Isaiah aptly warns of us of the the Word of the Lord in Isaiah 29:13.
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”
As we begin to understand some of the areas where we have ‘mishandled‘ teaching the next generation, we must further examine what it is we are passing down to them. In my first introduction to this topic I introduced an illustration that summarized the three generational rule…
First Generation > Second Generation > Third Generation
Motivation + Action > Actions + Responsibility > Confusion + Rebellion
In this example we worked out that there is an inherent problem I call the ‘Action over Motivation principle’. This principle explores the innate human tendency to hold the actions of men to a higher degree than their motivation. Though I doubt anyone would suggest that actions are better without proper motivation, they might conclude that some actions are necessary whether properly motivated or not. This tends to be a predominate thought for several reasons: actions are easier to pass down, actions require less explanation, actions show automatic and traceable results, etc. However, the problems that result out of passing down actions over motivation have drastic affects.
The natural inclination of human nature, when motivation is neglected, is the hopeless effort by man to enforce rules and regulations. When actions replace motivation, they become empty and do not please God. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are more inclined, by nature, to appeal to actions over desire. As a result, we need to constantly challenge ourselves to search out our proper motivation and find ways to cultivate it.
For anyone who is attempting to teach someone else, what you’re looking to get out of them are appropriate responses. These are actions. We want to motivate others to right actions, but we don’t want to simply right out a recipe for spirituality that anyone can learn to fake. Still, actions are the tangible results we are looking to accomplish, but this cannot bypass motivation and still be considered a success.
To be completely honest, appropriate actions are not universal. There are very few things that we hold to that are genuine imperatives in Scripture. If the things we’re tying to pass down to the next generation were really that important, they would have been recorded, black and white, in God’s Word. What we are left with, however, is a process of working out our salvation that will inevitably lead Christians of all types into different positions in life.
For the sake of continuity, I’m going to use ‘going to church’ as the proper action for this study. This is a appropriate action that we should be concerned about being passed down to the next generation. This is not only a conviction, but also an imperative from Scripture, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) However, it can be taught in such a way that it actually works against itself. It’s possible if a child is forced to go to church that they will build up a wall of resistance to the Church and it’s teaching. This hardening of heart might be worse than if the kid had never set foot in a church.
There is a parameter that needs to be discussed here because there are some things in life that should just be obeyed without explanation. Looking both ways before you cross the street doesn’t need proper motivation. It just needs to be done. For a child in the early development years, when everything is black and white, not everything needs to be explained to them, but when they are old enough to ask that annoying question, “Why?” you should probably have an answer for the things that are really important.
The reason we go to church should be motivated by a desire to seek and please God. Unfortunately, some parents don’t have that motivation themselves so they can’t pass it down to their children either. We need to first examine our own hearts and see if we are properly motivated to do what God has called us to do, or if we are simply acting out of obligation or the fear of man. I honestly believe that if a parent has earnest devotion to seek the LORD they will be able to demonstrate to their children proper motivation. Any other motivation than seeking the LORD is lying to the Holy Spirit, which killed Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5.
When a child is young, they can’t really process this large of a concept. There is a distinct age, however, when a child changes from being a concrete thinker to being able to handle abstract concepts. I don’t think there is a universal age, but once you start to notice a child is developing thoughtful questions and responses, it’s time to start cultivating motivation. I would go as far as to say, if a child is old enough to be left home alone when you go out, then the child is old enough to decide if they want to go to church. Some people will challenge this point and I can understand why. Parents want their children to sit under the hearing of the Word and children aren’t allowed to just drop out of school at the age of 12, so why would anyone let them decide to skip church? This is a bigger question than I can answer here, but if you’d like to comment on it, I’ll carry out a dialogue. I’ve already stated that passing down actions over motivation has drastic consequences. I further noted that going to church needs to be motivated by a desire to seek and please God. If a child is old enough to start thinking abstractly, giving them the opportunity to test their faith could prevent them from learning how to pretend they’re Christians, or worse, cultivate an aversion toward Christianity.
I once asked a group of teens this question. “If you were 21 and living on your own, what would you do on Sunday morning?” Some of them were frank and honest, “Sleep in!” One said she’d go to church, but only time will tell where these kids will really end up. Based on statistics, most of them will have abandoned the church by the time they graduate. Needless to say, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at passing down motivation to the next generation.
What we’ve tried to do is marinade our youth in the Word of God, hoping that if we surround them with Christian influences, they will want to love God. Instead, what we’ve produced are a bunch of people who know how to pretend to be Christians and a large majority of people leaving the church altogether. As long as we continue to emphasize action over motivation, we will continue to fill our churches with empty seats and empty people.
One thing that the next generation is looking for is authenticity. If we will work out our own salvation with fear and trembling as the Bible implores us to, we will be able to show them the authenticity to our faith and provide them with a sincere example of motivation. Let’s pray that we might exercise conduct worthy of the gospel in such a way to stand as a testimony of our faith and direct the next generation to seek the LORD as well.
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2