Nothing makes my heart sadder than to hear adults talk about how their parents turned them away from the church by forcing them to go when they were a child. I always wonder what the rest of the story is, or if there is one. As a mama of two precious girls and as a children’s minister who lives and breathes the work of our church, my greatest earthly fear is that my girls will grow up and hate the church.
2 Samuel 2 & 3 paint a pretty stark contrast between the sons of Eli and Samuel. Eli’s sons and Samuel both grew up in similar circumstances – with the temple as the central place of their lives. However, these are the descriptions Scripture shares about Eli’s sons:
– They were demanding and held a great sense of entitlement. (2:16)
– They didn’t take the things of God seriously (2:17). They were calloused towards them.
– They were blatantly indulging in sinful behavior (2:22)
They were a staff parent’s nightmare come true. And sadly, they weren’t the only staff kids in history to turn out that way. It is a possibility for all of us. But it doesn’t have to be.
Samuel was also raised (literally) in the temple. The description of his early life is simply, “the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:21)
Maybe that’s the difference? We aren’t told much about Eli’s boys’ upbringing, but could it be they that they grew up in the presence of faithful temple attendance, ritual, do’s and don’ts, and image maintenence and no so much in the presence of the Lord? Speculation aside, how do we as staff parents ensure that our kids “grow up in the presence of the Lord” and not just “in the presence of church stuff”? What can we do to prevent apathy for the things of God, calloused hearts, and attitudes of entitlement?
I don’t have magic answers. My kids are 4 and 2. Many of you are more seasoned parents and can offer better life experience. All I can share is what we are trying in our family.
– We do ministry together. VBS is a draining couple of weeks on our family, but we pray about it together, I let the girls “help” set up signs and do small tasks, we celebrate the wins together. My favorite moment of last week was telling our 4 year old that lots of kids had chosen to believe in Jesus. Her huge smile and my huge hug were priceless.
– I try to communicate that their role as helping me and being patient when I’m gone is super important in helping God too. Because they help me I can help the big kids learn about Jesus. I don’t use this as a guilt thing (“Honey, if you cry when mama leaves the big kids won’t go to heaven…). I use this as encouragement that we are all in this together.
– I try to balance really busy seasons with times of intentional focus on them. We took our family vacation 2 weeks before VBS this year. Kind of crazy, but my husband and I were able to live life with them 24/7 before life in our house went nuts.
– Church attendance/Sunday school attendance is not optional, even when they whine. But, they don’t have to be there every minute that I’m there either. We have three services on Sunday morning. That is a long time to hang out in a preschool class when you are 4. So sometimes she “helps” me during one of the services.
– We worship together as a family – at home and at church. We take both girls into the music portion of the service. It’s hard and some weeks it would just be easier to just be a normal grown up in service, but I want church to be something we do together, not where we all go separate ways because Mommy has to work.
– I try to be as intentional about what I teach them as what I am about what I teach the kids at church. Jim Wideman talks alot about how we plan our events and we plan what we are doing in our ministry, but we don’t make a plan for what we will do with our families. This is so true and convicting to me!
– Especially as they get older I know I will have to watch what I verbalize about the church. I want to be real, but I want to show them that the church is a place we love, not a place of hassles.
– I pray, pray, pray. I often pray over them that they would have hearts for the things of God and a love for His church. I pray that God would protect their hearts and give me wisdom.
What we know about Eli:
– His sons disregarded what he had to say (2:25)
– God said he honored his sons more than God. (2:29)
– the word of the Lord was rare. (3:1)