Children. Fewer topics can stir up more emotion than that of children. How do you raise them? How do you educate them? How do you discipline them? And nothing, I mean nothing, gets people more fired up than if someone tells what they should or shouldn’t do with their children!
Well, in a round-about way, I am going to tell you to stop doing something that relates specifically to your children. Stop going to church for your children. Notice, I didn’t say stop going to church with your children. We have to stop going to church for our children. There is a big difference.
Who Goes To Church For Their Children?
There are two kinds of people that go to church for their children, and both have their own unique issues. First, you have generally uninvolved people who go to church for their children. We have all heard the stories, maybe even some of us have lived it. A young man or woman lives a life generally disconnected from the Christian life. Maybe they went to church as a kid, slipped out as teen, “sowed some wild oats” in college, got a job, got in a relationship, likely got married, and now, bearing down heavy on 30-something, they have a child to care for. What do we do? What will be best? “I know,” this person says to him or herself – “I will start going (or going back) to church.” The person remembers some of the good things from their own childhood about the experience. Maybe they have been encouraged by someone in their family to “give it another try.” They really don’t have any sort of spiritual interest of their own, but it would be good for the kiddo, so let’s give it a shot. While there are some amazing stories of people being converted, transformed, and deeply connected within the body because of this scenario, that is the exception, not the rule. What is typical? The person never gets all that connected…it is all about their child. As such, they set an example with word and deed of the unimportance of church-life. As the child grows, truth is “caught more than taught” and they often become disengaged and disillusioned as well. The parent or parents disconnect, the child eventually does too, and the cycle may or may not repeat itself when grandchildren arrive. Or, even worse, the generally uninvolved mom or dad sticks around, just enough to burden those around them with their overall spirit of disconnectedness.
The second example is actually much more subtle, but (in my opinion) far more dangerous. Let’s imagine we have a young couple that is spiritually minded. They were active in church life as kids, stayed the course through college, sought good counsel as they moved toward marriage, and now have been blessed with a little bundle of joy to take care of. What now? What so often happens in this case? Questions begin to be asked of the church that were never a concern for these two before. “What is the nursery like? Is it safe? Who works back there?” As more children arrive and the littlest ones start to grow, the questions move to activities, what is taught in Sunday school, etc. Church life becomes filtered through the lens of “what is best for my child.” Many people then go on a hunt to find churches in their area that have what they deem to be the best possible circumstances for their child’s well-being. This group goes to church for their children just as much as the first one. Yet, the long reaching effects are far more detrimental than the first.
Why Is Going To Church For Your Kids So Bad?
Here is why the second group is far more dangerous than the first. In the first scenario, the spiritual shallowness and emptiness is apparent and obvious. It can be pointed to, dealt with, and challenged. The second group, however, has a much greater problem: idolatry masquerading as righteousness.
“I will do whatever it takes to make sure my children are safe.” “I will make sure that all of my child’s spiritual needs are met.” I will make sure my child, my child, my child…” Do you see the trend? These things all sound good and right. You should desire your child’s safety, well-being, spiritual development, etc. It is part of parenting. But, in the context of corporate worship with God’s people, placing your child first and foremost is idolatry. Plain and simple. You do not choose a body of believers with which to live out the Christian life based on the felt needs of your child – or your own felt needs for that matter. You come into a community based on the worship and glory of Jesus, the capacity of the community to use the proper means of grace to aid in your transformation into Christ’s image, and the proper use of sound teaching (orthodoxy) combined with sound living (orthopraxy) to make much of Jesus in the world.
When we choose churches based on the felt needs of our children, then our perceived needs change over time. Do you have a baby at home? Your perceived felt needs will be different than with a toddler or a elementary aged child. Do you have a fairly level headed elementary aged child, but a somewhat unruly teenager? Again, perceived felt needs will change. In fact, one of the largest contributing factors to “church-hopping” Christianity is this problem of going to church for our children. Your current church’s nursery is awesome – so you choose to stick around. But what about the elementary education program? It isn’t so great. But, I hear that First Church Down The Road has a fantastic program for kids that age. Suddenly, we feel led to go down the street. First Church Down The Road struggles in the Youth Department? A friend tells me that Second Church Around The Corner’s teenagers really have it going on. And so on, and so on.
Why is this a problem? First, it is not connecting with the local church for the proper biblical reasons (more on that in a moment). Second, it is teaching (through example and action) that our children are the most important thing. Newsflash – they aren’t; Jesus is. When our children realize that our entire lives will constantly change based on how they feel about our current circumstances, then they develop a sense of entitlement and narcissism. We really have enough of that going for us in our culture already – no need cultivating more of it through the church!
What Should Inform Our Church Life Decision?
If we aren’t supposed to go to church for our kids, then why should we? Here are a few things we should look for in a local church that will benefit us, our kids, the community we live in, and the name of Jesus in the world.
- We must find a local church that is centered on the person and work of Jesus. A gospel centered church will have greater and longer-lasting spiritual effects on you and your children than any criteria you create for yourself.
- Find a church that emphasizes proper spiritual accountability. Are you being challenged to live a holier life? Are you being called to grow in knowledge, grace, and wisdom? Is there an expectation of a transformed life by those around you? Are there opportunities for you to be challenged in this way?
- Find a church that balances sound teaching with sound living. Is the Bible being taught? Is it being lived out? Are the biblical “one-another” passages being expressed in love and mercy? These things will help you and your children far more than the felt needs of their current age bracket.
Our modern evangelical culture is overwhelmed with people going to church for their children. As Christians, we should be going to church for the glory of God, found in Christ, as manifest by the work of the Spirit, through the preaching and living out of God’s Word. Find a place like that. Model for your children how important that is. Teach them by word and example that preferences may differ, programs may differ, personalities may differ, but one thing should remain constant: the church is about Jesus. Not you, not me, and not our kids. Its about us being made into His image. Go to church for Jesus, not your kids.