This post is a round-up of eight responses I got from a hand-picked group of people I asked the following question:
I was supremely blessed to get back so much wisdom in this area. For parents up against this issue, it is tough. You don’t want to take your hands totally off the wheel, but you don’t want to push so hard that you invite backlash in college, right? It feels like the stakes are high, and they are.
Three big takeaways:
- As much as we love our kids, we can’t do the work of the Spirit. It’s an area where we have to have faith our all-knowing God Who loves perfectly, and trust Him with our kids.
- There’s a lot to be said for developing habits while kids are still developing spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. (Train up a child and all, right?)
- Church attendance in a vacuum is pretty empty. Don’t be so focused on checking that one box. That alone won’t build faith. Loving the Lord is to be a part of the fabric of your family, your home, your week, and your time and interactions with your teen.
Your primary job as a parent is to pour into your children the spiritual foundation that will allow them to thrive spiritually down the road. As parents, we have a small window of opportunity to do this – for most of us, that window is about 18 years long. So long as children are in the home, making church a priority is a big part of the parent’s job. I’d word it a bit differently – I’d call it “making worship a priority.” Of course, we know that church involves many other things of high priority – teaching Scripture, fellowship, service, etc., but Scripture emphasizes our calling to worship God as preeminent.
The second part of your statement says, “getting them to own their faith for themselves.” That’s a God-thing, and it best takes place when a church environment is a regular part of their lives–along with the encouragement from leaders and parents alike to “own this as your own” in everyday life.
My practice has been to insure my family worships weekly so long as they’re growing up in my home. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15] is a verse that’s constantly speaking to me. Sometimes weekend travel would interfere, but that was infrequent. Generally, I believe far too many parents give teenagers (or even children) the option to choose their level of involvement with worship–and other choices–when they are far too immature spiritually, emotionally, and physically to handle those choices. Parents, do your job well–as difficult as it is. Then, when the responsibility for making that choice is handed to your sons and daughters when they reach an age of passage when other independence is established–work, college, living away from home–they are much closer to being mature enough and balanced enough to make those decisions better.
Carey Green, blogger, podcaster, and vlogger at Christian Home and Family; retired from pastoral ministry, and father of five
Rules (even church attendance) apart from relationship leads to rebellion. So, I’d focus more on the relationship than the actual church attendance, working to build an honest, open interaction between myself and my child. I’d still require the church attendance in that process, but would remain diligent to reach my child’s heart between Sundays. Our teens need to be convinced of our care for them, our love for them, our desire to see them flourish in life before they will care to adopt or obey our household rules. Ideally, this should be the intentional focus for parents from the day their children are born. But since playing catch-up is a reality for most of us, focus on the relationship as much as you are able.
Tommy Bledsoe, Bible teacher and mentor to many young women and moms
“Joe and I chose to make it a requirement from birth to college. They could miss for special things like ski trips, etc., but it really wasn’t a question where we were to be. Now my son did come to me and say he had to find His Jesus-not mine. Also I apologized often for trying to be their Holy Spirit!”
Ask yourself if your goal is to get them to go to church, or to see them have a relationship with Jesus. Check your own thinking as you pray about how to handle this.
You can tell them they don’t have a choice about whether to go or not, but they do have a choice about what that looks like. They can decide where they’re going in church, where they’re going to sit, who they go with, what they wear, and (within reason) when they get there. So, there’s a lot in their area of control, but they can’t opt out of going altogether.
My adult children (and Jim and I, as well) would tell you we over-churched our children. Every moment the door was open, we were there. They grew church weary. So number one, choose your battles. What good disciplines would you desire your teen to carry into adulthood?
I think looking back, I would try to find a balance. Stress that some habits get us through life safely. (We could complain–’Why do I have to go? It’s sooo boring.’ But the discipline of setting yourself up to hear from God and grow in Him is an eternal good). And there are a lot of things we do over and over for future good (sports, instruments, singing , theatre, even eating!) So if for now, they groan, remind them of the good foundation they will appreciate in the future.
Here’s a tip from an older parent. If you strive to make your home a place where you love the LORD with all your heart and mind [Deuteronomy 6:5, among other places], going to church is not another chore, but a natural ‘next step.’ Don’t depend on others to set the Biblical lifestyle for your teen. That is your job. Church is that extra, that deepening. You have already sowed into the very seams of their hearts.
Karen May, Bible teacher, speaker, mentor mom, Karen May Ministries
As long as they’re in the home (under our authority), yes, they’re going to corporate worship. Our teens had a choice during the youth hour–if they weren’t connecting, dreading to go (one of ours experienced this), they could opt to serve.
Secondly, their personal faith–in my opinion–is greatly influenced by our authentic, genuine walk with Christ. For quite some time they ‘mimic’ our walk. That’s the way God intended it. We, ourselves, are called to be imitators (followers, mimics) of God:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children… Ephesians 5:1
This is our exhortation from scripture; to walk this way with Him. His design is that we are His representatives to those who come “through” us. Not to us. Through us.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:11-12
This verse tells us to follow, mimic those of Faith who have gone before us or ARE before us. So this principle is expressed vertically with the Father (because our kiddos mimic us), then horizontally as we follow mature believers.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27
James tells us what true, pure, undefiled religion looks like–taking care of widows and orphans. The word I would use is exposure. Be certain to expose our families to the needs of others. That’s true religion.
The beautiful side of Brooke’s and my life is–both girls love coming to church. Our struggle is that they both play club volleyball. So with that, they have to miss about 7-8 Sundays a year. I believe those Sundays help keep them wanting/ missing it and even gives them a shot at what life without corporate worship looks like. Abby hates to miss…makes her a bit angry at times. Karly is okay with it, but doesn’t like it. But, we haven’t had to worry about making them go just yet.
If I’m counseling parents, I’d say to them–I was pulled, tugged, yanked, tackled, pushed, and kidnapped on many Sundays when I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t an option…ever! But in that, it really set a precedent for my life. When I didn’t go, I missed it, and things didn’t seem right. As a parent, I would much rather err on the side of too much church than not enough.
It’s never been up for discussion. It’s implied that if Mom and Dad are going to church, then so is everyone else. We have an advantage–we home educate. We are connected to our children in almost every way during their school years. Faith has to be taught but in the process, we trust the Lord that it gets caught as well. Home educated children get to see their parents’ faith lived out every day and our curriculum is based on our faith, so that helps as well.