The conversation goes like this. A well meaning parent comes up to me, expressing their desire to get involved with the church. Always curious, I ask why, and the answer I typically get is this: “I want my child to grow up in church.” Though certainly we should want our children to grow up in church, I’m gravely concerned with what is often meant by this innocent statement. Usually what people really mean is this: “I want my children to be raised with some sort of faith, preferably the Christian faith, because it was so important to my moral upbringing. Since I am either unwilling or unable to provide it myself, I’ve come to the church to get them to take care of the spiritual life of my child while I’ll take care of everything else.” To put it more simply, parents want to outsource the spiritual nurturement of their child to the church.
Though I certainly welcome any family and any child into the community of the saints, I do want to challenge the idea of outsourcing the spiritual care of your children to the church. Unfortunately the church has only reinforced this mindset within many people through our programs and ministry methodology. We have taught parents to come and drop off their children where paid professionals stand by to handle the tenacious work of discipleship. As a former youth pastor, I’m fully aware that ministry to teens without the parents simply doesn’t work. The responsibility for the spiritual care of our little ones cannot be placed upon the church entirely, but rather the full weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of daddy and mommy. God has called the parents to evangelize and disciple their children. The church then exists to come alongside mom and dad to equip them for their task and supplement what is already taking place at home.
So if you are a Christian parent, please bring your children to church, but you must do *more* than that. As any experienced parent will tell you, more is caught than taught. Therefore, in addition to just dropping your child off at church, we must model the Gospel to our children. We must live out what it means for Christ to be our greatest love and greatest treasure. We must display what it means to submit our lives to king Jesus and his authoritative word. If you take seriously your job as a parent, you must live out your faith to those little eyes who are always watching.
Here is the main point: In addition to bringing our kids to church, we must model a life of devotion to Jesus.
Though we certainly never do it for the show, our children should see our devotion to Jesus in action. Our children watch us in the most private and mundane of moments and they should see our professed love for Christ on display. They should see us pray and read the Bible, growing in our relationship with Jesus. Our children should be able to look to us as example of what the Christian life is. Sadly, for far too many families, Jesus only comes up on Sunday mornings and is ignored the rest of the week. When you tell your children to follow Jesus on Sundays, but ignore him every other day, chances are your kids will follow Jesus none of the days. Why? Because your own spiritual life screams hypocrisy.
How can mom or dad tell me Jesus is worthy of my devotion when they show no evidence of that devotion themselves? Why make Jesus the Lord of my life when he isn’t the Lord of theirs?
I’m afraid many parents do more harm than good by forcing their kids to go to church, teaching them that church is like broccoli—nobody likes to eat it, but you have to eat it because it's good for you.
I’ve talked with many parents who struggle with their children who don’t want to come to church, particularly in the teenage years. Every Christian parent encounters this at some point in their parenting, and parents should indeed require their children to come to church, whether they want to or not. Though what is most likely happening behind the scenes is something much bigger than just refusing to come to church; the teen calls the bluff on the parent’s hypocrisy, reacting against the parent who speaks out of the both sides of the mouth.
We must repent of our Janus-faced parenting and confess our hypocritical compartmentalization. After all, the goal of our parenting is not to produce well-behaved, moral little monsters, but contrite sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Christ. If we hope our children will join the redeemed, we must not cast doubt on the truth Gospel by our hypocritical life. Parents must authentically live out their faith before their children. Though we may have the rest of our church fooled, our children are not. Our rehearsed play-acting will only put a bitter taste of Christianity into our children’s mouths. We need less Christian thespians, and more parents who authentically, consistently, and genuinely live their lives in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
So bring your kids to church, but you better demonstrate devotion to Christ in your private life. If not, your legalistic requirement of church attendance and your hypocrisy could very well estrange your children from the Christ you profess to love.