by Michael Kelley
It’s been about 14 years since I’ve slept past 7 am on any single day, rain or shine, holiday or not. For all that time, it didn’t matter how late our kids were up; it didn’t matter how much we wore them out; it didn’t matter how dark their shades were in their rooms. They would wake up before 7 am.
Until this year. This year is different. As we have entered the teenage years, we’ve seen the amount of sleep on the steady increase. While that’s great in a sense – I certainly have enjoyed the couple of extra hours every now and then – I know it’s just a matter of time until the unintended consequence of sleeping late will pop up in the context of going to church on Sunday.
The wake up will be hard. The kids will complain. And they will no doubt declare, “I don’t want to go to church today.” Which leads to the question:
Should we, as parents force our children to go to church, even when they don’t want to?
Short answer? Yes. Absolutely.
But why should we do that? You could argue the opposite – that in making our children go to church we are actually turning them away from the church. They will grow up resenting this environment they had to go to week after week, even if they didn’t want to, and as soon as they get a little bit of freedom, they will abandon that practice forced upon them by their unrelenting parents.
So why should we if we are indeed running a risk like that? I’d argue these four reasons:
1. To teach the church’s purpose.
If we think the only reason we should go to church is our desire, then we are misunderstanding the reason for doing so at all. Of course, ideally we will want to go to church, but we go there not only because we want to – we go there because we need to. We are sinful, forgetful people. We go and meet with God’s people because we need to be reminded of who God is and His promises in the Bible. We need to be encouraged and held accountable for our Christian witness. And we need to participate in this for the sake of others, not just receive it from others.
2. To show the place of feelings.
If we don’t make our kids go to church because they don’t want to go to church, we are communicating to them that their feelings are their masters. And they are not… or at least they shouldn’t be. This is one of the ways we teach our children that we are led by faith, not by sight (or by feelings). We go because we believe this is the good and right and soul-nourishing thing to do, even if we don’t feel like it in the moment. Which leads to the third point…
3. To exercise your own faith.
Taking our children to church is a means of exercising our own faith. We trust that when we saturate our child in the things of God and the preaching of the gospel that something is going to get through. Eventually God is going to use those moments to bring about an awakening to the truth of faith in his or her life. We believe this, and therefore we act.
4. To feed the right appetite.
We trust that feeding a particular area of life makes it grow. We’ve all experienced this in a negative sense. Think about the escalation of drug addicts. I’ve heard that often addiction begins with experimentation and goes on from there – from something minor to something major. The appetite is fed, and as it is, it grows.
Or this one: It’s easy to sleep in one morning and not exercise. The next day it’s easier than the first day. And so it goes. We feed our laziness, and laziness feasts and grows fat.
Doesn’t it stand to reason the opposite would be true? When we discipline our children to go to church, we are, slowly but surely, feeding their appetite for godliness. It’s one spoonful at a time, to be sure, but in feeding it we are helping it grow.
Yes, parents, I believe we should make our children go to church. It will be a battle sometimes. But even as we do, we cannot trust that this attendance is a cure-all for the soul affliction of our children. We cannot outsource the evangelizing of our own families. So, yes, make them go. And yes, share the gospel with them before, during, and after, praying that the Holy Spirit would do His work of changing hearts.