LCN Article
Children and Their Example

March / April 2024

Gerald E. Weston

We are thankful for the many young people who are growing up in the Church and are faithfully following in the footsteps of their parents. How different it is today than it was when many young people from “out in the world” flocked to the truth; many of us who went to Ambassador College in the 1960s had no family connection to anyone in the Church of God, though this changed rapidly in the years that followed.  Yes, some still come along on their own, but the numbers are small.

Consider: Why are we seeing so few teens or young adults coming from the world, compared to what the Church experienced in previous decades? What has changed? Are young people no longer able to be inspired by God’s truth?

The answers to these questions are complex. Technologies have advanced dramatically in the last half century. In 1964, people were limited to the handful of television stations available in their area, and until the late ’60s, the Work was exclusively carried out on daily radio—but you could drive almost anywhere in North America and hear the penetrating voice of Mr. Herbert Armstrong or his son several times every evening. 

Today, there are scores of television stations accessible to most people, and satellite radio is replacing more traditional broadcasting. But while satellite radio has hundreds of stations to choose from, religious programming is reserved for areas where “channel-surfers” would rarely go. The same is happening, though to a lesser degree, on cable and satellite television. The Internet allows us to go places we have never gone before, but the sheer volume of “clutter” makes it difficult for the Work to reach people through that medium.

Changes in Education

School systems have become far more hostile to biblical values. It has become popular to be anything but normal, as Mr. Wallace Smith pointed out in his telecast “The War Against Normal.” For too many, any mention of God or the Bible means it is time to “tune out.”

Herein lies another transition that has occurred over the last half-century. Many have come to the realization that anti-God agendas are being funneled into the minds of impressionable children. Many parents are understandably ditching public schools in favor of homeschooling. When I was growing up, I did not know of anyone homeschooled; today, a very large percentage of teens attending our North American Living Youth Camps are homeschooled.

Public schools expose children to a greater variety of friends and ideas—not all of which are helpful. That is part of why parents want to protect their children, and this concern reflects the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).

On the other hand, praying to His Father, Jesus said of His disciples, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Balancing the two is difficult. Although leaven is most often used in a negative sense, Jesus said it can also spread positively: “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Luke 13:20–21). 

Because of widespread homeschooling, many of our children—not all—have fewer contacts with those outside the Church. Homeschool associations, sports activities, and neighbors provide contact with outsiders, but are not the same as interacting with a large variety of peers in a setting where each class and activity has a different mix of students. For good or ill, even riding the bus introduces you to neighbors you might not otherwise interact with. That’s how I was introduced to the truth!

Whether from technological changes, hostility to biblical values, or limited interaction with those of differing beliefs, fewer young people are being attracted to the truth than in years past. So, we must ask: Is there anything we should do to attract more young people? I want to focus the remainder of this article on what we as individuals can do—and how we can help our youth.

Evangelism or Example?

A large percentage of Church members (both young and old) were initially introduced to the truth by a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker. Yet this is hardly the whole story—I can assure you that, while I was introduced to the truth by the brother of a friend, I would never have embraced the truth had it not been for the resources the Church provided.

Sadly, the fact that many have been initially introduced to the truth by others has caused some to tout so-called personal evangelism—an idea the Worldwide Church of God pushed onto God’s people while it was busy dismantling the Work. I remember one man telling me that there is no need for expensive television and magazines. After all, he suggested, if every member would bring in just one other person, it would double the size of the Church. That sounds simple enough, but it has never proven true in practice. More importantly, is that what Scripture says God wants us to do?

It is not for us to choose whom God calls. Our most persuasive arguments will not convert even one person. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). So, what to do?

Instead of becoming individual evangelists attempting to force-feed the truth to others, we are instructed, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). A light bulb does a good work of silently illuminating its surroundings—it is only when it is defective that it may emit an irritating buzz. We can have the same irritating effect on others when we try to force our beliefs on them.

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God publicly, as He had been sent to do (Luke 4:43), but He also taught by example (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21). We never read of Him trying to convert even His family members, and it seems His brothers did not believe until He was resurrected (John 7:5; Acts 1:14). Likewise, Paul encouraged others to follow his example (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:9), and told Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Do people recognize our example? It is clear that many do. Mr. Paul Shumway forwarded this report from the December family weekend in Trinidad: “Following our custom in God’s Church, we left the facility as clean as possible…. This apparently made quite an impression on management, with the caretaker’s wife making comments such as ‘We’ve never seen a group like yours!’ ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘One in a million!’… What a blessing to be able to let Christ’s light shine through our example!”

This illustrates how to apply what is often called the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Our example does not, of itself, bring someone to repentance—God must grant repentance, and the individual must respond to it of his own free will. However, example is noticed. Fruit from our example may not ripen in our personal timeline; some will remember during the Tribulation, and others when they are resurrected in the Great White Throne Judgment. 

It is important for parents to teach their children the meaning of the Golden Rule and to do so by setting the example, themselves. Children must be taught in detail what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Young people will stand out from the crowd if they act courteously, are kind and polite, show compassion and respect for others, and live by the commandments. These characteristics cannot be hidden. Only God can call, but we can, by our example, facilitate His calling.

Be Confident in What You Believe

When we do set the right example, the need to explain ourselves will naturally arise. When it does, it is important that children—and adults, too—are confident and willing to speak the truth. For example, much of the angst that our children deal with is over the days we celebrate and those we do not. How do they explain why they don’t keep Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and the like? How do they explain why they are taking off more than a week of school to keep the Feast of Tabernacles when the school year is only beginning? 

The starting place is to know about the origins of this world’s holidays and why we must keep the biblical Holy Days. Our booklets on Christmas and Easter give abundant evidence that these days are not Christian. In response to a question, one does not need to give the history of these celebrations, but should be able to explain enough for the questioner to recognize a knowledgeable understanding. “I don’t observe Christmas because Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. Have you ever looked into the origins of the day? You might want to—you may be surprised.” That is merely one of a hundred appropriate answers. All one needs to do is keep it simple and honest. You don’t need to remember all the historical details, but you should know enough to show that there is a reason behind what you practice and don’t practice. If people want to know more, you can show them our website—the key is knowing when someone is opening that door and when someone is not.

The same is true about our observance of the biblical Festivals and Holy Days. One evening, several of our neighbors were sitting together with us, enjoying the end of the day, when one, out of the blue, asked about the Feast of Trumpets that she knew was coming up for us that week. I gave a short explanation of how the New Testament speaks of trumpets in reference to Christ’s return. One of the other neighbors surprised us with his biblical knowledge when he chimed in, “Oh yes, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven last plagues.”

Of course, no one was converted by my explanation, but it showed them that we have a biblical rationale behind what we believe and practice. (It is always good to use the New Testament when possible in answering these questions, as otherwise people see us as only “Old Covenant.”) Children need to have age-appropriate understanding of what we believe, as is explained in Exodus 13:14–16 and elsewhere. And this brings us to a closely related point.

For the Hope That Is in You

We often refer to 1 Peter 3:15, highlighting the need to be able to answer others. But it is important that we understand the whole passage, as too often the first portion is passed over: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear….”

That first part is important. Consider how we are surprised when someone who sits beside us on the Sabbath and Holy Days, observes the laws of clean and unclean meats, and by all outward appearance looks to be fully “with it,” suddenly leaves the Church. Peter’s admonition gives us a clue as to why this sometimes happens: It is possible to do the right things and still miss the mark. 

Note what God reveals about one of Judah’s kings: “Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king…. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a loyal heart” (2 Chronicles 25:1–2). He started well, but because his actions were not internalized truths, he eventually turned to idolatry (vv. 3–16).

Through His servant Peter, God tells us to set Him apart in our hearts. We know that only God can convert a carnal heart, but this tells us that we also have a part in the process. How can we sanctify God in our hearts? And how can we encourage our children to do so?

This is not something we can command. It is a process that must be encouraged, and it takes time. Have you ever seen a family with “perfect” young children who nevertheless rebelled once they were older and had a taste of freedom? They may have obeyed, but God’s ways were never in their hearts. Parents must allow their children to learn some lessons through experience. Yes, give instruction and punish when necessary—but give your children appropriate, age-specific freedom to make mistakes and learn that there are consequences for decisions, good or bad.

This process of setting God apart in our hearts involves teaching our children to know Him. We cannot assume they will believe in God and believe in His truth just because we say they should. We need to explain why God’s ways are sound. Parents can encourage their children to ask God to guide and correct them. This is best done through parental example of prayer at the dinner table and prayer before going to bed or after waking. Your example in prayer is crucial. And never forget the importance of eating meals together, as the table is where casual but important topics are often discussed. Mr. Rod McNair wrote of the importance of family meals in his May-June 2012 Tomorrow’s World article “Face Time,” which I encourage parents to read.

Peter next tells us to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). This is at the heart of this article. Peter did not write that we have to give an answer for every question that arises, but that we need to know why we have chosen this way of life and be ready to explain why. Paul did this when he was before King Agrippa and Governor Festus (Acts 26:1–28). He was confident in the truth and not ashamed to speak it openly.

Jesus tells us that “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38; cf. Luke 9:26). Children who perceive that their parents are ashamed of their beliefs will be reluctant to speak the truth boldly. For example, do we say, “We are going to a convention,” hoping that the questioner will not ask for specifics? Or do we boldly say instead, “We are going to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”? Are we secure within ourselves—not embarrassed by being out of step? There is a difference between “evangelizing” and responding truthfully. We are not to hide our lights under a basket (Matthew 5:14–16). And, of course, all of this will matter very little if our way of life does not match what we profess (Titus 1:16).

When a teen (or adult) is asked whether he is going to the football game Saturday afternoon, he can answer, “No, I am busy” or “No, I’ll be going to church.” Does he boldly stand for what he is, unafraid of rejection? Or is he hiding something because he is afraid of appearing different? This is when his whole way of life—the language he uses and the way he treats others—is vital. Do his actions match his words? 

Circumstances—such as who is asking, and in what context the question arises—will dictate different answers, but a straightforward and sincere answer to a friend in private may generate questions that call on a young person to “give a defense… for the hope that is in you.” 

Take Up the Challenge

This article only scratches the surface in considering why so few young people are coming to the Church—and it in no way places the blame on families and children. As stated earlier, many factors are in play. But our personal examples do make a difference—and those include our children’s examples. 

It is important that parents teach children, by example, the importance of their example—and teach them why they should believe in God and His way of life. Fathers and mothers must work together with a goal of developing kind, confident, caring, and courageous children. By their own example, parents must encourage their children to have a personal relationship with their Creator—so that, when the occasion calls for them to do so, they are not afraid to speak the truth openly and boldly.