body is just as important. Young adults continually relate that they need to see Baby Boomers and Senior Adults actively loving Christ and their family. They don’t just need to see busy adults. They need to see loving and embracing Christians. The churches they have come from have been instrumental in their upbringing. They can see the warts for what they are and aren’t under the illusion that the church is perfect. They do, however, want the church to be genuine. Pastors, the young adults who grow up in church and come through with the most solid footing aren’t those who were rushed through a children’s ministry assembly line. Rather at key points in their formative years, when they had questions, their pastors and parents took time and gave answers. They clearly articulated the whole Gospel. They made children wait. They let them wrestle with realities of faith and the Gospel. Teach the children well – they are indeed listening. Not one student talking about their church upbringing has told me about how cool their VBS was or how much fun they had on Wednesday nights with their youth group. Many, however, have told me about the adults who sat down and shared Jesus with them at VBS or the importance of Christian influence and mentorship of older students and adults through their teenage years.
Every coffee shop talk with a student leads me to think about my role as a father. With every young man I meet, I pray that some day, like them, my son will be sitting down across from a local church pastor talking about the local church, God’s Word, and the Gospel. I know undoubtedly if and when they do, the conversation will veer towards his upbringing in our household and the impact of his local church.
I want him to be able to say he knows his dad is a Christian. I want him to tell the pastor across the table that his dad walked with him through the hard stuff, held him accountable as he learned, and always displayed the love and conviction of Christ. I want him to have such a biblically-elevated understanding and expectation of the local church and his role in it that he is both an encouragement and a tool for his pastor and church leaders. I want the fruit that buds to show roots grounded in respect and admiration for the Gospel and God’s Word.
So back to what I want you to do. I want you to go to a coffee shop. I want you to get a cup of something so hot it requires you to sit for a while before you can start drinking it. While you wait, look across the table. Look at the empty chair and imagine your child in a few years sitting across from a pastor talking about their home and church. What questions do you want them to ask? What do you want to be said about you as a father or mother? What will they say about their involvement with people from your church? What will be their understanding of God’s Word and the Gospel?
Sit at that table and imagine the conversation then go home and hug your kids tight. Determine to be that kind of father. Be that kind of church member. Pray for those kids who don’t have fathers or a church. See them through the lens I get to experience weekly as a pastor in a university town. Drink that hot cup of coffee and then resolve to spend time back at that table with your kids and their hot chocolate, living life in Christ together.
Raising Christian young adults takes gospel intentionality. That intentionality must be seen first in the home and the local church. Those roots provide beautiful fruit.