The Grace of Making Your Child Go to Church

"Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some." Hebrews 10:25

"So I have to" seems always to kill grace. After all, "If I have to, then it must not be grace." Clever teenagers have been going down this route for centuries (or at least since I was a teenager). We try to work guilt into the equation. Mom used reverse guilt on me. One Sunday after my whining complaints about going to church she said, "Then never mind. I don't want to feel like a warden." I felt so guilty I went into the ministry.

Not a single parent drawing breath has not struggled with this issue. "Will I make my child hate church if I make her go now?" First of all, you're not responsible for what your child feels about church ten years down the road. You are responsible for doing what is right for your child while he or she lives with you. So, here are a few grace-filled reasons for taking your child to church.

1. It's a commandment. That's right. One of the first 10 rules God set up is that one day should be different from all others. The Creator programmed us with a need to worship, not for Him but for us. We are souls, not really possessing a soul, but being a soul. We are spiritual in nature. To neglect that part is to starve ourselves. Increasingly the other six days are ganging up on Sunday, and you will have to fight traveling soccer teams, and "the only day we have to ourselves," etc. But keep fighting. Your child needs it, and so do you.

2. We need stillness. The church should be a place for reverence and a sense of holiness. That's why I prefer sanctuary to "worship center." We need holy places and holy times. Probably the most constant complaint you will face from your omniscient teenager is that church is boring. They're right!! When you compare us to Beyonce or One Direction, we are boring.  The very worst thing you can do as a parent is to plead with the ministers to somehow make the worship service more interesting and fun for children and youth. It's a perfect wedge issue. Your child pledges to want to go to church if only the church would be more like Disney World. So, you come to us and want us to be entertaining. Sorry, eternal is the key. Not entertainment.

3. Your child needs community. We can't worship in separate demographic groups and have anything vaguely resembling a church. We need children and youth ministries with plenty of activities, but one hour a week, teens need to stand next to senior adults, and singles with married families, and all God's children need to sing Worship the King and hear a message from an ancient and timeless book. The young need our wisdom, and the elders need the energy and imagination of youth, just as much as the eye needs the ear and the head needs the feet. Worship is the best way to give expression to our unity in Christ.

4. Everyone needs Jesus. Many things become clearer and clearer as I get older, and this simple truth is among them. I don't care who you are or where you are in life, you need Jesus. Your child simply will not learn about the love of God anywhere else. He will not learn the books of the Bible (how many adults today wish they knew more about the Bible?). They will not grow up with the familiar Bible stories and see new meaning as they go through the years. You can't learn to look at life through the eyes of Jesus unless you spend regular time with Him.

I enjoy church. I really do. And I've never been in a worship service where I didn't find something eternal and sustaining. Not making your child go to church ironically deprives them of a grace they are likely to need that week.

Keep up the struggle. All parents have fought this battle. Someday your child will thank you for your dedication.


Dr. Terry Ellis

June 10, 2013

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  2. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I have been very vocal about the sports and other activities that take the place of church on Sunday. This is definitely putting the responsibility where it belongs – on the parents. I know kids don't believe it now but in the years to come they will appreciate the fact that they were "made" to get up and go – this will serve them well in aduulthood.

  3. Thank you so much for these reassuring words of wisdom. I have told my daughter countless times that church is not supposed to be fun but your supporting verification of this is wonderful. She and I are discussing this over lunch right now and when I read your words to her she looked at me, nodded and said "OK". It's a victory! God Bless!

  4. Upon reading this insightful prescriptive, many of us are thanking the Father for your wise, intuitive mother. She knew you well it seems.

    Providing for the child's inner need for stillness may prove to be the most neglected aspect of caring, intentional parenting. Weekly worship in a Sanctuary with a gathered community of souls dedicated to NOT being Disneyesque addresses this need as little else in our culture or personal home environments can.

    Few loving parents would want to "deprive their child of a grace they are likely to need this week."

    May your tribe increase…and it be bold enough to join the chorus.

  5. Beautifully said, Terry. Wise words, and graceful! Thank you for taking this on. Every pastor wants his or her people to know these things, but you have lined them out well for us all.

  6. Thank you Dr. Ellis for the reminder and encouragement! We miss you!