Not long ago, I was having lunch with a few pastor friends of mine when one remarked at how often he sees siblings from the same family, all raised the exact same way in regards to church, approach church involvement very differently as adults. Some become pillars of their church, while others appear quite indifferent (possibly attending or even serving when it is convenient) or completely stay away.
“I am intrigued as to how that happens,” he said. I offhandedly joked, “The stove never got turned on,” which I admit is somewhat bizarre as a response. Here is what I was trying to say.
There is an old story about a young woman, recently married, who feels completely inept in the kitchen. Thinking this is something of an embarrassment and having no experience in cooking, she decides to buy a book on culinary skills to surprise her husband. She gets home, opens the book, and reads, “Step 1: Stand facing the stove.”
Bringing children to church is step 1, having them face the stove. Church is, by far, the location that is best for meeting God. But, much to the dismay of many parents who have come to realize this later, it is only the beginning.
You see, in order for what happens in the church to be meaningful and lasting to that child, the experience of meeting God must in some way become personal to him or her. There must be some encounter or series of events in which the young person experiences God in such a way that he or she understands the truth that God personally knows them and loves them.
Now, there are many who debate whether the connection between God and humankind is initiated by God or by the individual’s faith. There are others who debate whether the relationship is initiated through emotion or intellect. In the end, I am not sure that what initiates the connection matters much; what matters is the result — a relationship between God and the young person that is personal to him or her.
The task of those of us in the church is to foster the many ways in which a young person can meet God personally. If that does not occur — if there is nothing happening in the church that enables the relationship between God and that young man or woman to be personal — the likelihood that this individual will, throughout his or her life, decide each Sunday morning that it is worth the effort to get up, get dressed, and go to church, is exceedingly small.
But, if the connection between God and the young person becomes personal to him or her, I believe that person will never lose that feeling; deep inside he or she will always remember it and yearn for it. And if even if such a person leaves the church, I believe he or she eventually returns.
Because when the stove gets cranked up, that heat never dies.