A while back I read an article entitled: Why I Would Never Force my Kids to go to Church. Below is an excerpt from that article:
“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! Sauteed zucchini? 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.
“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 where 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.
“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.”
This was funny to me because as a pastor I hear these kinds of excuses often. What’s more serious, though, is that I hear them almost exclusively from Christians, not non-Christians. For some reason, there are some Christians that come to the conclusion they don’t need to physically come to church on any regular basis, nor do they need to encourage their children to participate in and learn from the community of faith, which is the church (assuming a non-forced, open-minded relationship between parents and children).
Let me be clear: I don’t think parents should force their children or teenagers to come to church in a militant, rule-bound way.
I also don’t think parents should apologize for bringing their children or teenagers to church or quit just because they don’t want to go either. It is all a matter of relationship (I think). As evidenced humorously above in the article, we as humans (both young and old) have to do things in life that we don’t necessarily want to always do.
Ideally, I think things should look like this:
If either one of my daughters doesn’t want to go to church anymore, I’m going to ask them why and we are going to have an open conversation about it. I am going to respect their opinions and thoughts and feelings. Why? Because they are an emerging autonomous human being. Need another why? Because God himself respects our opinions and thoughts and feelings. I am going to be intentionally engaging with their hearts, not just their behavior. Arguably, this shouldn’t happen just because one of my kids doesn’t want to go to church anymore. This should be how I engage with them all the time, so this develops a pattern of engaging with my girls (and other people as well!). My bias will be toward continuing to encourage them to engage with church (Sunday morning gathering as well as youth group) in order to think through the why they don’t necessarily want to. It becomes a matter of learning who they are and what they think in a context where they might disagree but then as a family we can talk about that after each meeting at church as they want.
While I wouldn’t want to force my kids to do anything, what I do want them to do is not quit easily because something is hard and quit engaging just because they might disagree.
Once my kids are older high school students (junior or senior) and if they have engaged actively as I have described above and still desire to not go to church anymore and stop engaging because they don’t want to anymore, then I will no longer “make” them go, but will let them make their own decisions about that (because as soon as they leave the nest, they are going to be making their own decisions anyway). My desire will always be to maintain relationship and engage with my two girls, no matter if they attend church and follow Jesus or not. While I believe they should and following Jesus will greatly impact their life for the better and ultimately make sense of our human condition, I can’t make them believe that, I can only hope, pray and give space. But I will always engage lovingly with them on these matters and allow them to make their own decisions.
This isn’t a rule-bound approach to church and engaging in faith… it’s more of a relationally-centered, going after the heart way of engaging church and thus faith.