Several times a year I teach a Child Dedication class and one of my favorite parts of the class is embracing the tension between letting kids making their own choice and making some choices for them. In the class we cover Deuteronomy 6:4 and this tension lives in the part of the passage passage, “Impress them on your children.” What this verse unpacks for parents isn’t quite applicable for the parents of babies in the dedication class, but it’s a huge principle that parents need to carry with them as their kids grow.
In over 15 years of ministry I’ve seen some patterns emerge. There are almost always more 4 year olds than 9 year olds at your church. There are almost always more 9 year olds than 13 year olds and lastly, there are almost always more 13 year olds than 18 year olds. Why?
There are probably lots of answers to that question, but what I’ve found to be the answer is very simply, Kids just don’t want to go to church and parents don’t want to make them. I think that most parents mean well. They don’t want to force faith on their kids in fear that their kids will reject it.
So, what are parents to do when they face this situation?
Several months ago, Ruth Meyer from the blog truthnotes.com wrote a great post called “Why I would never force my kids to go to church.” She uses the very same examples I’ve been using in my Child Dedication classes for years. Kids don’t always understand what is best for them and they don’t have the wisdom (life experiences) to make certain decisions until their older.
- If my child doesn’t want to brush his teeth because he doesn’t like it… it doesn’t matter. I know better than he does. He’s going to brush his teeth.
- If my child doesn’t like school… it doesn’t matter. I know better than she does and it’s the law. She’s going to go to school.
- If my child doesn’t like vegetables… it doesn’t matter. I know that they are healthy and that there will be a day that his/her taste will change. We’ll keep tying them.
These things don’t make me a bad parent. They make me a good parent.
Church is no different. Kids will wake up and say they don’t want to go to church. They may be like this for months or maybe even years. It’s normal. Parents need to be encouraged to parent well through these phases. They know better and this is a time when they need to do what they know is best for their child.
Exception – I think there is space for an exception. If you’re forcing a child to attend a church that makes Jesus boring… then I’d maybe reconsider your church or see how you can help be the change to make ministry to kid and students relevant, exciting and relational.
Here’s a final thought from Ruth’s post:
Church isn’t a place you go to get pumped up about life. It isn’t entertainment like a movie or concert. It is literally a life and death matter. Eternal life. Just as a loving parent wouldn’t allow their child to wander in the road or to quit school, a loving Christian parent also does not give the option to their children about going to church, learning Bible stories at home, and praying together. Do your kids always jump for joy when they hear you say, “Time to get up! Let’s get ready for church!” No. They won’t. Do they get excited for school every morning? Hardly. But you still make them go. Why? Because you are the parent and you know what’s best. Even when they complain, you serve them healthful meals and limit their junk food intake. You set boundaries for their own safety when playing outside. You insist they go to school because you’re looking at the long term picture. And you are right to do those things. How much more so are you responsible for doing all you can to secure their eternal well being?
Communicate this to your parents. Encourage them. Cast this vision when they have babies, when their babies become preschoolers, when the preschoolers become elementary age, when the elementary aged kids become pre-teens and when the pre-teens become teenagers. Stick with it because this may be the only chance they get!
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This is just what I have been looking for to help “my kids” at church! Thank you!
This is complete indoctrination; parents should not be able to force their view upon their children or anyone else. Faith is a choice everyone should get to make, and by making that choice for them, you are decreasing their independence and intellectual ability. The part about its like brushing your teeth and going to school is ridiculous. Brushing your teeth is necessary to maintain good health and education is required to pursue a future. Religion is not a necessary component of living or being successful.
Thanks for forcing your opinion on us, Ian. 😉
Perfect reply Tony!
Ian with all love and respect there is nothing more important than knowing where are you going to spend eternity. But you can’t understand it because you can’t see your own sin and your desperate need of a saviour (Jesus) that we all have.
Yeah, except Ian’s opinion is that no parent should be able to claim what is philosophically or spiritually best for the kid. He’s right when he says no one disagrees as to whether or not veggies are good for you. There are way more counter examples of people outside your religion being more helpful and psychologically beneficial to society than many people who claim to judiciously adhere to it. He’s “forcing” an opinion saying no one is for sure correct; you are of the opinion that only your way could possibly be correct. I’m a college kid that was raised southern baptist and left the church for this and many other reasons, to give context of my POV.
Funny. I didn’t realize you were a child without agency? Maybe you are because you immaturely ignored the context of the comment and gave a taunting reply that was undeserved.
The worst hypocrisy is that you OWN this OPINION blog for the very purpose of “forcing” your opinion on others. Rather than arguing your counter-point you resort to base-less ridicule that is unprofessional and un-Christlike. Maybe you thought it was funny.
As for the post, I think that some christians are so afraid of their kids burning in hell that they don’t care about them being well-adjusted, caring and happy individuals – they’re okay making actual life miserable. They would rather raise anxious, fearful kids who are clones of themselves instead of modeling a moderate approach to religion.
This excessive control can backfire. Praying before every bite of food – shaming and looking down on those who don’t and going to church every seventh day are rituals and do not make you a good person. They can’t “save” your child as much as you’d like to cross a worry off your list. So parents can relax. Maybe show some mercy.
There are many reasons getting ready for church can be stressful to a kid so parents can work on making the prep smoother or special – like only eating the kids favorite meal AFTER church or cooking a filling breakfast. Sure it’s a transaction but so are many aspects of religion.
Forcing a kid, even a tween, to sit still in an adult service while the pastor drones on about boring or scary things they can’t process is abusive. What’s the point? Free babysitting? Appearances? Control? It’s better to find a well-run children’s program of some kind that teaches the values you want them to learn. It might not be a church.
Another reason for kids not wanting to go to church may be that they ALREADY attend religious school and have bible study every day plus church at school. Too much of a good thing is not insurance for Heaven – it’s a turnoff. There really are many variables for each family.
I hope you’ll consider being more considerate in your replies to comments in the position of authority the blog affords. It’s been 4 years so maybe you’ve had a change of approach.
Religious instruction precedes a choice about faith. If no instruction is given, no choice can be made. Having a relationship with God is truly living; no other success is all that meaningful.
It is almost as if religious options don’t exist without prior instruction. No one stumbles in to god, they have to be shown. The path did not exist before it was made my man.
It is intellectually dishonest to force children to believe in your own subjective instruction. Why take them to a christian church, instead of any othef? Why not a satanic church, or a Buddhist temple, or a Mosque? It isnt because you’re just teaching them to floss- it is the exact opposite notion. Teaching religion as truth to those who can not discern truth from lies, or objective from subjective, is just teaching bad habits of intellectual confusion/hypocrisy.
Teach them how to avoid logical fallacies rather than how to fall for them like their parents did.
The trend described in the article keeps going, by the by. The more educated one becomes, the less likely they are to fall for religious scams like your own.
Allow your fellow human time to think and develop, and they will likely never turn to religion- you said it yourself, Stephanie.
“Only chance they get”…do you really believe that? A heart breaking phrase for all heart broken parents of children who don’t want to go to church because they prayed for grandad to live but he died or the child who prayed daily for a beloved cousin to live a happy married life but then discovered that her cousin’s Christian husband was beating her.
There is a pain that Christian parents feel when life has hurt and broken their child’s heart and desire to seek after God. Your article did not help to bring healing and comfort to such a broken heart.
There are always exceptions to the rule and I’m so glad Jesus cares for that one …too.
Hello everyone. Just this Saturday evening last my boy and girl (14 and 13) told me that my religion was too strict and that the bible was a male contrivance designed to keep women repressed and they weren’t going to church anymore and so on. They have been exemplary churh going children for the last ten years. Mama (divorced) however has no time for faith and it upsets the two that she is not saved and all that goes with that. Therefore they throw in the towel. They used to go to church 3/4 w/e but now it is every alternate w/e. Pray that they wildesire to return to church soon.
If you disagree with the Christian faith, why bother to throw your two sense in to those who will not change their minds on it? I think you’re looking to clear your own conscience, but picking the wrong venue. To those who say Education will reduce the need for Religion, here is my response:
Funny. Up until the last, oh, 200 years or so, The opposite was thought to be true. Many of our great Scientists, Philosophers, mathematicians, etc, (For example, Newton, Pascal, Galilei) Thought that knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge, enhance their viewpoint and understanding of God, though none of them believed they could fully understand it.
Francis Bacon put it this way:
“God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
Even Charles Darwin, who at worst was an agnostic, said
“I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.” (Source, Huffington Post)
Recently, quantum and string Physics have been opening up eyes even more to the possibility of God. Dennis Zetting has used Quantum and String Physics to prove the antithesis of Atheism (there is no possibility of a God anywhere) by proving through both String and Quantum Physics that it is VERY plausible that God can exist, (Read the Quantum Case for God or go here: http://denniszetting.com/index.html). So is it intellectually demeaning to all parents not to force their child to go to church? I think so, because one way or the other (whether in faith or in philosophy) we’re indoctrinating our kids. We either teach them our faith, or teach them our philosophy. And yes, Atheism is a belief system, as sure as Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, and any other faith is a belief system. If one looks at 2018, one can see clearly that the absence of Parents holding their kids accountable (Which making your kids goes to church does, as does any other physical or philosophical points one’s family adopts), the break down of society, in which we now have adults who feel they are above the law (hence the public meltdowns, riots, etc.). I’m a FIRM believer in Christ, but removing God from the argument, families need standards. If you can’t let a family set its own standards (so long as it is not a physically abusive one), then you’ve intruded on a parents right to raise their children as they see fit. As a family, we go to church. As a family, we have good hygiene. As a family, we strive to do our best in academics, work, etc. Don’t look in to my family structure and force your ideals, as I certainly will not do the same to you.