Why I Struggle to Get My Kids to Church
Your Sunday Morning Marathon
Believe it or not, even pastors struggle to get their kids to church. For me, it’s not optional, but that doesn’t make it easy.
First of all, why do they always sleep in on Sundays? The one day we have to leave early? As if the routine isn’t difficult enough:
Wake up. Put on clothes. Brush hair. Brush teeth. Shed tears over a dress that’s done a Houdini act. Search for shoes because my son’s favorite Saturday pastime is hiding them. Feed them food so they don’t try to eat volunteers. Negotiate who rides in which car (my wife and I have to drive separately).
And all of this before 7:50 a.m.
Even if we manage to get our kids out the door, the craziness doesn’t stop once we arrive.
Check-ins. Weeping over sprinkle-less donuts. Oh, and trying to do this while smiling and having convivial conversations with all the friendly passersby. Hopefully no one notices that I’m dragging my 5-year-old to her class with a death grip that would make Darth Vader proud.
This is to say nothing of the manifold excuses my wife Emily and I concoct to leave them home.
Did Iris just cough? They’ll all think she has COVID. Better stay home. Does Oliver have a runny nose? Who will judge us for making them sick? Last week everyone got sick! Is it really worth another cold?
My kids are 5 and 2. I’m already worried about how age will only make things worse. What if we have an event the night before? What if club sports require travel? What if my kids hate church and start fighting it (okay, that one already happened briefly)?
My guess is you can relate.
I’m not here to make you feel guilty. I’m right there with you. My goal is not to scold but to walk you through what I tell myself when I’m caught in these moments.
What Would a Demon Want?
Okay, maybe I’m weird, but sometimes I imagine that I’m a character in C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters. In it, a senior demon advises a junior demon how to keep their “patient” from Jesus.
So how would a demon advise a fellow demon working on a parent as their patient?
Here’s what I imagine,
Always make sure that the children wake up irritated. It helps to hide things they want or keep them up late the night before. As the child cries, gently guide the patient’s mind toward the worst memories of the previous Sunday. Console their guilt by reminding them that it’s been a tough week—doesn’t he deserve another day off this weekend?
Now, of course, it’s always best to prepare ahead of time. For example, if you can schedule a soccer tournament over the weekend, the patient will fear setting their child back. If you can continually get them to skip church out of a sense of love and devotion to their kids, then you’ve struck gold.
This reminds me of another strategy: if they do make it to church, be sure to infect the child with some nefarious virus. Not only will the parent suffer a few sleepless nights caring for it—which inevitably breaks the will—but they’ll also be more susceptible to the logic of care, “I can’t let little Johnny get sick again!”
Here is what is most important: you must never allow them to feel a sense of responsibility for their child’s spiritual life.
Tell them they have far greater responsibilities: to nurture their athletics, their health, their school, or anything else other than Jesus. And, under no circumstances, allow the parent to consider long-term consequences. Do not let them imagine their child’s spiritual state in 5 or 10 years. You MUST keep them focused on the moment they are in!
Who Should Develop Your Child Spiritually?
Nerds interested in the cultural world around the time of the Old Testament will tell you that the OT has a strange obsession with children.
Parents were expected to teach children the law of Yahweh (Ps. 78:5), to guide them in wisdom (Prov. 6:20), to develop their characters (Prov. 29:15), and to inculcate a love of God above all else (Deut. 6:4-7).
No other cultures at the time did this. Children were largely ignored until they were old enough to contribute to the family’s wealth.
But not Israelite children. They were developed.
So, perhaps, it’s no surprise that the first “public” schools in the world, open to all people, not just the elite, were in Jewish communities like the one Jesus grew up in.
Jesus continued this strange practice by—much to his own disciples’ chagrin—teaching children and caring for them (Matt. 19:14). There is little doubt that when he commanded his disciples to make disciples, he intended them to begin by focusing on their own children.
Without Jesus, we would not have schooling in the west, nor would we have anything like “Sunday School” in the church.
Unfortunately, a bizarre side-effect of living downstream culturally from Jesus is that our robust educational resources lead parents to the misconception that their child’s development is someone else’s job.
My dad was a high school administrator, and nothing exasperated him more than parents who thought of teachers as state-funded surrogate parents. He would always say, “No, you’re the parent. Be one.”
What Would Jesus Say to You About Parenting?
I wonder what Jesus would say to me? Because the truth is, I sometimes expect my child’s spiritual development to happen by magic.
It does not. God has given me the responsibility of developing my child,
“Teach [my words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
I need to be reminded of this all the time. It’s one of my highest and most honorable callings.
So perhaps it’s no surprise my flesh and the powers of darkness want me to neglect it?
Taking your kid to church is just the tip of the parental iceberg. It’s a start. A basic minimum. Because if you don’t do that, your kids will learn who-knows-what about Jesus from their friends and from public schools.
But more importantly: if Jesus really is your savior, what could be more important than sharing him with your kids?
If Jesus really is most satisfying, what could be more important than sharing that satisfaction with your kids?
Again, I’m not guilting anyone. That would be absurd. I’m in the same fight every day. But I’ve decided to start that fight in one small place:
If my kids are going to be surrounded by non-Jesus content and messages 7 days a week, shouldn’t I at least give them an hour to hear the truth?
The struggle is real! But do you find yourself struggling in other areas, too? Mentally? Physically? Spiritually? Here are four signs that show that the pandemic has taken a toll on your faith.