The Hardest Part

6 03 2008

When my wife and I began planning to become parents six years ago we suddenly developed an interest in how other parents were raising their kids.  Our suburban Washington DC neighborhood  was like something right out of Leave It To Beaver.  Young families were moving in every week and we had a strong sample group to closely observe. 

In general we were appalled by the interaction we had with the neighborhood kids who were ill mannered, irresponsible and highly sexualized as pre-teens.  It quickly became clear that the only exception were the children of the evangelical Christian families, many of whom were homeschooled.  

They were much more mature, thoughtful and considerate across the board.  If you wanted a babysitter who didn’t smoke and actually cleaned up some, you knew to go the kids of the families who had the neighborhood Bible study. 

It wasn’t long before we joined the Bible study and left our mainline Presbyterian church to become evangelicals.  It felt safe and the support and encouragement we received from the families in that Bible study was something we had never encountered.  When someone got sick or anyone had a need, they rallied the troops within hours to chip in and help. 

Most impressive is that the kids were participants and expected to help out.  I remember one conversation I had with an eleven year old who stunned me with her explanation of why she loved being homeschooled.  She told me how she was able to complete most of her course work before Noon, which allowed her to visit nursing homes and do mercy ministry in the afternoon.   She was an accomplished pianist at the age of 14.  

Of course the wrap is that it doesn’t stick.  Many critics claim that these kind of kids are over sheltered and oppressed to the point that you are guaranteeing an eventual rebellion.  That may be true in some cases, but I recently visited my old neighborhood and those same kids are now preparing to go to the college and the rebellion hasn’t started yet.  These teenagers stand out in such an impressive way.  It was shocking to have a teen actually ask me questions about my family.    

I haven’t been around enough Orthodox families to compare, but this is easily the biggest concern I have about converting.   For all of the evangelical church’s many weaknesses, I have to admit that our church seems to be doing a pretty good job of discipling its children.  

One of the things that drove me away from Catholicism was the low ethical standards I saw, even in the most conservative parishes.  They made a big deal out of their children’s baptisms and confirmations, but apparently not much happened afterwards.  Their kids didn’t seem to be any different from families who have no church affiliation.  

It could be fairly pointed out that evangelicals are overly dependent on their mega-church’s youth program, but I hear alot of serious discussion lately about the need to make the family the primary place of discipleship.  What happens at church should only reinforce what our children learn at home.   

In my Reformed confessional church, I see more good than bad when it comes to discipling children.  This is something I’m going to be watching very carefully before I turn my back on evangelicalism.         




4 responses

6 03 2008

On the flip side, I can think of a number of evangelical kids—from my life as one, and those I’ve known—who are no different than kids without church affiliation. The same can be said regarding the argument of nominal vs. devoted Christians—it seems to me that both are found in any given tradition. Whether or not certain groups of Christians are more inclined to worldliness, for whatever reason, I don’t know. But I see the same things everywhere I look.

8 03 2008

I understand your concern about your children being in a safe atmosphere. You are exactly correct that evangelicals provide plenty of activities for their children. I think the home school children have an extra advantage because they are so closely monitored by their parents. However, I have noticed the same wonderfully healthy passion for our children’s well being in our parish. We have a sunday school program and the children have a party for different occasions such as St. Nicholas Day or All Saints Day ( Halloween). In fact, our children were so creative in their costumes for All Saints Day that the photos were put in the Murfreesboro, Tn. newspaper. We have many home schooled children. In fact, our priest’s wife homeschools all four of their children. Believe me they are smart. Last spring I taught their five year old in Sunday school and she could read very well and she understands some very deep concepts about the Orthodox Church.

So don’t give up–and keep enjoying your journey!


10 03 2008

Having raised six kids (my oldest is 28, youngest 15) half their lives in Protestant churches and half in the Orthodox church, partly homeschooled, and having been a youth minister, did my undergrad work at a Christian college, was a family therapist and ran a boy’s home I can tell you that externals to the family cannot replace the primary influence you have on your kids. I’ve seen deeply committed evangelical families kids go WAY wrong, I know Orthodox kids who are a mess. I know homeschooled kids who are screwed up, I know public schooled kids who are stable and mature. I know kids who are more faithful than their upbringing can account for. My kids have all messed up in ways as adolescents and young adults, but they are all responsible, faithful, Christian adults now. The bottom line is, the family, not “the Church”. The real question is, will the Church give you as parents the tools to be more spiritual than you are so you can raise your kids with greater integrity, more depth and Truth. The Church cannot do that for you through youth programs and activities. That said, sure, I’d RATHER have a strong youth program to help me raise my kids. What you have is a great community of people. Those exist in Orthodoxy. (We have a Church like that). Whether or not you can find an exact replica where you end up… that is a question mark for sure. Sometimes you have to build it if it doesn’t exist.

18 05 2008

I’ve seen Orthodox home schooled too, with similar results to what you describe.

Orthodox kids, as far as I can tell, tend to stay within the whole ethnic-Orthodox culture into adulthood. There must be something about that whole mindset which is positive towards traditional values.

Having converted to Orthodoxy, it seems like there’s a decent possibility that 5 generations from now my descendants will be Orthodox. I would feel less certain in evangelical land. You might be Presbyterian, your children might be non-denominational, and your grandchildren might be in some wierd christian cult, and your great-grandchildren might be turned off Christianity altogether.

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