My dad was a pastor, so I got an inside perspective on church growing up. I did everything from help fold the bulletins to taking up the offering. Occasionally through my preteen and teen years there were those moments where for whatever reason… I did not want to go to church.
Now here is where it gets a little touchy because I had friends whose parents gave them the choice about attending church. (ironically they still HAD to do a lot of things like wear a shirt to the dinner table, do their homework, their chores, and visit with great-grandma). I thought for sure that the only reason I HAD to attend church was because my dad “worked” there. I mean there must be a reason that my friends parents were lax on the whole church deal but strict on stuff like Algebra.
Then my dad got fired… ahem, I mean resigned from the church he was serving. I thought for sure we’d take a Sunday off or something, but the very next week we were in church (a different church, but a church none-the-less). I tried to get out of going (in hind sight I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for my dad) but he insisted and we went. I learned in a very real way that church attendance was important, not because my dad was a pastor, but because that is where we gathered with the people of God for the worship of God.
Then there came that first Sunday I was away at college. I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to ditch church, but at 18 years old I got out of bed early, got ready and walked into a church in time for Sunday School and I’ve only missed a handful of Sundays since. You see when my dad made me go to church when I didn’t want to, I learned something… Church is important. It was more important than hunting, fishing, sports, and especially more important than sleeping in.
My friends also learned something from their parents about church… Church wasn’t important. Much to the agony of their parents many of my friends, whose parents let them stay home, have continued to stay home from church. They went to college and didn’t attend church. Now they’re having kids and some are coming back but others aren’t.
I’m sure my friends’ parents meant well. They were probably afraid that they would burn their kids out on church. Maybe the pastor made that awful “I had a drug problem… my parents drug me to church” joke one too many times. Or maybe it’s because deciding to follow Jesus is a ‘personal decision’ we don’t want to “pressure” our kids, that we as parents can make the mistake of backing away from training our kids in spiritually right and helpful behaviors. We wouldn’t think twice about making our kids do their homework or clean their room. But somehow we let church attendance be the one place where we let them decide for themselves? Does this not actually send the unintended message… church is not important and you can blow it off for sleep?
I get it…. We faced a similar issue when we started family prayer time and my kids didn’t want to pray. Should I tell my kid they “have to” pray? I don’t want them to hate prayer… But then I realized that I’m responsible for training my kids and they will follow my example no matter what I do. So it’s probably better to err on the side of “repeat the Lords Prayer with me then” than it is to say, “you don’t have to pray.” At the very least they will know that prayer is important to their father. God has blessed our family prayer time. He’s used the Lord’s Prayer in numerous ways to instruct my children and bring both of them to conviction and repentance. I look back and wonder the shape their hearts would be in if we had not hunkered down and said, “This is too important to skip.”
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