On Thanksgiving day 2012, two high school students broke into Byron Smith’s home in Little Falls, MN. It wasn’t the first time this man’s home had been broken into. A retired security officer, he prepared for the next break-in by placing cameras and sound recording devices around the exterior of his home and throughout his basement. On the day when these two students broke into his home, one of them came down the stairs into the basement where Byron Smith was waiting. He immediately shot the student, employing a gun silencer. The student collapsed dead onto a tarp Byron had laid on the floor in preparation for this moment. He dragged the student away from the stairwell and continued to wait for the second student. As soon as she entered the basement, he shot her as well. Autopsies showed that the first student (a boy) had a clean toxicology report. The other student (a girl, his cousin) had traces of marijuana and a prescription painkiller in her blood. No one knows why they decided to do what they did. No one seems to know what went wrong in these students’ lives that made them take the negative turn that they did. Byron Smith was recently convicted of murder in Little Falls. The students’ parents and relatives gave commentary on the local news. (Click the image to watch)
As I watched the boy’s parents defend the job they did raising their son to the general public, something struck me. They sadly pointed to affiliation with Christianity as a fix-all for raising a well-adjusted adult. They mentioned that they’d enrolled him in a Baptist Christian school. His mom said that, “He was faithfully taken to church and youth group.” Now–I don’t know if the boy’s parents actually went to church themselves, or just dropped him off at youth group. I don’t claim to make any assumptions or know anything concrete about that. I’m sure the boy’s parents did their best with what they were given as children, themselves. But I think their statements make a very clear point: The church will not raise your kids for you. If you’re not doing the best job you can at modeling appropriate adult behaviors, decision making skills, emotional health, prioritizing, respect, and putting the service of others first in your family–dropping your child off at church once a week or a few times a month, even taking them with you to church services, will not guarantee a healthy, well-adjusted adult.
The air in the sanctuary isn’t magical. Shaking hands with someone who went to seminary as you pass through the exit doors won’t heal a broken heart. Memorizing the Apostle’s Creed doesn’t mean much in the long run if you don’t actually understand the magnitude of the words. Confirmation classes don’t put a child on the straight-and-narrow for life, while Communion isn’t communion with God if you’re forcing your child to participate in a ritual they don’t understand.
Now, I’m not a parent. But I’ve worked with teenagers for years. And here’s what I do know: Parents, you don’t need to become pretenders of perfection. Neither do you need to hide your flaws from your kids. However–consistently pointing them to Jesus at home, as much as you can, while modeling what a life seeking after Jesus looks like in the best way YOU can, is a good way to point your kids in the right direction as they grow up. If your child ASKS to be driven to youth group…DRIVE THEM. I know you’re tired, I know your show is on, I know you had a stressful day. But your child’s eternity depends on your spiritual leadership, not just the Christian leaders they brush up against at church every Wednesday night. If you’re not serious about leading a life that seeks after God’s will and runs toward constant spiritual growth in your own life–nothing about attending church with family friends or going to Confirmation classes will fix your child for you. Not one thing.
Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they’re good. In fact–here’s something many people get wrong–NONE of us are good, Christian or non-Christian. Many people think they’re fine as long as they say they believe that God’s out there on some fluffy cloud in the sky, because they’re a generally good person. They assume life will go smoothly for them. We’re all victims of The Fall (Romans 3:23, Genesis 3) and prone to sinful, selfish, imperfect behavior. Trusting those who work in the Church to be the ticket to your child’s success in life is a major misplacement of responsibility. A partnership with church leaders and parents needs to be in place for success in raising healthy kids to be even remotely likely.
Again- I feel for these parents in Little Falls. We can only do our best with what we’re given. Maybe they did their best, maybe they didn’t. But my encouragement to parents here, is to be an active participant in raising your child to “be good”. To love God, to love others, to respect people, to prioritize their life well, and to seek after the God who made them with all their heart. Model this behavior at home, expose them to it again at church, and pray for them as they grow up.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.