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01 November 2016

Rob Parsons - the importance of family, the Church and leaving a will

Rob Parsons - the importance of family, the Church and leaving a will

Rob Parsons is the founder of Care for the Family, an Alliance member that promotes family life and helps those facing family difficulties. He caught up with Amaris Cole to talk about the importance of family, Church and writing a will.

In idea recently we looked at the relationships between the generations and saw how the Church was uniquely placed to bring generations together in a way very few other places in society do. But why do you think it's important for the Church to do this – does it actually matter if generations don't mix?

I think its absolutely vital for people of all ages to mix. First of all, I think it's vital for young people to have to access to the wisdom of the years and it's important for older people who can often feel that their usefulness is gone. The way the Bible talks about family, whether it's extended family or Church family, is an idea of the generations literally supporting and learning from each other. 

We spoke to a woman in her 60s and she said sometimes I feel like I'm in the silent years. I feel my main work in life is over, I'm neither young or terribly old in my eyes, but I feel a lack of usefulness and sometimes I don't even feel wanted even in my local church. 

People of older years have so much so give, not just in payer, but in experience and enthusiasm. You don't have to be young to be a great youth leader – I'm seeing that you can be a great youth leader in your 70s. I have come across men and women like that, and it's because kids can smell love a mile away. Essentially, although we think we have to be cool to get through to a younger generation, we don't. We want people to genuinely care for us. I have grandchildren and I'm finding the experience of spending time with them and that unique relationship between the generations utterly compelling.

Young people today, particularly teenagers, aren't doing very well in many ways, emotionally there a tremendous struggle for young people. I don't think there was a golden age, but I do think today is harder for teenagers in many ways. There's incredibly pressure on body image, the pressure to achieve, the pressure for fleeting fame at whatever cost.

When they come across older people whose first question isn't how many GSCEs did you do, how many A*s did you get, what do you look like? They have a genuine interest. They have time to do that. It's not just a nice idea – it's absolutely vital – for both age groups and everybody in the middle.

We surveyed evangelicals on this idea of intergenerational relationships and found 92 per cent agree we should honour and respect older people in our churches, as you might expect. But how should we do that? 

It probably has several elements to it. One of my favourite characters, particularly as I get older, is Caleb who comes to Joshua in the beginning of the Promised Land and says: "Look, I was with Moses in wilderness. I was one of the 12 spies who came back and gave a good report. I've been around for a long, long time. I'm 85 years old, but I'm ready to have a crack at the Philistines. So give me that mountain you promised me and let's get on with it." 

Here's a man of 85 who's not actually thinking of retiring. Although we might fancy retiring from our jobs, it's not actually a biblical concept that when you're 60 or 65 you retire from Christian service. So I think we ought to be giving that message to people. 

It's very easy for churches to almost side-line older people to coral them in the old persons' group when they have so much to give. Many companies are run by people in their 70s or even 80s, so we know that in society people are living longer, working longer and are being healthy younger, and we need to adjust to that.

It's very interesting that when we ask people how their local Church is doing, they tend to say: "Pretty good, we've got lots of young people and people in the Sunday school." They tend not to talk about older people, it's almost as if older people don't count. If you want to increase the size of your church from 50 to 100 in a year, it's very easy. You hire a bus and ask the old people's homes if they'd like to come to church.

Nobody believes like me about pouring resources into youth work and Sunday school, but I think we just need to up our game a bit with regards to older people. 

We also need to understand the terrible scourge of loneliness. You can be lonely even in church, so I think we need to think about. But most churches are doing a brilliant job.

Family breakdown is prevalent right across the UK and we all know the statistics behind the damage this can do to everyone involved. Do you see a pattern in the reasons for this and if so is there anything the Church can do to address it?

There are several things. In Care for the Family we have three core values: generosity of spirit, honour of the least and vulnerability.
We had about 20 people who were going to speak for us at Care for the Family, and I said if you got perfect marriages and would rather be holding hands in the moonlight than listening to me talk now and have perfect children who save their pocket money for textbooks and say that church services aren't long enough, then you probably aren't the people for us. We need people who have cried a bit. Because vulnerability is core. 

I think one of the mistakes we make sometime as Christians is we give friends, neighbours and even our family that our lives are pretty well together, and if they had what we have, their lives would be together too. 

Everything that goes on in our streets and towns in going on in the local church: marriages breaking down, people in debt, teenagers breaking parents' hearts. Probably what we need, at all levels, is an acknowledgement that we too go through those hard times. When you look at church life like that, everything changes. 

Can you run a money management course if you've ever been in debt? Yes, you can. Can you help someone with their marriage if your marriage has been in trouble or you've been through a divorce? Yes, you can. Can you reach out to others and help others even if you are in a pit of depression? Yes, you can. When you begin to do that, you release an army of the broken. And that's incredible. Many people don't need clever answers. They want to know more than anything else they aren't alone. The Church has to realise that we do have ultimate answers to the question of life or death, but what we don't have is panacea that makes everyone who comes into our building lives' perfect. 

Second thing I think we can bring to the table is very powerful. One of the greatest difficulties today that we come across is the way that people define love. More and more it's being defined as a feeling – a romantic love. When you read that lovely passage from 1 Corinthians, you realise it doesn't say anything about feelings – it's a love that does things. It's not proud, it's not arrogant, it's a love that perseveres. We ought to be able to talk about the nature of love. 

Thirdly we can bring together this incredibly idea – this mind blowing concept – of the unconditional love of God. Once we grasp that it changes everything – our family life, our friends, our husband, wife or kids. Nothing you can do can make God love you more and nothing you do can make God love you less.   

I ask parents all over the world: what is the greatest gift we can give one another? They all say love. That's probably true, but there's another gift and if this gift is not given, people will never believe they are loved: acceptance. The theology of the local Church needs to say: I accept you. It's not that we don't want our friends or husband or wife to change in some way, but we ultimately they are loved anyway.

And what would you say to those parents who are bringing up their children alone, what advice do you have for them?

I've just come back from one of our single parent camps – we run subsidised holidays for single parents every year. From the beginning of Care for the Family we have worked with single parents. I think the Church has the task of really just genuinely getting alongside the lone parent. When I talk to lone parents very often they tell me what their children are going through and they'll ask is it's because they're a single parent that this is going on, and they will just be telling me the ordinary things that people with teenagers tell me all the time in homes where there is a mum and a dad. There's just this incredible sense of guilt often, it can be an incredibly lonely place. 

There's that wonderful verse in the Bible that says God has put the lonely in families. I genuinely believe that the Church has a big responsibility in this area, and many churches are doing a great job. 

You work with Christian Legacy, encouraging people to leave a donation to a chosen charity in their will. Isn't it a bit morbid to plan like this and shouldn't we just be donating our money now?

It's incredibly exciting. We say you can't take your money with you, but I think Jesus almost said the opposite. He said use money so that people will welcome you into what he called "everlasting habitations". It was almost this idea that you can send it on. That when you get to heaven you will meet somebody who will say: "You never met me, but you gave money to Tearfund and they did this, or you gave some money to another charity and they gave me a Bible."

Jesus was never reticent about talking about money, so I don't think its morbid at all. I think it's an incredible sense of genuine legacy – leaving behind something that goes on doing good. Salt that keeps on preserving, light that punches a whole in the darkness. Because we have an eternal perspective, we ourselves can go on enjoying what we have as it changes the lives of others.

If one of our readers hasn't yet written a will, why would you encourage them to do so?

The funny thing about writing a will, and I'm a lawyer so I understand this, is it almost acknowledges the fact that we are going to die. But the truth is we are, unless that remarkable event happens where Christ comes again, we are. Most of us will live longer than previous generations, but that day will come.  We think we're too young to do it, or once we've done it we can't change it, but of course you can. Just begin thinking and make a simple will. 

We of course own things, but ultimately they aren't ours. That sense of acknowledging that is an incredible concept.

I loved your book the Wisdom House. If you had to pass on just one piece of advice to your grandchildren, what would it be?

Because my greatest prayer for them is they would know faith, I'd want them to remember the parable of the prodigal son. You might end up in a pig's sty one day in life, but whatever you have done, you can always come home.

Quick fire questions:
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Rock 'n' roll singer
What's on your bucket list?
The only thing I really want to do that I've never done is write a novel.
What's your favourite worship song?
It's not a hymn because we sing it so much these days: When we've been there 10,000 years.

Have you considered paving the way for future generations with a gift in your will to the Evangelical Alliance? If you'd like to know more, visit our legacy page here, or ring Nicky Waters on 020 7520 3858.

To find out more about how leaving a gift to a church or Christian charity in your will can benefit future generations, visit www.christianlegacy.org.uk.