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February 15, 2005

Pastor and wife write:

My husband and I need your advice. How do you deal with bad influences at church? My husband is the pastor. Louise (our 7-year-old) loves her cousin Sue (5 years old), but Sue started public kindergarten this year. After church today, Sue proceeded to tell Louise some things she’s learned at names she’s been called and uses for her middle finger. Fortunately, I was able to stop her mid-sentence. The only time Louise sees Sue is at church, and since her daddy is the pastor, it’s not like we can leave. I realize bad influences will be found at any church. What do I do? I’m afraid to let her around Sue, even though it’s not her cousin’s fault; she doesn’t know any better. I know you said in one of your books something to the effect that at church, children should not be taught to avoid some children and only associate with others. But how do I keep Louise from hearing things that we don’t want her to? I know eventually she’ll hear a lot we don’t want her to, but, at 7 years old, we’d like to prolong that time a few more years! I did talk to my husband and he didn’t know what to do either. He said Brother Mike has a lot of wisdom on issues like this and I needed to, I am. I sure do hope you can help! Thank you!

Michael Answers
In every seminar I teach, concerned parents have raised this same issue. They say, “To protect our children, we left public schools, got rid of our TV and video games, and stopped going to the malls, but the only bad influence left is our church.” And then they proceed to describe how their church is a source of worldliness and corruption. I would like to tell them to move to a community like Cane Creek and escape the world, but about five years ago in our little rural congregation of less than fifty, one of the eleven-year-old boys came to his father after church to tell him that one of the new boys, twelve years old, had described to all the guys how to copulate with animals. This took place after church, within sight of the adults, while the parents were standing around outside fellowshipping. We took steps that led to the family not coming back to church.
Over the past ten years, there have been several other instances at our little local church that were enough to make one trade church attendance for a DVD player. In fact, several families have. If you think your church is exempt . . . well, ignorance is bliss . . . but it is also dangerous. “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips” (Romans 3:12-13).
We can keep our kids away from Hollywood, but aren’t our churches filled with disciples of Hollywood? We homeschool our precious children so they will not be exposed to the evil influences of public school, but then they go to church and associate with the same public school children. What is the difference between the playground at school and the playground at church? Same kids—different location. You are sadly mistaken if you think that kids who spend 30 hours in public schools each week are somehow going to be purged by two hours in church on Sunday. The fact that their parents are Christians and “love the Lord” is not going to diminish the influence of 30 hours of intense indoctrination each week. The same applies to any corporate classroom setting, including church schools. When you get 25 kids together, you have a complete representation of every kind of evil. And you’d better believe that kids love to share!

The Church is not a sanctuary!
Face it, the church today is not a sanctuary from the world, nor is it a “holy” place. In the best case scenario, it is a slice of the world where there is an attempt at evangelism and worship. But on average, the church is a social club composed of a mixed multitude. Far too often, the church is a recruiting ground of pedophiles and fornicators. I read a survey once (I don’t remember where) that asked young Christian adults, who were not virgins when they married, where they lost their virginity. More than half of them testified that their first sexual experience was either at church during a young people’s event, or after church when they went out for pizza and came home without their virtue.
Exposure to the world is a problem for every sensitive parent who takes his children outside the home where there are other people, whether to church or to a family dinner. We know that eventually our children are going to be exposed to about every form of corruption, but we want them to be fully equipped to survive with integrity. If they walk down a public road, they are bound to come across a porno magazine. Where children can talk outside the hearing of adults, things are going to be said that would make the face of an adult turn red. We know that we can’t keep them innocent, but as they come to know good and evil, we want them to always know how and why to choose the good.
This mother’s concern is that her child is too young to discern between good and evil, and she is absolutely correct. She desires to postpone the day of temptation. I share her concern completely. Children mature morally by resisting evil, but if it comes at them too fast, too often, and from influential peers, they will become desensitized and sin will begin to appear less evil to them.
Back to our letter. This mother said, “I know you said in one of your books something to the effect that at church, children should not be taught to avoid some children and only associate with others.” If I said that, it was in a different context, for I do very much believe in regulating with whom your children associate. If you are so careful as to never offend anyone, and if you are always concerned about the feelings of everyone you know, eventually you and your children will have to give up all of your convictions and learn to live according to the way the wind blows. I regulate my own personal associations; why not theirs?

What is the answer to this dilemma?
Two things. First, please DO regulate their environment and associations. Over the years as our children were growing up, Deb and I offended about every family member and some of our friends by being “overprotective” of the innocent charges God sent into our care. We guarded them from any suspect company and thoughtfully planned their associations. We have not trusted, “good Christian families.” We have not participated in churches where the children were separated from us. After church, we watched them and their associations. When kids stop running around in circles, screaming, and start talking, or drawing aside, you’ve likely got the beginning of troubles brewing. Keep the little ones standing right beside you after church. They should always sit with you, never with their friends. If they go out to the bathroom, go with them. Never allow them to spend the night with friends or cousins. Slumber parties are sin parties. Never allow them to listen to music through headphones. Three-minute phone conversations, no chat rooms, no surfing the web for any reason. Parents should make it physically impossible for them to even access the web. We didn’t allow our children to spend time in their bedrooms unless they were working on a project or reading. Bedroom doors were always kept open, except for two minutes while dressing.
On occasions when I have made these same remarks in public, people have asked, “What’s wrong; don’t you trust your children?” I answer, “Of course not; you think I’m a fool? My children are flesh and blood, just like their daddy. They are descendents of Adam. The Devil is still active and wants their innocence. Having descended through me from fallen Adam, I know they are endowed with an all consuming passion to know good and evil. Why should I trust them?”
Those of you who think I am too hard, too protective, and too distrusting, keep in mind that all my children are grown and married now. They have demonstrated themselves to be solid citizens and emotionally stable. They all came to marriage as virgins and are now happily married. They will never divorce. We are delighted with them, and they are delighted with us. What more could you want in this life? Their memories of life with us are not measured by the things we didn’t allow them to do, but by the many activities that we did with them. We kept their lives full of fun and creativity. They had friends and spent time with them, under controlled circumstances.

Put on the armour
Back to the lady’s question, “How do I keep Louise from hearing things that we don’t want her to hear?” The first half of my answer was: control her environment and choose her friends carefully, forbidding some undesirable associations. But there is more. You must recognize that your child is fast growing to be outside your sphere of influence, and is on a trajectory that will soar her into independence. You cannot shut the world out completely, and in time she will grow up to live right in the middle of it. Ultimately, you can’t run and you can’t hide. The solution is to protect them as long as you can, while preparing them for the days of temptation. Her only hope is that you care enough to build character into her before she is put in a situation where her own convictions are all that stands between her and evil.
The answer: 1) protect them as much as you can—especially when they are less than ten years old. 2) Train them up morally so they will be equipped to resist temptation.
The Bible commands us to, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). If God instructs adults to be armored ahead of the battle, how much more our children? They can stand behind our armor until they get too big, but there comes a time when they must personally do battle with the Devil. If we allow them to get to thirteen years of age without being trained to recognize and resist temptation, we have miserably failed them–completely!
This pastor’s wife (with her husband’s blessings) says, “…since her daddy is the pastor, it’s not like we can leave.” If God has called your husband to minister in that capacity, then you are quite correct, you cannot leave. There is an answer, one that will make your children stronger and insulate them against the world that is in your church. It works because we employed this approach for years when we were ministering to drunks, sodomites, lesbians, dope heads, fornicators, child molesters, and criminals of every sort.

A Matter of Perspective
The answer to your dilemma is a matter of perspective. I am not personally afraid of rattlesnakes in the woods…I expect to find them there, so I am on guard. But I know that I am very much afraid of a rattlesnake in my yard or in the dark basement, where my guard is down and I am relaxed. I was never concerned about the bad influence of sinners on my children when I took them with me to witness to the lost, for they knew we were in hostile territory. But relatives and church associates scared me to death. Every family has one or more “rattlesnake” in their yard or behind a door at church.
There was a time when I made a living as an artist. At one show I met a sculptor who interested me. He was unregenerate and aggressively rejected the gospel. But I invited him to come home with Deb and me after the show—my intentions being to witness to him. On the first morning, as he and his wife sat at the breakfast table talking, his little four-year-old daughter and my four-year-old daughter, Rebekah, were playing in the bedroom within my line of sight. We became aware that they were having some verbal confrontation, so we stopped to listen. “Yes, he is! Jesus is the God and he is the Savior,” we heard Rebekah say. “No, he isn’t,” the other little girl shouted. They went on and discussed various aspects of the gospel. It was amazing! I had no idea that a four-year-old could form such opinions and feel so strongly about them. A battle between light and darkness was being played out between these two tots. They each represented their parents’ convictions.
I had no fear of Rebekah being influenced negatively, because she knew when we were on war footing—when there were snakes in the grass. We often confronted sinners, and we reminded her that “These people don’t love Jesus, and they do not please him in the things they say and do, but we are going to try to help them come to know him.”
Face it! The church itself is actually a mission field. There was a time when the church was a place of worship for believers, and evangelism was done in special meetings or out in the homes and streets, but today, the churches invite the rattlesnakes to come into the house. I am not passing judgment on the right or wrong of the modern trend. It certainly is a great opportunity to evangelize, but you must take your children to church having trained them from the right perspective. It is not friendly territory. It is where we go to do battle with the world and to be a good influence on sinners present there. We warned our children that the church was full of fakes—of Judases. We led them to understand they were part of a team called to bring light to those in darkness.
We have had special friends, families that we felt were every bit as righteous as ours. The parents were as protective as we were. In the presence of our chosen friends, and in small home meetings, we could all relax. We were at home with one another, and there were no rattlesnakes. But we chose those families. They did not choose us. We didn’t let it happen by default. But there are times when certain people come to visit, we grab our coats and meet them at the car, explaining that “we were just leaving to go to the store.” Once your children are schooled to know the difference between good and evil, and they expect temptation to pop up, they are prepared for it and recognize it for what it is, even if it should come slithering out of a small home meeting of “trusted friends.”

Create your own culture
So, I say to this pastor’s wife: Don’t leave the church, anymore than a missionary would leave the field because there are sinners there. But don’t leave your children to be influenced by the culture of the “church” either. YOU MUST ESTABLISH A TRUSTED CULTURE OUTSIDE THE “CHURCH.” Your children, and you as well, need a place to unwind and let your guard down with people of like mind. When your kids get old enough, they will “fall in love” with someone in their circle. Build that circle carefully, as though your child’s life depended on it. Never operate your God-given family in a default mode, not caring who drops in to participate in the church activities with your children.
Structured Christianity is not what it was even thirty years ago. As the world’s standards have plunged, the “church” has followed it—staying about ten years behind. Take charge of your family. Put on your armor and make sure it covers your children. And while you have the chance, fit them in their own armor, and teach them carefully to identify the enemy.
The homeschool movement is more than an educational alternative. It is parents putting on the brakes and saying, “my children will not ride this train to hell; I will take charge and direct my family in a different path.” You are part of a cultural shift, and a spiritual awakening. We are in the midst of a revival of the family. It must extend to a revival of community as well. The public church is no longer to be trusted with your children any more than the public schools.
We are seeing beautiful fruit come out of the homeschool movement. Be vigilant, and don’t let it spoil before it ripens to produce more fruit of its own.

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8 comments on “Sanctuary”

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I love receiving NGJ magazine, and am always blessed by the information inside. My husband and I have struggled greatly with this very issue. We homeschool and are diligent always about who our children associate with, but seem to hear things at church that go against our beliefs. We do our best to make sure our children are grounded in the Word, and know to choose the good over the evil always. We have questioned if we should even continue to attend our church as the teachings seem to veer further and further from the right path. I write with my husband's blessing, and ask would our home Bible study be better, or should we continue to attend in hopes that we might reach others? Thank you again for the work that you and your family are doing , God Bless You! Mark, Ruby, Joseph and Denim Woods

  2. You're absolutely right. I really, really wish that my associations had been more diligently monitored. I think it's very important. I was thrown for a loop the first time I was sitting with a group of 'church kids' and some of them started talking about something inappropriate and others laughed - I was a little surprised and disappointed. It made me question whether there was such a thing as "good" anywhere. Thankfully the Lord showed me that you don't look at the snakes hissing on the ground, you look up at the One on the cross.
    It seems the prevailing opinion in churches as far as I've seen is not to 'have a seeds mentality.' Which I guess means having an attitude of only associating with your own kind and shutting everyone else out. (?) Not sure. They say that we're supposed to teach our children to be witnesses for Christ in a fallen world, and I agree. But, you never send someone to a task for which they are completely unprepared. We don't feed infants New York strip steak because we're aware of their physical limitations, but we expect an 8-year old to have intellectual and emotional abilities that they almost certainly cannot possess at that tender age.
    I 100% agree that a person must carefully watch over their children. We have blaring alarms in our cars that sound-off with lights simultaneously flashing, we have automotive steering wheel lock bars to make it harder, if not impossible for a thief to turn the steering wheel and thus steal a car, we park close by so we can keep an eye on our SUV, but we think it's weird to be careful with our kids.

  3. First point:
    Christians abhor sex education, they think it'll encourage it.
    Christian youth don't know anything about sex, except what's in the Bible
    Christian youth lose their virginity early.
    ... if you want your children to have the power to say no, and the power to have safe sex, you need to change your views.

    Next: You advocate cutting off children from the internet. They will only be handicapped when they start to need to use it. Your approach is only really applicable if they never plan on integrating with mainstream society.

    I may be an atheist, but if you dismiss me out of hand I will only pity you.

    1. You apparently have a very limited view of Christians. Among the Christian youth around here, their understanding of sex and interpersonal relationships far exceeds that of their peers from homes that are dismissive of Christianity. Christians do not "abhor" sex education, but do strongly oppose sexual indoctrination.
      Although not promoting "safe sex" the Yell and Tell series is all about protecting children from sexual predators, teaching that they can say "no" and to tell someone they trust.
      There is no advocacy of cutting children of from the internet, only the safeguarding from the many dangers (including sexual predators) that do exist online and to prevent the addictive potential of internet activity.

  4. Thank you so much for this article and the one on guarding our children. As parents of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old, it's something that has been very much on our hearts and minds and in our discussions. The practical pointers were very helpful. God bless you in your ministry.

  5. Mike & Debi, I thank God for your teaching daily! I can always trust that your teaching comes from God! My family has been extremely blessed from your books, sermons online, and reading these emails! Thanks you so much for answering this question in great detail. We are also struggling in a similar situation and it seems so hard to find a “safe church.” I will take your advise to heart, and feel you are 100% correct! May God bless your family and ministry! We love y’all!