Tim Mackie, an American theologian who started the new phenomenally popular Bible Project, once upon a time told his parents he wanted to quit church.
He was twelve. He had a list of reasons why.
Despite going on to earn a PhD in Hebrew Bible, pastor a church, and launch a learning tool that is accessed by two million subscribers worldwide, Mackie was not a teenager who made his parents look…good. At least he did not showcase them in a “churchy” good kind of way.
“I was raised in and around church, my family attended church,” said Mackie in a recent podcast. “I actually still don’t know why but I grew to really just despise it.”
His parents fixed their faces and dealt with the situation like every other parent since the beginning of time: by trial and error and doing the very best they could.
Never Underestimate the seeds you sow
Which brings us to a juncture familiar to all parents everywhere: this job is not for sissies. We train our kids up in the way they should go, bravely, sans a clear warm fuzzy here’s-how-this-turns-out-for-good crystal ball. Sure, the biblical author says well-trained kids shall not depart from the seeds we plant, but he should cross reference with the Ecclesiastes writer, brutally honest as he is about folly and vapor and how, “Whoever increases in knowledge increases grief.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
Parents, don’t we know it?
Turns out, the same author allegedly writes both those biblical narratives.
That only shines a hotter spotlight on our parenting plight that is a deep ache to neatly tie a bow on the process of parenting these kids. Of course, words like neatly, tie, bow…these fail to make the cut into biblical narrative. That makes sense since they likewise fail to make the cut in categorizing life in any honest way.
Our longing to grow our kids up in Christ cannot be overstated. It is noble and good. We would move heaven and earth in order to download into them the correctly ascribed algorithm of Bible knowledge and practical information and personal experience and moral discipline and church doctrine that builds a deep and abiding relationship between them and God now and as long as we all shall live.
Did we mention it is the most important agenda item on our parenting list?
Things sometimes can off-road
The problem is, that kind of algorithm omits the Holy Spirit. The other problem is, there is no algorithm. (see Honest Answers, p. 198)
One of the panic-inducing factors that gets us off washing ourselves in the Word and instead awash in panic is the simple fact that faith is an informed leap, not a cover your ears, close your eyes kind of thing to do. Teaching our kids to think comes with risks, and what choice do we have but to take them? Faith in Jesus requires it. “Put everything to the test and hold on to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)
Alas, not for sissies.
In this season of worldwide pandemic and political distress, let us lock our sensibilities on one small happy story testimonial. Tim Mackie didn’t actually quit church. Not for long. At least, not forever. In a sense, not at all.
He was thinking things through. Shutting that down for the sake of closing a deal between our kids and Jesus is not closing the deal we think we are.
Often, we learn from our ancestors that on this matter, not much has changed. We parents love our kids. We can celebrate our kids’ probing, exacting questions about God and our faith’s history and the everyday practicalities of our worldview and how it relates to our friends and family and community and more.
That we need parenting cheat sheets with a few tangible nuggets to help us through? That’s fine. That’s just how this is going to go. We can walk in step with the Holy Spirit, giving our kids permission to wrestle with their faith even if it is not what showcases us as perfect parents in the first row pew.
This is not panic. This is parenting. It is ours to do.
He wishes we would.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has written for Christianity Today and RELEVANT online pubs. Her first book, Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions With Your Tween, preps parents on how to tackle hard questions with their tweens using pithy Q&A’s and can be found here.