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Inside Secrets for Raising Church Kids: Rules Do Not Equal Rebellion

Thanks for joining us this month as we once again continue our section dealing with “The Rules”---one of the biggest challenges when raising church kids.

How do I know that “The Rules” are a challenge? I was a church kid.

We had a lot of rules in our house when I was growing up. My Mom was very passionate about learning God’s ways and implementing them into every area of our lives. She didn’t have “rules” for the sake of having rules, but she had solid beliefs behind each and every rule. Some of the rules included:

While we were growing up, we were only allowed to listen to Christian music.

We were only allowed to watch television shows that reflected Biblical family values.

Neither my brother or I were allowed to date until we were 16. At that point, we were not allowed to date non-Christians---there was no highway option on this.

We were not allowed to swear.

We were not allowed to lie.

We did not go to the movies.

We went to church---it wasn’t up for debate---we went to church.

We would dress modestly and appropriately at all times.

Of course, these weren’t all of the rules, but you get the idea. Rules and boundaries were a pretty common thing in my world. I also went to a Christian high school that had a lot of rules. When I say that they had a lot of rules, I mean compared to them, the Duggar family would seem liberal.

No makeup. No jewelery. Ladies had to wear dresses; men had to wear long sleeves.

Suffice to say, they were strict. Even though I never really considered my Mom’s rules to be burdensome, I really struggled to live under the guidelines set up by the school. (Hey, I was a teenage girl with acne; I had a hard time believing that a little cover-up foundation would send me to Hell.) Still, they were the established rules and when I was on school property I obeyed.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I’m building my case to combat a popular theory. What’s the theory?

The theory that says that rebellion among Christian teens is created when there are too many rules.

I’ve heard it over and over again, and I’ve lamented when Christian parents buy into this theory and start compromising their heartfelt beliefs in an effort to keep their Christian kids from rebelling.

My experience on this theory: It’s a load of croc! (I would say something else, but remember, I was taught not to swear.)

According to the theory that Rules = Rebellion, my brother and I should have rebelled big time. However, we didn’t. Instead, I graduated from high school, went to Bible College, and continued serving God throughout my life. My greatest rebellion: I went to two movies in college. Today, my brother will tell anyone “My convictions are as strong as my Mom’s and I’ll stand up for them as firmly as she did.”

However, there’s another reason that I gravely mistrust the theory that rules lead to rebellion: the experiences of church kids whose parents believed this theory. Obviously, as a church kid, I knew a lot of other church kids. Many of them were second or third generation church kids. Somewhere along the way their parents bought into the lie that Rules Create Rebellion. Their answer to the dilemma was to have as few rules as possible and allow their children more personal freedom.

Now if the equation that Rules = Rebellion is true, my friends who were raised in this environment wouldn’t have rebelled.

The only problem is that 9 times out of 10, the kids that were allowed to “sample” from sin’s buffet only decided that they wanted more. Like a child who is given the choice between candy bars and broccoli, they chose what was most appealing at the time, gorging on candy and avoiding healthier choices. Because their parents were afraid to interfere and impose rules, too many of these kids ran wild with their freedom and not only rebelled, but eventually completely walked away from the church and Christianity. Even more than my own experiences, it’s been my up close and personal view of friend’s experiences that have made me conclude that it’s not necessarily Rules that create Rebellion.

So, in my experience, if rules aren’t the problem, what does cause Christian kids to rebel? Here are some of my theories:

# 1 Lack of Personal Relationship with Jesus Leads to Rebellion

Religion leads to rebellion; however, when you have a relationship with someone you want to do things that will please them and help the relationship grow.

I believe that one of the main reasons I didn’t choose to rebel was that even though my Mom had a lot of rules, they weren’t the focus of our lives. They were simply the way we lived, but they weren’t who we were.

Instead, my Mom focused her attention on teaching my brother and I to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She encouraged us to develop our own time of communicating with God and learning His Word. From a very young age she helped us understand that God wanted a relationship with us---He wanted to be our best friend.

Because my Mom put the focus on building a relationship with God when we were young, when we grew older and it became time to discuss “the rules” the discussion could be framed from the standpoint of relationship. Rather than being given a list of things we “had to do” or were “forbidden to do”, we were able to talk about how our choices would affect our relationship with God.

Looking back, I can see that when I reached the age where it became obvious that my Mom’s rules were stricter than other parents, it wasn’t really the fear of getting caught that kept me on the straight and narrow. Instead, I remember the tug of my own relationship with Christ and my desire to avoid doing anything that would hurt that relationship that helped me make the right choice.

The truth is that the kids who are following the rules of Mom and Dad’s religion will most likely rebel.

The kids who have a personal relationship with Jesus won’t. I’m not saying they’ll be perfect. No way. They’ll make mistakes, and they’ll make immature, childish choices. We all do that. But in the end, the commitment of their relationship will help them repent of their wrong choices and choose to get back on the right path, because they won’t want to lose the relationship. They’re invested in it. It means something to them. In the end, having a personal relationship with Jesus curbs rebellion.

My best advice to Christian parents: Encourage your kids to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus at a very young age. It’s the #1 way to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

# 2 Lack of Passion Leads to Rebellion

I wholeheartedly believe that another reason that neither my brother nor I had a major rebellion in our lives is that my Mom didn’t just give us a bunch of rules and say, “Follow these rules because I said so” or “Follow these rules because the church says we should.” Instead, my Mom was passionate about both her relationship with Jesus and her beliefs. Whenever questioned, she could give you the reason for the rule, and the impact that she believed following or disobeying that rule would have on our lives.

Her passion led to open, honest discussions. Sometimes the conversations included stories of regrets that she or my Dad had because they weren’t raised in Christian homes and hadn’t followed the guidelines she’d laid out for us. Other times, she’d tell us about good choices she’d made that produced good results and she wanted us to follow the same path. She taught us what the Bible had to say about things and reminded us that just like she loved us and wanted what was best for us, God loved us and wanted our lives to be successful. That’s why He so clearly defined “good” and “evil”; what was “sin” and what wasn’t, so that we could avoid sin and live happy, healthy, holy lives.

The rules in our house weren’t just arbitrary demands. They came were accompanied by logic, explanation, and passion. Quite frankly, this made them easier to follow because passion is a powerful weapon. It defuses rebellion with love and concern.

My advice to Christian parents: Talk to you kids about why you believe what you believe and why you’re creating and enforcing the rules in your home.

“Because I said so” creates rebellion. “Because I love you and want what’s best for you”, defuses rebellion and opens the lines of communication.

Of course, passion only defuses rebellion when the parent is honestly passionate about the rule they are enforcing. This leads us to a place where we can talk about one of the biggest causes for church kid rebellion.

# 3 Parental Hypocrisy Leads to Rebellion

There’s really no way to soften this message, so I’ll just give it to you straight.

Parents that live one way while teaching their kids to live another create rebellious kids. Parents who enforce the rules publically, but bend them privately are breeding rebellion in their kids.

Every time you roll your eyes at the rules, live in open hypocrisy, or exhibit signs of rebellion in your own life, you are planting seeds of anger, resentment, bitterness and rebellion in your child’s heart. As we all know, once a seed is planted, it will naturally grow and blossom.

Being completely honest, I’d have to say that in my experience, parental hypocrisy breeds more rebellion among church kids than any other contributing factor. At the heart of the issue is parents who aren’t passionate about their relationship with God, enforcing rules because they believe they “have to”, while it’s obvious from their lives, that they have no “want to”. If they can get away with breaking the rules when no one is looking, they take the chance. Why then are they surprised when their kids so the same?

When parents resent the restrictions of a Christian lifestyle, why are they shocked when their kids follow suit?

There is no skirting the fact that kids will do what they see their parents do, not what their parents tell them is right. Over and over again I’ve seen church kids who are so disgusted by their parent’s hypocrisy that they eventually say, “I’m not going to live this way. I’m going to be honest and just openly do what I want.” It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a pretty accurate one.

So, my best advice to parents:

Develop your own personal relationship with Jesus so that you WANT to follow “the rules” because you love Him. (Trust me, if you really work on the relationship part, the “want to” will follow. Love is always accompanied by the desire to serve and please the one you love.)

Next, read and study the Bible so that you understand the WHY behind “the rules”. Develop your own passion for obeying Jesus with all of your heart, mind, and spirit.

Finally, check your own heart and life for areas of hypocrisy or rebellion that may need to be weeded out. If you’ve been living an openly hypocritical or rebellious life in front of your kids, repent before God and to them. (By the way, even if you don’t think they know about your hypocrisy, they probably do. Kids are expert lie detectors.) Confess your sin and acknowledge your desire to change your ways and do what is right. Then make sure they see that you are living out your new desire to follow Jesus passionately and wholeheartedly every day of your life.

I truly believe that when parents take these steps, abandon the lie that Rules breed Rebellion and replace it with the truth that Rebellion & Hypocrisy breed Rebellion, you’ll be making monumental strides in helping your kids love Jesus, live for Jesus, and prosper following “the rules” of His kingdom. Isn’t the goal to raise church kids to follow Jesus throughout their lives rather than abandon the church and Christianity?

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