Theology 101

A Conversation About Launching Your Kids Well

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Editor’s Note: Russell Gehrlein was a guest on the radio program, Mornings with Eric and Brigitte, a Moody Radio program on August 15, 2023. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety here.

BRIGITTE (host): Well, it is that time of year. Not only are our kids going back to school, but many are being launched into a whole new career. They’re going into college or the workplace, and that can be a difficult time for families. So we’re gonna take a look at lessons learned from launching our children off to college with Russ Gehrlein. He’s a former youth pastor, high school teacher, Army master sergeant, and author of Emmanuel Labor. Russ, good morning, thanks for joining us.

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: Good morning, Brigitte. Good morning, Eric. So glad to be with you this morning. 

ERIC (host): Yeah, as I was reading through this article you wrote, one thing you kind of brush up against—you don’t go too deeply into—but I think it’s important to note that this launching really starts at an early age. It’s part of the parenting process from the very beginning, isn’t it?

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: Oh, absolutely! You know, when you think about it, kids are leaving their parents from the moment they’re born. And it’s a very difficult thing to do, and eighteen years just go by in a flash. 

BRIGITTE (host): In your article you had three main points. One is why it’s actually good that tearing away, that leaving is good—eventually, when it’s the right time. But you then offer some insights on how parents can prepare not only for themselves but the siblings. And lastly where God is in that transition. So let’s start with why it’s good when it feels so hard, right?

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: I think parents just have to cooperate with God as they’ve been doing. Your children are precious, but yet, they’re God’s children as well and he has great plans for them. I totally believe that! And I believe that the vocational process starts at a young age. Where God gives these children of ours skills and talents and aptitudes and interests that develop over time and experiences. And they just need to get out into the workforce and start using them. 

ERIC (host): So how does this help them developmentally? Preparing for it and then actually launching them?

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: I think it’s just a natural step in the transition. It’s easy for parents to want to hang on to it and just kinda let it happen. But I think God gives parents a responsibility to nudge those little birdies out of the nest. In some cases the parents aren’t ready, and in other cases the kids aren’t ready. But parents still have to take that step and launch them out.

Theologically, when we’re adults, we just need to have an attitude of moving out and putting ourselves out there. The illustrations that Jesus used, the parables, he talked about the city set on a hill, going out there and letting our light shine and not keeping it under a bushel. That may mean just stepping out in faith in a lot of different ways. That may be starting out on a career, going to school, starting out having a family. I was talking to a guy who not only met his wife in college forty (plus) years ago, but all three of my kids met their spouse in college or grad school. So it’s a step of faith to allow God to work.

BRIGITTE (host): So yeah, there’s that developmental and theological need. But for so many kids, it’s their parents’ faith at first. But this is really a time where it has to become their own, isn’t it?

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: It is, it is. And I remember when my mom dropped me off at Colorado State University in the Fall of ‘76 and I was by myself. It was just, “Okay, Lord. It’s just you and me.” And I had to lean on him. I had to develop my faith. I had to reach out. Within 24 hours, I met my first Christian brother and sister, sitting around on a Friday night having fellowship with them, and getting involved in campus ministries. And this was not a Christian school, it was a public university.

Again, God is sovereign and God was with me very much so from day one. I want to see kids do that. It’s just time. They can’t stay home, they can’t stay a child forever. You’ve gotta take on adult responsibilities. It’s just time to step out in faith and rely on the Lord.

ERIC (host): I guess one thing as a parent though, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your connection with your child, it doesn’t mean that you have lost influence with that child. It’s just different, right?

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: You’re right, and that’s a great word. We’re not fired from a job—although some parents look at it that way. Looking back on my own experience and my wife’s experience, our parents were grateful that we moved out. It was just a matter of, “Hey, I’m done. I did my time. I gave them eighteen years and now they’re on their own.” But I think most parents are not like that, especially Christian parents. We didn’t come from Christian families, but we’re a first generation Christian family so it was absolutely essential that we keep that connection. And now it’s so easy to do with texting and social media and video chats and everything else.

We made the most of those opportunities, like Parents Weekends in the Fall, Homecoming, and college visits—bringing the kids there and seeing them in their location. It’s so important to visit them as well as looking forward to them coming home.

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