Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Keeping Kids in Church

WAY back in 2009, when I was the mom of one feisty 2 year old and a 4 month old, I wrote a post about children in church.  Now I'm the mom of a know-it-all 6 year old, a painfully stubborn 4 year old and a cute, but manipulative 2 year old.  Almost 4 years later the original post is still accurate, but I feel the need to add to it.

I wrote that article to shed light to what parents of small children go through in church and encourage them to keep going.  I was also telling myself to keep trucking along.  I have to report that it does get easier.  Gus didn't throw nearly as many fits, or have to be taken out as often as John.  And Anders, well, he's just Anders and he does things his way.  He's been somewhere in the middle.  I may not fully hear every sermon, but I hardly ever have to leave in the middle of church.  My former troublemaker John even follows along with the service and sings the liturgy and hymns with gusto and a very passionate vibrato.  This makes for one happy mom.

But as my children grow and I become more aware of other people and families than just the three little guys sitting next to me, I realize that it's not as smooth sailing from here as I thought it would be. I'm finding that children as young as 1st grade are enrolled in sports and leisure activities that take place on Sunday mornings.  And while I can't much fault the parents that have never been in church for making such a horrible decision, I can ask the parent who does attend church, 'Do you realize what you're teaching your kids?'

If you ask many regularly attending seniors in your average congregation, they'll tell you that their grown children don't attend church.  While some Christians like to blame an increasingly immoral and unchristian society for this decline, I would venture to guess that many of the adults that do not regularly attend church were never taught, through word or action, that church is important. When we as parents allow our kids to miss church for games or competitions, we are teaching our children that those things are more important.  And while we may initially tell ourselves that this is a one time occurrence, it more often than not becomes the norm.  Even in my small and relatively conservative area, there are at least 3 organizations I know of that regularly hold sporting events every Sunday morning.  The saddest part about this is that I really think if all of the church-going families would take a stand and say that their children would not attend events until after church, then most organizations would accommodate.  Parents don't mind making a big stink about something when it comes to their kids' best interest.  If they think their children are being shorted on playing time or being unfairly treated by coaches, they will not give up trying to right those wrongs.  But when the schedule denies their children the ability to hear God's word on Sunday morning, apparently that's not something worth making a big stink about.

I want my kids to be able to pursue their dreams.  If John's goal is to become a pro-golfer, then I will support him in every way I can.  But I want to support him in the right way.  I want to support him by teaching him that certain things are more important than golf, that we would have nothing without God.  I want him to know that the first commandment says "You shall have no other gods."  And that means that golf, dance, sleep, practice, games, hanging out with friends, vacation, and the world's biggest sale all come after we put God first.

Parents often think that, since kids are young, they can do these other things now and start attending church later.  They have plenty of time to get involved in church next season or next year.  That is such a farce!  If you, as their parent, protector, provider, and teacher don't tell them and show them how important church is now, how can you expect them to suddenly know that church is important when they become adults?

The next time you gather your children together on Sunday morning to attend your son's football game, or daughter's dance recital, remember the elderly couples in congregations that constantly struggle with sadness that their children no longer attend church.  There is a better way.  And while there are no guarantees that your children will never turn away from the Gospel, teaching them early and often that church is important will help to mold your child and their faith.

And if they do still turn away, as so many have, remember that we have a Good Shepherd who never stops searching for His lost lambs, no matter how long or how far they've strayed.

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