A Conversation About Ministry And Child Atheists
Edited to Add Preface: I wrote this last night, almost immediately after Nikki told me how her friend told her she was going to Hell. I clicked “publish” this morning and now just read it again and realize that maybe I’m coming off as preachy. I don’t know. Please just read this as written by the Mother of a Child who gets her feelings hurt when people tell her she’s going to Hell. I’m also a Mother would does not want to discourage a path to the Church. If my kids want to go to Church? I hope they find one that is welcoming. But they’re never going to even look if they keep getting told they’re damned.
So, please know that’s where my mind was when I wrote this last night. If it seems self-righteous, I’m sorry. I was feeling a bit raw.
If your child has been taught at church that non-believers go to Hell, will you do me a QUICK favor and have a variation of this conversation with them? A message that has surely been delivered at Sunday School, but is boring and gets lost behind the much more exciting NON-BELIEVERS GO TO HELL! message.
While we do believe that non-believers (or the unsaved) will go to Hell, it is not our job to condemn them. It is our job, as believers, to try to bring them to salvation. And we do that by acting Christ-like. We do that by praying for them. We do that by living the Gospel and the commandments. We act in a way that makes our non-believer friends want to learn more about our church. We invite our non-believer friends to worship with us. But most importantly? We show by our actions what God’s love and salvation has done in our lives.
We do not, ever, tell someone we can not be their friend if they do not believe in God.
We do not, ever, tell someone they are going to Hell if they don’t believe in God.
Those two things will not help a non-believer feel welcomed by our church family. And if something we say drives someone away from the church, instead of to the church, then we have done the opposite of what God wants from us.
So, if you have a friend who you know doesn’t believe in God, then first we should pray for them. And if this person’s salvation is very important to you, then we should pray for guidance about how best to show them the path to salvation. Jesus loved the sinners, and by showing them love – even if they didn’t believe, he led the sinners to his Father.
Kids often build judgements and opinions based on things they hear adults they trust say, which is why we have to be VERY CAREFUL to make sure and have real discussions with them about important topics. In my family? We talk about religion a LOT. I talk about my own journey in the church and why I ended up living my adult life as an Agnostic Atheist. We talked about Lent recently because I made a Lenten goal to send forty letters by mail before Easter. We talked about First Communion the other night thanks to this picture here. We talk about Jesus and Allah and Buddha – although not too much about the latter because the kids laugh too much when I say the word “Buddha”. I’m very knowledgable in some areas, in others we hit up Reverend Google for answers. These conversations have really helped me hash out a lot of my own “beliefs” – which is why I encourage them so greatly.
I’m pretty sure all kids are fascinated by the concept of Hell, I know I was. Hell was probably the big thing that drove me away from the church because I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that good people who just didn’t believe in God or Jesus – would end up in Hell. I thought about Hell a lot. From the time when I was 6 and prayed the rosary over a dead bird I found (I hoped that would convince God to let the bird hang in heaven) to the time when I challenged my religion teacher in high school to explain to me how it would be fair for good people in a remote tribe in the jungle to go to Hell when they had never even met a Christian.
It also didn’t help that I had several “bad” years which – you know – guaranteed me a ticket to the hot zone.
Anyway – I tell you this so that you know your kids might think about Hell all the time too. I don’t know how your church works, if your child goes to Sunday school or if they sit in Big Church with you, but any time they’ve heard about the fact that non-believers go to Hell? From that moment on – they are intrigued. So, if they’ve heard that simple message: Non-Believers Go To Hell, then they walk away with that on their minds and in their hearts.
First? You need to decide in your own heart of that’s what you want them to believe. My Dad, while Catholic in many ways, did not really believe in any sort of hellish afterlife. And if there was one, he didn’t think the main exclusive variable would be “Do you believe in God? Are you saved?” So, if your church teaches one thing and you believe something different, make sure to talk to your kid about that.
But if you believe Non-Believers will go to Hell, then you need to talk to your children about what to do with that information. Sometimes they remember the “HELL!” part because that’s exciting, and ignore everything afterwards about ministry. Have that conversation OFTEN. Maybe EVERY time Hell is mentioned in church or in Sunday school. Make sure that proper, Christ-like ministry is JUST as important of a message as damnation. Because chances are, you are not the one teaching them on Sundays. Either a minister or a Sunday School teacher is. And while they know the lessons, they don’t have time to follow up on repetitive ideas to make sure the RIGHT message sticks. Even if they say once, “Non-believers go to Hell, so we need to be Good Believers and bring people to the church!” your kids only hung on to the HELL! HELL! HELL! part.
Because that’s the cool part.
So, it’s your job to repeat the boring part OVER and OVER and OVER again. How to properly minister and bring non-believers to the church. How Jesus embraced the non-believers.
Now…why did I write about this today? Because Nikki came home with – YET ANOTHER – story about a friend who told her they can’t be friends anymore if she doesn’t believe in God. And that she’s going to Hell.
Now, do I fault the parents or the church? No. I’m sure they’re teaching the right messages. But the kids are only grabbing the EXCITING! part of the message. So the boring part has to be taught more often. Over and over and over again. Just like how we have to remind our kids to brush our teeth every day. Christians need to remind their children the value of good and proper ministry in their community. Sometimes it’s as boring as brushing your teeth, but it’s as important.
Because, no matter how saturated your community is with Christians, the world is NOT saturated. Your child is going to meet a non-Christian. 17% of people in the U.S. claim NO religion. That’s almost 1 in 5. Your child needs to be properly prepared to embrace the non-believers as Christ did, not condemn them. And since you’re a believer, you would have no reason to know your child’s message to non-believers. And if your friends all go to Church, then you’ve never seen them interact with non-believers.
My children are the non-believers. Or at least non-church goers. Sometimes they say they “believe in God” but then they describe a God that is basically Santa Claus, so I’m not sure what religion they’re trending to yet. Either way – they know I don’t believe in God. And they know that’s why we don’t go to church. And they’re not ashamed of that, they’re not embarrassed by it, so they have no problem talking about it. I’m just asking that your child be aware that kids like mine exist.
I don’t remove the possibility from my children that they some day go to church. I tell them the right questions to ask, and the right things to look for if they ever want to join a church. I don’t encourage it, but I surely don’t discourage it at all. But when they’re told they’re going to Hell at age 8? It steers them off any path that might have had them curious to begin with.
So, have the talk with your kids. Make sure they carried the FULL message out of Sunday school. Not just the “HELL! HELL! HELL!” part. (Even though that’s good part.)
Remind them that the boring part about good ministry is just as important.
Kim – Mother of the Damned.