Christmas Time and the Family With Prodigals — Blog 1 of 25 min read

A Prodigal’s Perspective: I Hate Going to Church

I used to be one of those people. I labeled myself as the rebel child or the black sheep of the family. I just hated going to church because I felt the sting of people’s curiosity. Sometimes I went to church because: 1) I felt obligated to do so; or 2) I was told I needed to go; 3) it was part of our family heritage. When I walked into the building and sat in a church pew, I wanted to hide and disappear. It seemed as though everyone knew everything about me. I had already experienced dealing with fabricated stories about me, accusing me of carrying out acts that I did not even do. I did not feel love and compassion. However, there were some members that seemed to genuinely care. I could sense this and feel their love and concern for me. That touched me.

We have all seen them around the holidays in our congregations. It can be hard not to stare in amazement and curiosity. We may ask ourselves, “What are Joan’s kids doing here? I never thought I would see them in church.” We often hear sad tales of their struggling with a drinking or drug problem and having a hard time holding down a job. On the other hand, the children may be doing pretty well in life but they decided not to get married and opted instead to live with their significant other because of a divorce they went through in their first marriage.

As you look at them, you may notice a sense of resentment or rebellion, or detect a sense of unease as they try to fit into a place that they used to call home. We have seen them all too often in our congregations and may have unknowingly labeled them as “those people.” But what is really going on behind the scenes? Is there more to the story, and could parents be affected as well?

A Parent’s Perspective: Difficult Interactions

In this context we, as parents, deal with two issues: 1) How we interact with our children, who have turned their back to the church and perhaps even to Jesus Christ, as they are visiting for Christmas and possibly New Year with their family. And 2) How we interact with our fellow Christians when we come to the worship service with our children and their families.

The first one is the bigger challenge. Children may be married to a spouse who may either be indifferent or hostile to faith in Jesus Christ. They also may have children, some of whom may not be baptized. It would seem to be easy to discuss with them a little bit of what has been happening in their lives, such as their job, their children, if they have any, their home, and other non-threatening areas. After a while, we run out of things to talk about. That brings the existing tension to the surface, which parents and children may feel. Then comes silence, during which time they become disengaged and each member of the family may turn to his or her cellphone and other distractions.

If the children decide to go with us to the worship service, we may feel uncomfortable because we do not how members of the congregation may react to our children having left the church. Further, we may wonder how the children will feel coming to the church that they have left behind. We could also wonder what the pastor might say in his message that may turn them off. In these situations, we as parents are in a constant state of tension.

Yet, in spite of all these tensions, the holidays present us parents with an incredible opportunity for reaching our children who have left the faith; and for members of the congregations a great occasion for touching the lives of the parents and their prodigals to show them we care.

For more resources, visit

Related webinars:

1) Welcoming Those Who Visit Church at Christmas;

2) How to Reach Out to Parents of Prodigals.

The Michigan District is partnering with Faith Family Reunion to offer two retreats on “Being a Parent of a Prodigal.” The first retreat will take place on October 21, 2017 at St. Matthew, Grand Rapids, and the other will be at Good Shepherd, Lansing on November 18, 2017. For more information and to register, click here. For more information on Faith Family Reunion and what they can do for church leaders, click here

Who Is Behind Faith Family Reunion?

We are a family much like yours: A prodigal daughter who returned to faith in Jesus Christ; her father, a retired LCMS pastor; and her dear loving mom, all of us with hearts for the hurting parents and their prodigal.

Our passion is to inspire and transform parents with prodigals by helping break down the walls of shame and secrecy.

When we place emphasis not only on our youth but on their parents as well, we are enabled to encompass the entire family unit. The church body, enabled to help unify the immediate family, ultimately helps to reunite the church family.

You can find us at

Bible Verses

Luke 15:5-7 (ESV)

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV

“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

Co-authored by Rev. Dr. Jakob Heckert

Photo (c) Geoff Duncan/Lightstock


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About the Author

Paula Isakson grew up in a wonderful Christian home, with loving and supportive parents who raised her in the faith. But life took Paula in a different direction. She abandoned the faith of her childhood to find her own spiritual way in the world. Paula’s family and friends never gave up on her. The Holy Spirit continued to work in Paula’s life. Now she brings Faith Family Reunion together to share the story of a God who never gives up on His people and encourage attendees never to give up on the lost people in their lives!

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