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Keeping Our Kids in the Church
Submitted: Sep 20, 2011
By Martin Weber

The purpose of technology and social media in the church is to facilitate outreach and nurture - winning new souls to Christ while helping existing disciples grow in grace, as individuals and as a church family. Unfortunately, many members are abandoning the church - most painfully, many of our own children. Even pastors' kids (PKs) are leaving us.

To find out why, I devoted my Doctor of Ministry project to the tragic topic of attrition of adult PKs in the Mid-America Union. I mailed an 111-point questionnaire to each of 222 active and retired clergy in our nine-state territory who have adult children (as of 2008). My research question was: "What influences from Seventh-day Adventist clergy parents in Mid-America may affect whether their children experience attrition from that denomination upon becoming adults?"

Data collected from the 113 questionnaires returned by clergy parents identified 40 attrition factors, yielding these conclusions:

Parental conservatism regarding lifestyle standards is not statistically significant in attrition.

Legalism regarding gospel doctrine (soteriology) is a moderately significant cause of attrition.

Legalism regarding practicing the principles of the gospel is a major cause of attrition.

For clergy parents to hold their own children to a higher behavioral standard is one of the highest causes of attrition.

Lack of relationality in the pastoral family is the most serious cause of PK attrition. Pastors with the highest retention rate of adult children are those who managed to provide the most positive and 'fun' family experience in the parsonage and were close enough to talk about anything in an atmosphere of freedom that allowed children and teens latitude in developing their own faith experience.

The greatest predictor of future faithfulness as an adult is whether the PK during growing up years takes initiative to approach the clergy parent to discuss spiritual matters.

Closely associated with family relationality is the freedom and trust expressed in discussing controversial issues. There is no greater cause of attrition than to attempt to shield children from knowledge of, or resisting discussion about, church or denominational conflict.

Congregational criticism of pastoral family members portends future attrition of adult children.

There is definite correlation between the experience of entering the pastorate during one's 30s and the future attrition of one's children.
Having a clergy grandparent is a stabilizing factor in the spiritual life of a PK.

To summarize: The most significant factors in avoiding attrition are 1) being able to discuss church problems in the parsonage while also 2) managing to sustain joy and togetherness in the family circle and 3) giving teens freedom to develop their own faith experience without the expectation of being super saints because they live in a parsonage.

The final section proposed remedial recommendations based on the thesis: "The parsonage parent's best defense against attrition is to foster the positive elements of joyous relationality and intrinsic spirituality in the family while avoiding negative factors such as suppression, rigidity and legalism; Seventy-day Adventists can pursue this in practical terms by interpreting fundamental denominational beliefs in the context of the gospel and living them out in a missional community of shalom."

What that means, simply stated, is that there is nothing in the 28 fundamental beliefs of Adventists that would cause our children to leave the church. It is the abuse of our doctrines that causes attrition. Each Adventist belief is a channel through which we can experience Jesus. When taught and lived in the context of a fruitful and joyous relationship with Christ, church doctrine is a positive factor in keeping our kids spiritually safe for time and eternity.

Reprinted by permission. First published in Mid-America Outlook, Sep 2011.

Martin Weber is currently editor of Mid-America Outlook and director of communication for the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served many years as a pastor, most recently in suburban Sacramento, California.

Among books authored are his own story of abuse survival, My Tortured Conscience, and “book of the year” Hurt, Healing and Happy Again, with stories of people wounded in life before experiencing emotional and spiritual healing in Jesus. His most recent book, God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain, was just released by Pacific Press. Weber has shared God’s message of healing love on five continents. He recently completed a Doctor of Ministry project regarding troubled adult children of clergy families.

For another summary of Martin Weber's research, click here:


Elaine Nelson
2011-09-21 2:25 PM

If only the children of living pastors were questioned, what about the many adults who once were PKs? 


We are many.  I am an octogeneraian PK and my leaving Adventism had nothing to do with being a PK and everything with investigating the history of both Adventism and Christianity.  Knowing how the "inside politics" works only too keenly was one preciptating factor, as well as the method that the church handles any possible deviant messenger.  Truth and justice are the victims.

Close investigation of religious doctrines is very similar to watching sausages and laws made: bad for health and trust.  Too much Bible study without resorting to SDA "proof texts" on which one is taught and heard as a child, do not stand up well to investigation.  The only possible conclusion to maintain integreity was to become an ex-SDA. 

Elaine Nelson
2011-09-21 2:37 PM

As an 86-yr-old PK I can testify that it was nothing in my parental training that caused me to leave the church.  It is the anti-intellectual positions and doctrines that are too suffocating for thinking, educated people.  Reading and studying how the church doctrines were formed and the paucity of analysis, but reliance on "proof texts" is a reall turn-off to those who want to dig deeper.

Eventually, to maintain integrity, I no longer wanted to identified as an SDA.  This problem will continue as young people are continuing to be better educated, critically thinking adults.

Horace Butler
2011-09-21 5:22 PM

So, those of us who believe the doctrines of the SDA church have no integrity?  Are not well educated?  And are unable to thing critically?   Funny, I've never felt "suffocated" by the doctrines, but maybe I'm not that well educated and lack the capacity to think.  I guess a college degree wasn't enough for me to grasp the mythology inherent in Scripture. 

The "paucity of analysis" by our pioneers included all night sessions in prayer and Bible study before arriving at many of our doctrines.  But I guess that wasn't good enough.

Well, they said Jesus was possessed by the devil, and they said Paul was mad.  So we're in good company.  Interesting how some of us study the Bible and become more convinced that the SDA Church is on the right track, and others go the other direction.  "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie."  II Thess. 2:11.

Horace Butler
2011-09-21 5:36 PM

Back on topic.  I think it goes beyond abuse of our doctrines.  There are a variety of factors, of course.  We need to analyze our methodology from cradle roll to youth.  I see a dumbing down of our doctrines in the early years in some cases.  That hurts the kids.  They need to learn the basics as soon as they are able to grasp them.  They aren't stupid.  Children's church is a big mistake.  When will they learn to be adult church members if they don't participate in adult worship until college age?  Get them involved at a young age.  Older kids can help younger kids in Sabbath School.  In our church some of the teens have come up to the adult classes--and had meaningful contributions.

And the myth that they need "contemporary" music to keep the interested needs to be abandoned.  That method backfires.  It only gives them what they can get out in the world, and provides no incentive to stay in church.  Church should provide something better and higher than the world offers.  If we give them the devil's music with religious words we've accomplished nothing.

Elaine Nelson
2011-09-21 6:56 PM

I didn't say that SDA doctrines had no integrity.  A careful reader would have seen that I referred to my integrity would have been compromised if I claimed to be something I could not.  It's usually called hypocritical.  Personal integrity is not the same as institutional integrity.  That is a subject for another thread with many possibilities.

Trevor Hammond
2011-09-21 7:35 PM

Juvenile delinquency amongst PK's has always been a major factor causing them to eventually leave the church.  I was one of them.  A rebel so to speak.  Mrs. Nelson's assumption that education led her to 'leave' may have been more of an excuse rather than actual fact.  I left without educational influences.  Just downright sinful living and textbook wordliness: by succumbing to temptation and bad influence of peers.  I find the same thinking pattern with those who brag about been 'progresives'.  They say they left traditional Adventism due to their glorified educational enlightenment.  This can't be true as so many others have left without educational influence at all: just bad old fashioned sinfulness and worldiness.  Talk about progressive regressives OR regressive progressives! Take your pick.  So what's the deal?  Adult delinquency is also a reality we must face.  The uncontrolled, rash, renegade behaviour concerning spiritual matters is a telltale sign of weak delinquent Christianity which ultimately is just common rebellion against God.  Living in a state of denial is unecessary and worsens the rebellion.  The more the education the more the rebellion.  This is where education plays a major part: in the rebellion stage.  Ultimately this leads one to accept darkness as light and encourages disobedience to God.  Satan plays a major role in attacking the faith of PK's,  even to the extent I would suggest, in some cases, of demon possesion which is often overlooked by many.

Then there is the other much overlooked factor.  The regular nitpicking of PK's by some horrid nasties in the congregations their parents serve.  Criticising the PK's is a way of getting back at Pastors who cross the wires of some crazy pew-warmers who 'pay' tithes (and also many who don't return tithes) just to have a go at the Pastor who 'works for them' - the 'hired help' if you please - who isn't bowing down to their every whim and fancy at their every beck and call.  Darn Office Bullies!  These devils agents take swipes at the PK's too.

Elaine Nelson
2011-09-21 8:48 PM

Each individual's experience is her own and cannot be compared to another's.  What may influence one may have no difference on another.  This is how we experience life.;

JIMS Seven
2011-09-22 3:08 AM

Hey friends, I've read the issue on PKs somewhere quite long and that was very good (sorry can't recall but I guess it either was in SOTT or Ministry).

Mr. Hammond:

'They say they left traditional Adventism due to their glorified educational enlightenment.  This can't be true as so many others have left without educational influence at all'

Yes there are many in my country who bear testimony to that fact. I became little serious reading your comment, Sir. Thanks.

Trevor Hammond
2011-09-22 12:08 PM

By the way the Bible reveals in Psalm 100 that 'we are the sheep of His pasture'.  So what does that make us all?  Pastor's Kids too!  Yeah - Cool!  Except, (Hallelujah!) God is our Pastor.  He is the Good Shepherd who was willing to lay down His life for His people, the sheep of His Pasture... Praise God!  Thank you Jesus!

Kevin Riley
2011-09-22 9:38 PM

New research in America indicates that religion is associated with education, not lack thereof.  In Australia, the majority of Christians who attend church are middle class, often with a university degree.   In Europe historically it was often the peasants who were lost first in some cases.  It is the upper and lower 1/3 that are usually missing from church.  There is a correlation between higher education and liberal views, and most committed atheists are highly educated.  Most of the working class tends to believe there is 'something out there', but they neither know nor care what it is. 

There was an interesting piece of research done a couple of decades ago in Malaysia, which has a two stream education system.  Those students who attended a science based high school had a strong tendency to be fundamentalists, those who attended a humanities based high school tended to be more liberal.  The suggestion was that science tends to work with laws and mathematical formulae, those in the humanities with trends and possibilities.  Neither, from memory, was better than the other at keeping people religious.  Nor can we argue that one group was more intelligent than the other.

Perhaps we keep people better when the answers we give match the form and depth of the questions.  Therefore it isn't education or lack thereof that determines who goes and who stays, but whether the church answers the questions the person is asking in a form that makes sense to them.  And before anyone jumps to conclusions, I have worked in non-Western countries and found that people there are as intelligent - and, unfortunately in some cases, as dumb -  as people in Western countries.  We have not cornered the market on intelligence or stupidity.

Elaine Nelson
2011-09-22 9:59 PM

The title:  "Keeping our Kids in Church" implies that one can "keep" an adult in a belief system simply because he might have been raised in an particular religious environment.

Did it ever occur that some have been innoculated against a religion in their early years?
And many have adopted their parents' religion.  Individuals must grow and discover their beliefs on their journey and it is impossible to asure that even two siblings in the same environment will chose the same path.  We as parents must learn to love our children unconditionally and not let them feel that because they have chosen a different path than ours that they are less loved and appreciated.

This goes for the children of others in our church.  Children are extemely sensitive to small things that adults often don't feel or see.  Remember:  all the founders of Adventism were either disfellowshipped or rejected their previous church membership.

The most we as parents should want is that our children our compassionate, loving, and productive members of society and that regardless of their beliefs, they will always be loved.

Ron Corson
2011-09-25 11:28 AM

Gailon Joy wrote:
"The Bible refers to it as being as dry as the bones on the hills of Gilboah."

That is an interesting statement coming in this article thread. Would a statement like that cause a child to question or think of leaving their church. After all the Bible no where says that but it may well be believed by numerous Adventists that the Bible says something to that effect. When they find that it doesn't what will happen? That is just one example of many possible errant statements. What would be the effect on the PK's if they saw their father making errant statements from the pulpet? I don't think questionaires are really going to provide the answers to something that can have so many different causes and effects.

Here is the total mentions of Gilboa in the Bible:

gilboa (KJV)

1 Sam 28:4
4    And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.   (KJV)

1 Sam 31:1
1    Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.   (KJV)

1 Sam 31:8
8    And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.   (KJV)

2 Sam 1:6
6    And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him.   (KJV)

2 Sam 1:21
21    Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.   (KJV)

2 Sam 21:12
12    And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:   (KJV)

1 Chr 10:1
1    Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.   (KJV)

1 Chr 10:8
8    And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen in mount Gilboa.   (KJV)

Elaine Nelson
2011-09-25 1:05 PM

"The Bible refers to it as being as dry as the bones on the hills of Gilboah."

Do us the favor of giving the location of such a text.  Ron has shown each place in the Bible where Gilboah is mentioned, and none appear even related to the comment.  Is it like the statement "Cleanliness is next to   Godliness" that many attribute to the Bible also? 

Kevin Riley
2011-09-27 12:18 AM

Ellen White mentions being as 'dry as the hills of Gilboah', but I don't think she mentioned the bones.  Her reference was in relation to the SDA church preaching law rather than grace.  I believe she took the reference from 2 Sam 1:21.


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