Q. Our 23-year-old son has left home and moved in with his girlfriend of two years. What is our role and responsibility as Christian parents?
A. The first, sometimes difficult, truth to remember is that basically your parenting is over. In the same way that you relinquished responsibility for your son’s physical and material welfare once he became an adult, you must also relinquish responsibility for the choices he makes with respect to lifestyle. For instance, you can no longer “make” him go to church and neither can you insist that he get married before cohabiting. To try to force adult children to follow your rules, even if what you want for them is good and godly, is manipulation, with the result that your relationship is conditional on your being in charge. Lording it over your children is, of course, neither good nor godly.
The transition from being responsible for your son to being responsible to him is not an easy one. Being responsible to someone includes letting him know what you believe is the right thing to do (for example, waiting until marriage before living together with his girlfriend), as well as inviting him to talk about his faith in God and what that might mean for his lifestyle. But it also includes listening to his viewpoint and respecting his right to choose differently without changing your acceptance of him and his girlfriend. Your role as parents has changed from taking care of your son and keeping him safe (physically, but also morally and spiritually), to the role of friendship and of having influence rather than control.
Your Christian responsibility can certainly include praying for your son and his girlfriend, continuing to extend hospitality to them, and being gracious, loving, and accepting of them, even while disagreeing.
Editor’s note: Watch for a feature article on this topic in our February issue.
Q. Our small (but committed!) congregation will never be able to afford a paid youth pastor, and some of us fear that our ministry to children and teens will always struggle because of this. Is there hope for us smaller congregations?
A. Some of the strongest ministry to children and teens occurs in congregations your size. Almost every time this strength comes from the same source, which can best be described by paraphrasing the opening verses of 1 Cor. 13:
Our congregation may have the most qualified youth pastor imaginable, but if we do not have love, we are only resounding gongs or clanging cymbals. We can have the latest curricula and bring in top-notch consultants to train our volunteers, but without love, we are nothing. We can cover all the costs to send our teens to the splashiest conventions and mission trips, but without love, we gain nothing.
Here are two true stories from small congregations. A university student said to me, “In our final year of high school, it suddenly struck my friends and me one night how much our congregation had loved us from day one. We decided to put on a thank-you dinner for them before we left for university.” A middle-aged woman from a tiny rural congregation said, “At the age of 12 I was asked to play piano because our organist suddenly passed away. I don’t know how they were able to sing those first months as I stumbled through the hymns. But every Sunday without fail they thanked me, and I knew they loved me.”
Walking with children and teens (and adults) so that they know they are loved is the central discipleship calling of every congregation. Ask your 18-year-olds how they received God’s love through the body, and then prayerfully make adjustments as you seek to live out Paul’s beautiful prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:14-21.