Kids who grow up with Christian parents need to make their own decision to serve God. Paul Scanlon shares his views on reaching the children in our own family.
Second-generation Christians face many different challenges from the first-generation Christians; one of these is that the second-generation kids meet the church before they meet Christ, and therein lies the confusion. Paul Scanlon had observed this in his own children. Instead of forcing them to go to church, he gave them a choice.
Paul Scanlon is the former lead pastor of Life Church, one of the fastest growing churches in the United Kingdom. In 2011, he handed the church over to Steve and Charlotte Gambill, his daughter and son-in-law, who now run Life Church UK as the lead pastors. “They are doing a great job and it releases me to do other things,” he explains. Scanlon now travels the globe conducting communication masterclasses.
“I wanted to hand over the church in my 50s [while] I was able to do other things; I am still fit enough and interested enough to get on a plane and fly around the world if that’s what’s required of me to do. It’s been great—[the new team] are very much the emerging generation bringing in all the kids. It has been a great transition in the last few years.”
This transition brought on the growth of a youth culture in the church—it wasn’t always the case for Life Church. City News finds out how it all happened.
The youth ministry in your church is doing really well now—what did the leadership do?
We have always had a big heart for the youths and I think our youth ministry is now stronger than it has ever been. Yes, youth (ministry) is a big part of what we do and there is a very “youth-y” culture in our church now that has not always been there. But in the last 10 years, they (the youths) have really grown, till now it’s affecting the sound of the worship, and the flavor of the services, our connection to the city in that generation, through the youth. It has been a big gain for us in the last few years.
What does Life Church do to grow its youth ministry?
I think every church needs to reach, first of all, your own young people. I think when you are dragged to church by your parents, then it does not necessarily mean you are there because you want to be.
I have always felt that second-generation Christians, which my kids are, have a different kind of challenge faced by the first-generation Christian. I was the first-generation Christian in my family and my kids grew up in a Christian home. One of the challenges is that the second-generation kids meet the church before they meet Christ, and they get confused between the two: they have a relationship with the church and they are not sure whether their relationship was with God. Their parents brought them, they went to kids’ church, now they are going through the teens program. So they have never not known the church but that doesn’t mean they are born-again for themselves. In America, statistically, millions of people in their late teens are leaving the church. This is because they realize they were never there because they wanted to be, they were going because it was cultural and their family took them.
I think the first thing is to make sure we connect with our kids in the church. When the kids are connected, it results in vibrant and passionate kids. Then we’ve got a chance with connecting to their friends at school. I think it starts with our own kids and our own families, and when they are switched on for God, they will become aware that they need to be reaching their own generation.
I think as your kid gets a bit older, maybe when they are entering early teens, it’s really difficult and unwise to try and make that age group do anything in this day and age.
When my kids became teens and they wanted to stay in bed (on) Sunday mornings and not get out of bed, I knew as a parent, that this is important time now to go to church. Now I was the pastor, so when they don’t come to church, it would make me look bad. Yet, I know I should not drag them up for that reason–to be there to make me look good as a pastor. If my kids do not want to serve Christ, that was not my fault. If I let them make that decision and they chose not to, I won’t have considered my influence on them to be a failure, I would consider that be “I did all I could, and if they chose not to follow Christ, it was not that I did not expose them to the opportunity or I didn’t model Christianity well.”
When my kids were getting into the early teens and they didn’t want to go to church, I would say to them “If you don’t get up in the morning for church, I will not get you up. You get up for school, because you have to go and I don’t drag you out of bed for school like I did when you were younger.”
I think it is letting the kids know and have space. This has to become their decision. Going to church has to be their decision.
By the time they are teenagers they have their own friendships in the church that are outside of me—that’s another glue that sticks them in. If my kids have good relationships with other kids in the church, then that’s another reason why they will stay long term.
What if they choose not to go to church?
That’s okay, too. That doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t mean we fail as parents. Because lots of things our kids will choose not to do that we rather they did do, in terms of their choices on finances, their choice of work, attitude, habits. There are lots of things our kids will choose not to do that we as parents hope that they would, it’s not just church. I think we need to admit that as parents, our job is to create a culture and environment in which our kids can thrive. All we can do is to provide them with ingredients to grow into healthy and well-balanced people. If they start to make decisions that are not what we wanted as they aged, that’s not our fault. That, in fact, proves that we are doing it right. We groom our kids not to be robots or brainwashed, we groom them to be their own people.
It upsets people that their kids are not following Christ and I understand that, but it doesn’t mean you fail as a parent, and it shouldn’t mean you have a bad relationship with your kids. You should have a good relationship with the kids whether they go to church or not—love them, include them, because you never know when they are going to need that. If they decide in their 30s or 40s that they want to come back to Christ or come back to the church, and if you cut them off in the 20 years in between and alienated them, then it’s another hurt they will have to get over. They will also probably not come to your church; they would find a church somewhere else, because in the years they were not walking with Christ, you let that become a division between you. I don’t think we should do that.