Parents and grandparents ask Dr. David Lose this question often. “We went to church every Sunday as kids. We still go to church. When they were young, we took our children every Sunday, but now they’re older and they don’t go. What did we do wrong?”
Participants at the Sunday evening public lecture at Charleswood’s preaching event flocked to hear the answer to this poignant question. I went because my own children seldom go to church.
Of course the world has changed radically from when I was a kid. These days it’s much harder to claim Sabbath time—email can find me anywhere and work life spills over into leisure. When I grew up, church was the socially supported and culturally expected activity on a Sunday morning. What else was there to do? But it meant my parents didn’t need to say much to me about why church was important to them. It wasn’t necessary to say why it was important to them; it was just important to everybody.
And if you have children or grandchildren, maybe you haven’t told them that story of why church is important to you either.
My children have grown up knowing what to do at church and have a good grasp of the basics, but they don’t really know why it matters. I’ve never told them that at church I regularly get caught by a new way of seeing the world that I never thought of before. When I am challenged to be more compassionate and accepting despite my natural inclination, I feel like I’ve encountered the genuine grace Jesus showed the woman at the well.
I find meaning at church but my children don’t. Why not? Lose says, “Why not ask them?” The way to begin finding an answer is to embrace the question as a mystery to be probed rather than a problem to be solved. He suggests starting with the following questions:
- Where do you find nourishment, support, and strength?
- What do you do instead?
- What would have to happen at church for you to find those things there?
I’m thinking that beginning with questions and listening carefully to the answers might just open the door to a real conversation. If I tried it I would certainly find out more about what matters to my children. And maybe, just maybe, I would learn about the kind of church that could matter for them too.
Lori Stewart is a mother of two and a diaconal minister working at CCS. David Lose is the Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Watch for his book on this topic coming out in 2015.