A reader of this blog posed this question on the Facebook page, because her boys – ages 10, 12 and 15 – are uninterested in church. It’s a very important question that I wanted to address with this post.
At the risk of trivializing the question itself, I’m going to offer a brief rationale for my own answer and then provide an alternative question which I think is more at the heart of the issue.
A home is like a microcosm of society. There are laws (requirements for living there) and freedoms (options you have while living there). Each society/family sets its own laws based on what it feels is most important for its members. The laws a society/family chooses reflect its core values. As Christian parents, a core value to impart to kids should be that God comes first in our lives. Part of acknowledging that is going to church each week. By classifying church attendance as a law and not a freedom, we are making a statement that God’s priority is a core value in our home. Parents generally don’t care whether a child wants an education or not in determining that going to school is a household “law”; likewise, parents shouldn’t care whether a child is interested in faith or not in determining that going to church is a “law”. Christian parents should not feel church is any different than any other parental choice when declaring, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
That said, required church attendance has to be a rule made for the reason stated here (a statement about family priorities) and not because the parents assume it means children will become believers from it, that they will come to salvation from it or that they will even be spiritually changed by it. Church is not a spiritual “cure all”. If your children don’t want to go to church, there is a much more important question to ask:
WHY don’t your children want to go to church?
The answer to this question is your gateway to impacting the spiritual life of your kids much more than how you go about physically getting them to church.
Perhaps an immediate answer comes to mind. “They just want to do other things,” or “They think it’s boring.” These answers, however, are really symptomatic of a child’s underlying beliefs about God and his/her relationship to God. Those beliefs must be identified.
I would break underlying beliefs into two categories: 1) They don’t believe in God or 2) They believe in God but don’t think church is important.
1. They don’t believe in God.
Perhaps your child is saying “I want to stay home and play video games” but what he/she really means is “I don’t really believe all this God stuff,” and doesn’t want to tell you (maybe he/she hasn’t even identified that consciously yet). What they need most is to have conversations with you about God. They need to know it’s OK to doubt, and that you are willing to talk to them about those doubts. It might be intimidating to be the one who has to present the case for God’s existence, but if you aren’t going to be that person in your child’s life, who will?
(Need help teaching your kids why there is good reason to believe God exists and Christianity is true? Check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.)
2. They believe in God but don’t think church is important.
It’s not enough to say that church is unimportant – again, we have to understand the underlying premise to address the spiritual issue. Consider these three possibilities:
a. I believe in God but I don’t believe He’s really involved in my life (therefore church doesn’t matter).
Theologically, this is referred to as “Deism” – the belief that there is a God, and He probably set this world in motion, but isn’t really involved with the world or our personal lives today. From a spiritual standpoint, this isn’t much different than not believing in God in the first place. Even if your child is saying, “Yes, I believe in God, I just don’t want to go to church . . . “ don’t take it at face value. What does your child believe about God? You might be surprised what you find out; it might not be much different than not believing in God at all (see the first category above).
b. I believe in God and believe he cares about my life, but I don’t believe he cares if we go to church.
The reasons Christians should go to church would be the topic for a whole book, but if I could point to a single reason, it would be that Jesus set the example for us. Luke 4:16 says (about Jesus), “…on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (emphasis added). If Jesus thought weekly church was important, so should we. Are we in a position to decide that church is not necessary for us when it was necessary for Jesus?
Without going into significant detail on this giant sub-topic, it must be addressed here that church is first and foremost for God (yes, the Bible is clear God wants us to worship). Most people who have the attitude that “God doesn’t care about church” are seeing the value of church in terms of what it gives to them. While church is absolutely necessary for us as well in terms of spiritual growth and fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, James 5:16, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:5), church must be seen as being for God’s glory. Timothy Keller, in his book, “The Reason for God,” eloquently addresses this:
“But wait,” you say. “On nearly every page of the Bible God calls us to glorify, praise, and serve him. How can you say he doesn’t seek his own glory?” Yes he does ask us to obey him unconditionally, to glorify, praise, and center our lives around him. But now, I hope, you finally see why he does that. He wants our joy! He has infinite happiness not through self-centeredness, but through self-giving, other-centered love. And the only way we, who have been created in his image, can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves.
c. I believe in God, believe he cares about my life, and believe he wants me to go to church, but I don’t want to go to this church because (any number of reasons).
There may be a very real reason why your children want to avoid your specific church. Maybe they don’t fit in with the other kids; maybe there is a disconnect between them and the pastor or youth leader; maybe there are too few other kids their age and they feel isolated; the reasons are infinite. If it’s a legitimate, overarching issue, it would be reasonable to seek another church out of respect for the faith development of your kids.
The bottom line is this: The underlying reason for kids not wanting to go to church shouldn’t change your “law” that they have to go, but that reason should be searched for in order to best determine how to guide them spiritually at home.
What do you think? Should you force kids to go to church? Is there an age at which they should have a “say” in the matter?