“My parents forced me to eat three times a day growing up. No joke. Three times. Every. Single. Day. And it wasn’t always stuff I liked, either. Matter of fact, I complained a lot about what my mom made. ‘Ewww, gross! Meatloaf? Seriously? Mom you know we hate this stuff!’ So as I approached adulthood I made an important decision. Since my parents forced me to eat while I was growing up, I decided I was done with meals. Oh, here and there I’ll eat out of obligation. I mean, family traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, yeah, I’m there. But daily eating? No way. I’m done.
Set in any other context, excuses people make for not going to church sound completely ridiculous. But set in the context of Christianity, people say these things in all seriousness while others nod sagely in somber agreement.
My son told me a few weeks into school that he didn’t like the teacher. He wasn’t getting excited enough about learning, and he didn’t really feel connected to the other kids in his class, so I told him he never had to go back to school again. Who wants to waste their time going somewhere they aren’t being fulfilled?
We’ve never forced our daughter to stay off the road when playing. We don’t want to restrict her imagination. We allow her the freedom to make her own choices in life.”
– Ruth Meyer
Now maybe the above analogies sound ridiculous. I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “No loving parent would let their kids decide whether to go to school or not, and they definitely wouldn’t let their kid play in traffic. That’s endangering their lives. It’s a matter of life or death.” And that is exactly the point. This is a matter of life or death for your child. Eternity is at stake.
In our family, church is a non-negotiable, even for my kids. It’s a non-negotiable because we understand that how we raise our children, and what we teach them (or don’t teach them) about Jesus carries eternal consequences. And as parents, we have a responsibility to share with them what God has done in our lives through the love of Jesus. So we read the Bible together at night and we pray together. We go to church. We talk about God at home and in the car and at the park. Will they always be excited about getting up and going to church? I hope so, but I doubt it. But regardless, my wife and I still make them go because we are their parents and we know what’s best for them. And so, when they complain we will tell them why gathering together with other believers is a non-negotiable. Just like when they complain that we serve them healthy meals we explain why we eat vegetables and not just cake. We take them to school every morning; no matter how much they complain or bellyache. And we explain why school is so important. We set boundaries and limits while they are playing outdoors. My kids know to look both ways when they cross the street, not because we said so, but because to do otherwise means possibly being hit by a car. We do these things because we love them and we are looking at the long-term outcome, not what will make them happiest in any given moment.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
– Proverbs 22:6
Will all of that ensure that they turn out to be the model upstanding citizens that my wife and I hope? No. It’s even possible for children to be brought up in a loving Christian home and still turn away from Jesus later. That is out of our control. As parents, our responsibility is to teach our children about the world and about God. We teach them how God created this world perfectly. We teach them how the world became broken through that first sin of Adam and Eve. When their own brokenness shows itself, we point it out, and then we point to the One who came to heal that brokenness; Jesus. And they are never too young to begin learning these things. Each of our children learned to pray while still in highchairs. Our responsibility as Christian parents is about so much more than just taking our kids to church on Sunday mornings.
To say, as a parent, “I won’t force my kids to go to church. I’ll let them decide on their own.” sounds so enlightened. But it’s the most dangerous thing a parent could say. It would be safer for you to let your children play on the highway in rush hour traffic than to let them decide whether or not they wanted to go to church. One of those options carries temporary consequences (if you let your child play on the highway in rush hour traffic they will die), and the other carries potential eternal consequences.
Church isn’t just one good choice among many. Church isn’t a building. Church, properly understood, is the body of Christ; the gathering of believers in a specific place. And as such, it is a place where we all belong. We are all equally sinful before God and equally in need of a Savior. Church isn’t just a place you go to. It’s not a place that you go to feel better about yourself. It’s not entertainment. Its purpose is not to give you ten easy steps to fix your marriage. Church is the gathering of believers to receive what God has come to give in Jesus.
Jesus himself said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” – Matthew 18:20
So when we come together as the body of Christ, the Church, we confess our sins. My kids will know that. Then, having confessed our brokenness and need, we hear those great and unfathomable words of forgiveness. We hear that, though our sins are many, and we in no way deserve grace, that God in Jesus has forgiven us. We hear God’s word spoken to us as Scripture is read, and we speak those words to each other through various parts of the service. We sing songs and hymns praising and proclaiming what Jesus has done for us. We hear sermons that proclaim the good news of forgiveness in Jesus and I want my kids to know that good news.
Don’t give up and don’t give in to those outside voices that tell you how much more important sleep, or schoolwork, or band, or sports, or anything may be than coming together for worship each week. Instead, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
(Check out http://truthnotes.net/2014/03/24/why-i-would-never-force-my-kids-to-go-to-church/ for Ruth Meyer’s article).
About the Author: James Uglum is a follower of Jesus, a husband to his beautiful wife Jaime, and father of three adventurous kids. He is also a pastor, coach, and avid runner. God is always at work around us. The joy and adventure comes in discovering what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. James writes at DirtyHands.Wordpress.com.