As a church planter and a father it can be easy to fall prey to a nagging fear. How will my children’s experience of church affect their faith as they mature into adulthood? I remember my own growing resentment to church and the faith struggle that caused. Will that happen to my own kids?
Raising children in the Christian faith is never easy. There are distinct challenges to raising kids in a culture which does all it can to weaken and loosen ties not by confrontation but by distraction. As parents we want our children to love Christ and that requires discipline (on our part not on theirs). I need the constant reminder that for them to love Christ it would help if they see me love Christ. Similarly if I want them to love the church, it helps if they see me do that too.
Now you might think that as a church planter that of course I love the church and I do. Yet love may not be what my children see. They may see service, they may see burden, they may see resentment (it happens) but will they see love? There’s nothing wrong with these other aspects forming part of their understanding: that we serve the church; that it can be a burden but Christ helps us carry it and so on. But Jesus loves His bride and so should we.
Ricky Alcantar reflected on how his parents taught him to love the church and some of the messages we send our children by the choices we make (especially the ones we make on Sunday morning). His key point is this:
If we tell our kids one thing about the church and undermine it with our time, they’re sharp enough to get the message. So what are you preaching about the church to your kids? What is your time preaching to them?
If your church struggles to keep its young people, instead of looking at the youth pastor or the programmes of the church, study the habits of the parents – especially when it comes to skipping church. Ouch. As Carl Trueman says,
The church is losing its young people because the parents never taught their children that it was important. I think that applies across the board. It applies to family worship, and it also applies to whether you are in church every Sunday and what priority you demonstrate to your children church has on a Sunday. If the sun shines out and their friends are going to the beach, do you decide to skip church and go to the beach? In which case, you send signals to your children that it is not important.
But, don’t despair and don’t submit to legalism. Kids are also smart enough to know exceptions from patterns.
Sunday attendance can be especially difficult for families where one only one parent is a believer. Church leaders should be mindful of context before they drop the hammer on parents about Sunday church attendance.
A narrow focus on Sunday attendance also raises questions about our understanding of the nature of church. I’m all for families prioritising showing up when the church gathers but we need to be careful. Just as what we do signals a message to our children, our actions as leaders can signal the idea that church is an event that takes place on a Sunday or is a meeting to attend and a duty to fulfil.
Prioritising worship with the fellowship of the saints is important but it’s not the only way a parent can model their love for the church. Hospitality, friendship, participating and involving the children in the mission of the church, how we pray for the church throughout the week all help form and shape the idea that we love the bride of Christ and so should they.
By all means, and I mean that, show up when the church gathers, but by all means, love the church when it has scattered too.