Exit Strategy

Why Churches and Families Should Have Rites-of-Passage

Written by: Lacy Evans

When my 16 year-old son announced he was leaving (To go live with his biological father), the pain and disappointment were beyond words. Every fiber of my soul wanted to keep him with me. I devised a million ways to convince him to stay but he was, in his heart, already gone. There was no way to keep him so I looked to God for perspective.

I had no idea that the study would lead to a truth that is applicable to both families and churches.

There is a beautiful example of how a parent can correctly handle the transition from childhood to adulthood, in the story of the Prodigal son.

The father in the Prodigal Son story, without restraint, and without hesitation allowed his prodigal to leave. In fact he prepared him for the journey by not refusing him his (early) inheritance.

Why did he give him his cut? What did this assistance mean? What purpose did it serve, and how did it all play out?

The elder son, “Owned” the farm. He wasn’t leaving! He shared the vision. He shared the financial risks and rewards. The Older brother’s circumstances allowed him to be “all in”.

But that younger son knew that that farm wasn’t his. He knew that eventually he’d have to get his own. “Younger sons” as they approach maturity, begin to feel lost and restless. Their normally very bright and discerning souls figure out very quickly that “all the spots are filled” where they are now.

I remember back a few years when I was in a very close-knit independent chruch with a very charismatic leader. I had felt the call of God on me since a young age and knew that eventually my place would be elsewhere. In that sense I was a “younger son”. I enjoyed the “family”, but knew I couldn’t stay forever. The leadership was very resistant to my leaving, and ultimately I left on very bad terms without their (family) blessing. As a matter of fact there were a few curses placed on me about how I would eventually backslide and be eaten by wolves for leaving the fold. Exit Out

This Church had no Exit Strategy. As other blessed saints felt led to leave that church, the story was always the same. Leaving was always seen as a rebellious act of forsaking the assembly. Not one person, that I know of, ever left that church (From the pastor’s perspective) with a “biblical reason”. None were ever sent out with the pastor’s confidence and in faith that God would be with them on their journey to the far off country. While I am certainly unqualified to judge every instance I do know that some left and went on to mightily serve God in their callings. I also know that with very few exceptions, none went back. Most won’t even visit because of the manipulative treatment surrounding their exit.

The ones who remained are the elder sons. They have built a great life for themselves. But those “younger sons” who share for a time but never really “Possess” their own place in the system, are always always restless because the call of God is upon them in another place, and unless there is an EXIT Strategy, the only way the break can occur is through an act of rebellion. The Father had an exit strategy and that exit strategy was deliberate and purposeful.

More importantly, with no exit strategy, there is no bridge back

Bitterness is a hard bag to unpack, and an even harder one to carry. A proper rite-of-passage, that acknowledges the “younger son’s” free will, expresses confidence in both his gifts and in the great Giver-of-Gifts, will “pack his bag” with courage, desire, and a direction home when the pigs are hungry.

A young person as they become an adult must find their own “religion”, their own faith, their own personal relationship with God. They cannot exist or ever thrive on their parents faith. And this makes the “Far off country” of the parable an absolute necessity. Sometimes God turns rebellion on it’s head when the story is finally told Often rebellion manifests itself as having really been latent creativity and unexpressed drive to know for myself what God has FOR ME!!! Separation from the Father is a vital part of the story. The far off country is the only place (The NECESSARY place) that we all have to go in order for our faith to be real faith. Faith can only occur in the land of free will. The prodigal has to “get his own.”

The call on that boys life, his pearl of Great price, is buried in a far off field. Pastor! Parent! If he doesn’t go discover and buy it for himself he will be a miserable soul “sitting on the outside and standing on the inside” for the rest of his life!

The giving of the inheritance was vital too. I don’t think the boy could have ever come home without it. I don’t think he would have ever been emotionally prepared to repent. It served several purposes.

Here is what I think it did.

First, it beautifully and lovingly expressed to the son that the Father believed in him. That the father had CONFIDENCE that the boy would do great! That he was good enough, smart enough, talented enough, a wonderful enough kid, that he would be ok. Admittedly “OK” was a process, but IT IS ALWAYS a process. If a boy knows his parents (especially his mama) believe in him he can accomplish almost anything!

God the Father basically pays our way to the “Far Off Country”, knowing and hurting from the separation, but also rejoicing with confidence that Grace only exists there where the boy by his own free will can choose, for himself, to come home.

The second thing the Inheritance does is serve as a bridge back to fellowship. Most of us will never go back to that church. (Rarely even to visit) We are too hurt. The bridges were burnt. And whether intentional or as a result of imprudent carelessness, the practical message (from that particular “father”) was, “If you leave you can never come back!”

The “younger son” needs the parent’s blessing. Not on the mistakes he will make. But he needs to know that we Pastors / parents believe in him and that trust him. That is his inheritance, That is the very thing that will allow him to come back. (Maybe not back like we would hope, although probably back in ways that will astound us by just how intricately perfect the Father had it all laid out for him)

The cool thing is that we usually don’t have to manufacture that praise and confidence. We believe already that he will be fine. We are hurt and scared but deep down we know that boy is going do great things!!! He needs to know that.

This is why cultures have elaborate rites-of-passage traditions. “Stay or rebel” is no choice for a boy with his mind made up. The prodigal’s Father knew that. So he changed the game. Took “rebel” away as a choice. Gave him his inheritance with full confidence, and hope, trust, and Love.

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