By Todd Hill
On Sunday Night, April 2, Angelo and Barbara Juliani came and spoke to a group of about 100 NLD youth group students and their parents. It was especially profound for me, knowing that they had laid the foundation in the New Life youth ministry nearly 30 years earlier. Being fairly new to the New Life churches myself, I am quite intrigued by this family that began the church that later sent Ron Lutz out to plant what is now New Life Dresher.
If you don’t know, Barbara is Jack and Rose Marie Miller’s daughter. While Jack and Rose Marie have left a legacy of Christ-centered ministry, their story is not an easy one. This became evident to me a couple of months ago as I read Jack’s book, Come Back Barbara. The book chronicled a very messy, as well as redemptive, story of Barbara choosing to turn her back on the faith of her parents. Jack painted the picture of the roller-coaster experience of walking with Barbara, and later Angelo, as they angrily walked away from the faith. Spoiler alert! The story climaxes with a powerful work of the Holy Spirit as He rescues both Barbara and Angelo for His Kingdom!
Parents and students alike sat and contemplated Barbara’s challenge to us as she shared both her story and her parents’, hearing examples of failure and faith. We were all confronted with the reality that growing up in a Christian home does not necessarily lead to a genuine faith in Jesus. The parents were humbled hearing of the pitfalls of managing our children’s behavior as a means of shaping them to simply “look like Christians.”
I asked the Julianis how they might respond to a student who finds himself uncertain if he believes the faith of his parents. Their basic response: Find someone safe to talk to about your questions and doubts. If you don’t feel safe talking to your parents about it, then go to a youth leader or another adult in the church to process.
Then I asked them how parents should respond if their child is rejecting Christianity. They told parents that they need to be careful not to articulate that the rules of the house equal Christianity. Rules are necessary, but they should not be spiritualized in such a way that their child equates their faith as a list of moralistic rules to be followed. They also encouraged parents to be sure that their child has an opportunity to process with a youth leader or another adult in the church.
Lastly, I was grateful for Barbara and Angelo’s transparency in sharing that they have had their own challenges in raising their children. While they thought they would be able to fix all of the mistakes their parents had made, they humbly experienced the mess of raising children. They acknowledged it was really hard. However, as Angelo prayed a prayer of blessing over the parents in closing off the night, it was clear that the only hope that we have as parents is in Jesus’ power and redemption that He provides for all of life.