“Top Gear” is immensely popular, attracting some of the top viewing figures for BBC1 TV.
Cars are driven to places and in ways never done before. They are driven around a track at maximum possible speeds and used unconventionally – for example, as darts, converted into amphibious vehicles and more.
The show does things with cars that the vast majority of us will never do, but the big kid inside me would love to do.
I wonder if many children in our churches look at what their friends do on Sundays with the same amount of envy?
Their friends get to stay in bed, play games, enjoy sports, go shopping, watch YouTube and so much more.
Church-attending children get up early, go to a service, sing songs and hymns, sit through a lesson and hear about events that happened thousands of years ago.
Their friends are living the “Top Gear” experience while they are Sunday drivers.
Be honest, which would you rather do? Can you imagine trying to “sell” church to your school friends the next day?
Most adults in churches have grown so used to what we do that we don’t realize how weird church is for the vast majority of people, even more so for children and young people.
Ten years ago, statistics showed that children were disappearing from United Kingdom churches at a faster rate than ever before – 25,000 in 10 years! It prompted a national prayer day and a strategic response emerged.
But 10 years on, the difficulties of raising children and young people in the faith are still present, even if churches have made changes.
Their experience of church is alien to their friends and potentially alienating them from church.
At an early stage in their life, many children and young people in church are being asked to make the sort of decision that many adults don’t have to face – choosing between their friends or their faith, which may make the difference between popularity and mockery.
The pressure they are under should not be underestimated – from parents to attend church (and perhaps to make a commitment to Jesus); from church leaders to live a distinctive life as a follower of Jesus; from peers outside church to conform to their values and lifestyle; from within not to upset anyone and not to stick out from the crowd.
Is it any wonder that some adopt a chameleon lifestyle where they change how they are (and who they are) to blend in with their surroundings? Is it any wonder many parents struggle to get their children to go with them to church?
Sunday schools began as a philanthropic education movement and have morphed into becoming the primary way in which Christians pass on their faith to the succeeding generations.
Many churches still operate this model today – albeit with enticing midweek programs – but we have delegated and abdicated responsibility for the spiritual well-being of our children and young people to our churches.
The heart of the problem is that we have forgotten that in the Bible the stories of faith were to be talked about in everyday life.
I’m not blaming parents because it’s a cultural shift we have all bought into and churches may not equip parents to disciple their children.
In my last church, we created some laminated placemats for families to use at meal times. They had three colorful pictures on them that represented, “Thank you,” “sorry,” and “please.”
They were intended to help families pray together more naturally. Before praying, the family could talk about what they wanted to pray about – the whole family, not just the children.
To my shame, this was the first tangible thing I had done that was specifically designed to help families “normalize” faith. To my delight, they proved very popular.
The experience spoke loudly to me about how we can do small things to make a big difference.
How honest are we about our faith? Do adults present an image of having it all sorted for fear that our doubts and questions might be contagious?
Do we equip our children to ask hard questions of the Bible or to accept it unquestioningly?
Do we do them any favors if we teach them to believe that with Jesus all our problems disappear (when they know full well from their home experience that this is not true)?
If their faith is merely an unquestioning imitation of the faith of those who teach them, we should not be surprised if the seeds we have sown have fallen on the path, among weeds or stony ground rather than fertile soil.
Groups, programs and activities for children and young people are an important way to include them in the life and activity of the local church.
They should supplement faith and discipleship that is a natural part of family life, so that we can help our children and young people to normalize their faith.
If we help them to discover a robust, honest, realistic faith in Jesus, they will be better able to “stand their ground, and after they have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of Baptists Together, a publication of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and you can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.