A few weeks ago my friend told me about some people who were raised in the church only to have negative experiences totally taint their opinion of church life. As she was talking I had to admit, I could understood her friend's perspective. Raised in the church, I’ve seen it all. Even though I can understand how these people felt and came to their conclusions, these are not the same conclusions that I reached in my life. So I started asking myself “What was different?” I have to credit my parents, specifically my Mom, with making some positive choices that helped my brother and I love both Jesus and the church. As I thought about it, I started making a mental list of things my parents did right. Today, I’d like to share this list with you in the hopes that it will encourage you on your own journey to raising church kids or helping raise church grand-kids. 1. My Mom taught us the difference between religion and a personal relationship with Jesus.
Let me begin by saying—growing up, we went to church—consistently. It wasn’t optional, we weren’t given a choice, the Holden family went to church. However, my mom recognized that going to church and being involved in church activities wasn’t all there was to Christianity. From a very young age, she taught Jamie and I to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
She taught us to pray and have personal devotions. She taught us to read the Bible every day. When we were young she helped us memorize Scripture; when we were older, she taught us the value of personal Bible study. Leading by example, she taught us that “Christianity” wasn’t something that happened on Sundays or inside of a church building. Every day we saw her take time to pray, we heard her worshiping God inside of our house and praying in tongues, and saw her reading and studying the Bible. Encouraging us to follow her example, she made it clear that while going to church and being involved in church was a vital part of following Jesus, but it was only part. Following Jesus wholeheartedly meant developing and maintaining an intimate personal relationship with Him.
2. We had family devotions. Our Mom believed that church wasn’t the only place that children needed to learn about God. While my Mom emphasized the necessity for each of us to have own personal time with Jesus, she was also a big believer in family devotions. Every night while we were growing up, around 8 or 9 o’clock, the television went off and we had family devotions. Each night we would have a Bible study and a time of prayer. Looking back as an adult, I can see that this was a sacrifice on my Mom’s part. I can now see that she was probably tired at the end of the day and would have enjoyed time to relax rather than wrangle complaining kids to have family devotions. And yet, every night, she consistently put Jesus first and reinforced the concept that we were a family who followed Jesus. He was a part of our lives and reading the Bible and praying as a family is important. We learned that Christianity wasn’t just a Sunday event—it was a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday lifestyle—personally and as a family. 3. Our parents sacrificed so that we could go to a Christian school.
Recognizing that the things a child learns at school have as much (if not more) influence on them as what they are taught in the home or at church, my Mom chose to sacrifice to send Jamie and me to a Christian school. (She later said she wished she knew about homeschooling, but that she wasn’t aware of it in the 1980s). Still, believing that it would be best for Jamie and me to be taught from a Bible-based curriculum, my parents sacrificed financially to send us to our local Christian school.
For me, it was a game-changer. Until then, I wasn’t doing well in public school. I was bored with the work, and getting into all kinds of trouble including fighting as a first-grader. I really hated school. That all ended when we changed to a Christian school. I loved it! I thrived in the environment and I excelled in the Biblical-based curriculum. Even though it was a sacrifice, it made a huge difference in our lives. 4. We went to a healthy thriving church. I was around twelve or thirteen years old when it became abundantly clear that the local Pentecostal church we’d attended for years had become toxic. There were MASSIVE problems and no one wanted to deal with them or change. If I’m being honest, as a teenager I was starting to develop the attitude, “I love Jesus but the church is not worth the heartache.” That's when my Mom decided it was time to change churches. Even though our new church was located almost an hour from our home, my parents decided that the travel was worth it because it was a healthy, thriving church led by godly leaders.
Looking back, I can see that this was a tremendous sacrifice. Think about it: they drove 2 hours to go to church every Sunday. As weather allowed, they took us to youth group so that we could have Christians friends and sit under the teaching and influence of a godly youth pastor and his wife. They even let us go to youth activities! What a huge sacrifice of time, money and energy! Under the influence of this church and it’s leaders my faith in the corporate church was renewed. Again, I wanted to be a part of the church and all that God was doing through it. Looking back, I believe it was because my parent’s traveled to this church that I was open to enrolling in Bible college and pursuing God’s call into full-time ministry. Even today, I still look at the leaders of this church and try to emulate their lifestyle, their commitment, and their passion for following Jesus and leading others to Him. Without a doubt, my parent’s choice to leave a toxic church and go to a healthy one changed my life.
5. They set rules and boundaries. My Mom believed that if we wanted to experience God’s blessing in our lives, as Christians, we need to live by Biblical standards. She committed to reading the Bible, learning God’s ways, and living within the boundaries the Bible laid out. As her kids, we lived within the same boundaries. As children, we were taught to be honest, to avoid lying, to keep our minds pure, to speak in a way that reflected Christian values, to dress modestly, and to live by Biblical standards. This meant that we watched television shows and read books books that reflected Christian values. We didn’t listen to secular music. Mom and Dad knew our friends and didn’t bend the rules to change for them. We went to church—it wasn’t optional. We didn’t play violent video games, we were taught to avoid magic and witchcraft. As teenagers, there were rules for dating and interacting with the opposite sex. So yeah, my parents were strict. Today, I couldn’t be more grateful. Because here’s the thing: Yes, I’ve heard all of the arguments that if parents are too strict with their children then the children will rebel and walk away from religion. Guess what: No matter what you do, your kids are going to rebel in some form and test the waters just to see if Mom and Dad were right. It’s normal. What Jamie and I have found is that because our parents set Biblical boundaries, when we rebelled, we were nowhere near the danger line. The same thing is true for our friends who tell the story of their big rebellion going to a Christian rock concert. Wild stuff, right? On the other hand, our friends whose parents set the boundaries as close to sin as possible found that when they rebelled, they suffered life-changing consequences. Although many repented and got back on track (while dealing with painful consequences), many have walked away from God altogether.
So today, I'm grateful that my parents had rules and boundaries. Here's an important ingredient that goes hand in hand with boundaries: 6. Our Mom was honest about our family history. Growing up, our Mom was very honest with us about our family history including the generation sins that ran in our family. Recognizing that just like diseases can be genetic, a tendency for certain sins can be passed down from generation to generation. She gave us the information that we needed so that we could avoid these vices and the consequences that came with them, For instance, she warned us that alcoholism played a big part in our family’s story. She told us of the lives it ruined and how easy it would be for us to become addicted. Because she didn’t want us to repeat the pattern, she warned us so that we would beware and make wise choices. My Dad, on the other hand, was not as open and honest about his family. Jamie and I were in our twenties before we learned their truth. Unfortunately, by this time we were already repeating many of their patterns and had to fight to overcome these tendencies to live godly lives. Having lived with both paths, I encourage parents to tell their kids the truth about their family history. Don’t just give them rules but explain the rules to them—even if it means sharing grandma’s or grandpa’s problems. Even though it may seem easier to avoid talking about, sharing these facts with your kids will help them understand the boundaries you set, make better choices, and avoid painful consequences in their lives. 7. Our parents taught us to tithe. Growing up, Jamie and I weren’t taught only things we shouldn’t do. We were also taught Biblical principles that we should apply to our lives. One of these was tithing—giving 10% of all of our money to God. Whenever we earned any money—whether it be working for a neighbor, from our allowance, or at a job—we were taught that 10% of what we earned belonged to God. If we earned $1 then 10 cents went into the offering plate that week. It didn’t matter if we were kids, tithing applied to everyone. Looking back, it sounds cute, but it was really so much more. It was training us in the way we should go so that when we were adults, tithing wouldn’t even be a question. It would be a way of life. And it is. Many years later, even when finances are tight, tithing is still a vital part of our budgets. Here’s a bonus I’m not sure our parent’s expected: Because Jamie and I have been faithful in tithing throughout our lives, we have seen God be faithful and work miraculously in our finances. I’m not saying we’re rich (not by any means). However, over and over again, we have seen God work miracles and faithfully provide financially as we have been faithful to Him. 8. They taught us to be givers. Growing up, my parents didn’t just teach us to tithe. They also taught us that it was important to give sacrificially to the kingdom of God. I remember giving my mom $1 every month to write a check to send to the 700 Club. Jamie gave monthly to Carmen Ministries. Why? Because it was a way that we could be a part of spreading the Gospel and helping others find Jesus. You never too young to start giving and no amount was too small. By starting at such an early age, giving became a part of who we are. Just as we sent our dollars to ministries for years, today we give to missionaries each month. Different amount, same motto: We want to reach people for Jesus. 9. They taught us that you’re never too young to play a role in God’s kingdom. Why teach children to tithe or give or minister or read the Bible at a young age? Because you’re never too young to play a role in the kingdom of God. The church isn’t just for adults while the kids are babysat in the back. No, Jesus made it clear: Children are welcome in His kingdom. No one is too young to start finding their place within the kingdom of God. That’s why it was so awesome that our Mom started at such a young age to teach us to pray, to read the Bible, to give, to serve. She taught us to listen in church, to be active in worship, and even active in ministry. I remember singing in church as a child, volunteering to help in services, going on “witnessing walks” with my parents, and telling my friends about Jesus—even leading them in the sinner’s prayer while we played. Mom never took the approach “When you’re older, you can serve Jesus.” Instead, from the first time we expressed a desire to serve, to give, to respond to the Holy Spirit, she encouraged us to play our role in the kingdom of God. This leads to our final point: 10. They taught us that God had a plan for our lives and encouraged us to discover it and follow it. I don’t ever remember a time when my Mom didn’t encourage me to find and follow God’s will for my life. I was raised to believe that God had a unique purpose and plan for every person’s life. That before I was even born, God had ordained the days of my life. I was taught that I was created for a purpose and it was my job to find and fill my God-given role. Seeing life from this perspective, influenced every part of my life and every decision I’ve made.
Please understand—neither Jamie or I were told that purpose was necessarily full-time ministry. What we did was God’s choice. What we were encouraged to do was follow God’s plan no matter what it would be. Rather than making our own choices, we were told to pray, to seek God’s heart and follow Him with abandon. Then we were given the support and tools to help us follow. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my Mom was that there is no greater joy in life than living out your God-given purpose. I saw her do this as a mother who loved her husband and raised her children for Jesus. Today, Jamie and I follow her example and live out our God-given purpose in full-time ministry. Yet no matter where we go or what we do, we are well aware that it all started with a woman who dedicated her life to “starting us in the way we should go”. She taught us Biblical principles and encouraged us to live out God’s plan for our lives. Today, we are so grateful.
So that’s what my parents did right. This Mother's Day, I'm so grateful!
Adessa Holden is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God specializing in Women's Ministry. Together with her brother, Jamie, they manage 4One Ministries and travel the East Coast speaking, holding conferences, and producing Men's and Women's resources that provide practical Biblical teaching for everyday life.
When asked about herself, she'll tell you "I'm a women's minister, a sister, and a daughter. I love to laugh and spend time with people. My favorite things are chocolate, the ocean, sandals and white capris, anything purple, summertime and riding in the car listening to music. It is my absolute honor and privilege to serve Jesus and women through this ministry.