Why Church? Summer Series
Why Would I Bring My Kids to Church?
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Proverbs 22:1-6; Acts 2:37-47
July 16, 2023
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.
The clever see danger and hide; but the simple go on, and suffer for it.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; the cautious will keep far from them.
Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter
and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them,
‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ
so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away,
everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’
And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying,
‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message
were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone,
because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple,
they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A single mom was going through a difficult divorce. She had one child, a son, entering his sophomore year in high school. A new job landed her and her son in a new town, where they didn’t know anyone. Both of them were struggling. The son, let’s call him Ross, didn’t know a soul at his high school. Everyone seemed to already have a group of friends.
After being in town for a month or so, his mother drug Ross to a Presbyterian church on a Sunday morning. There in the narthex, they met a nice woman, we’ll call her Janet. Janet was a vibrant soul, probably in her 70’s. Janet took one look at the boy and recognized his pain. She could tell he wasn’t doing well. Janet walked right up to the boy, gave him a big smile and a warm hug, and said, We are so glad that you are here. You are always welcome here. This same thing happened week after week throughout that fall.
After about the sixth week of Janet giving awkward Ross a big smile and a warm hug, finally Ross spoke up: “Lady, I don’t know who you are or why you’re doing this. But you need to know that you’re saving my life. I found myself looking forward to coming to church this morning.”
Well, young man, my husband died a few months ago and I have been grieving. Thinking about meeting you here gave me a good reason to get up and be here this morning. So thank you. You’re saving my life right back.
Our “Why Church?” question for today is: Why would I bring my kids to church?
There are many potential answers to that question.
Different churches will answer in different ways.
Different families will answer that question in different ways.
For me, the number one reason that any of us would bring our kids to church is that Church is where they are likely to see and hear Jesus, to meet Jesus at work, and even become friends with Jesus, whom many have come to know as Savior.
And we bring our kids to church because the Church is where they get to know friends of Jesus. If your child has five adults, other than their parents, to whom they could go when they have a need, they have a far greater chance for wholeness and wellness in life, for stability and personal success, for salvation, if you will.
In Church, your kids meet good people who can help their parents raise them well. It’s a wonderful thing to spend a weekend at the lake or in the mountains with family and friends, to enjoy life and its good pleasures. It’s wonderful to be involved in the healthy activities of our community – sports, plays, concerts. It’s wonderful to have so many options on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights than we did in previous generations.
I am always amazed at all the different, engaging events happening in and around Atlanta on any given weekend. It is also wonderful, life-transforming even, to have your family engaged in Church.
Why bring kids to church?
Because in the Church we learn to seek both justice and righteousness. We learn to seek fairness and equity in how people are treated in the community, and we learn the ideal of right living before God and others on a personal level. Personal righteousness and communal justice – these are learned behaviors, learned values.
Because in the Church we become connected to a way of life, a manner of living, that is beyond ourselves and our nuclear family. The Church and its ministries can lift our spirits, and help us in our need, and comfort us in our distress, and challenges us in our complacency. Ultimately, the Church can engage us in the world-saving mission of Jesus Christ.
In Church, children can discover a healthy identity, a meaningful belonging, and purpose in life. In the Church, we come to know ourselves as children of God. We gain a sense of belonging to God’s people.
We discover the idea of vocation, of matching our calling in life with our gifts. We learn that all of human life is part of the sphere of God’s work, and that we can serve God’s purposes with what we do and where we go every day.
In the Church we learn to love and care for people of all ages and classes and races. In the church, we become engaged in efforts and projects that help people, both locally and globally.
Bringing kids to Church enables the next generation to know (and live) the faith that we have received. How many generations will it be before the Judeo-Christian heritage, the biblical values and commitments that have sustained this country for generations, fade away into the self-centered chaos of a secular world?
It matters whether or not your children are learning the foundations of Christian faith. Some of the values and commitments of our nation and yes, sometimes the church, have been harmful to others, but Church is a good place to unlearn what is not of God.
In Church, your kids are likely to meet other children whose parents have similar faith values and commitments. The values of the Church and the values of our broader culture are not the same. We bring our kids to church because the Church is “In but not of the world.”
The Church is influenced by the culture, no doubt, but the Church can also have a transforming influence upon culture, if enough people engage and take to heart their discipleship in the world.
Worldly values and priorities are not the same as the Church. If your kids are not in church on Sunday morning, where are they?
Who are they with? What are they doing? Who are they watching on a screen?
What values are being absorbed?
Not many things that we do with our time are neutral. Screen time is not neutral time. Listening to music is not neutral. Hanging out with friends is not a neutral activity. We are impacted by everything we absorb through our eyes and our ears. We are influenced by the people with whom we spend the most time. In Church, we are impacted by real, genuine people, imperfect people, but loving people.
We are engaged by the Word of God. We are participating in the singing or listening to sacred music, music that is good for the soul. Church activities are not neutral. They can impact us in healthy, nurturing ways. Church activities seep into our souls and stay with us all of our days.
Kids are selfish, just as adults are selfish. Oftentimes, we enjoy doing what is easy, and what does not require too much from us. It can be a real effort to get up on Sunday mornings, get cleaned up and to church on time. Your kids will question whether it is worth your effort.
They will beg to go to the pool or playground instead. They will claim that “all the other kids” get to have screen time on Sunday morning. They will say that they need to rest up before their match on Sunday afternoon. They will try to make you as their parent feel guilty if you force them to go to church.
They will tell you that they are old enough to decide for themselves what is right. I read an article this week by a grandfather who has long been a youth leader at his church: “Some parents allow their teens to stop going to church as young as 13 years of age… Children are not old enough to make decisions of such importance. What if they thought that way about school?
What if they didn’t feel like going to the dentist?…
With a “hands off” policy on Sunday mornings, all you’ll do is create a growing gap between the things of God and the things of the world… Once they stop attending church, they start to drift away from God, and eventually, they may want nothing more to do with God.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so whatever biblical knowledge (and biblical values are) missing, (their minds and hearts) will be filled up with the things of the world. Just like anything else in life, what is sown the most, is reaped the most. I remember hearing a man asked, “’Which of your two dogs is the alpha male (the dominant one)?’ He replied, ‘The one I feed the most,’”
Whatever we fill our minds with is what we will become more like. Our goal as Christian parents is to grow and become more like Christ, so we read His Word, listen to His teachings, (participate in worship).
In other words, what we think and what we do…we become!
The same thing goes for teenagers. What goes in, is what comes out, so parents who defer to their child’s wishes about going to church, and especially at too young of an age, are telling their children,
“Do whatever seems right in your own eyes,” and we know how badly that can turn out.” (Jack Wellman)
Making your kids go to church is not a bad thing, nor is making them eat their vegetables, or making them do their chores or their homework. Let us be clear…We do not bring our kids to church so that they will be popular; we bring our kids to church so that they will learn to be faithful.
We do not bring them to church to entertain them, but so that they may learn to seek God’s will and to aim to please God with their lives. We do not bring our kids to church so much for what they can get; we bring our kids to church so that they learn to offer God praise and worship.
The other day, an older gentleman read that a methamphetamine lab had been found in an adjoining neighborhood, not far from his house, and he asked his friend a rhetorical question, ”Why didn’t we have a drug problem when you and I were growing up?” The friend replied: “I had a drug problem when I was young”: I was drug to church on Sunday morning.
I was drug to church for weddings and funerals.
I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather.
I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults.
I was also drug into some form of punishment when I disobeyed my parents, or told a lie, or brought home a bad report card, or did not speak with respect, or spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn’t put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.
I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profane four-letter word.
I was drug out to pull weeds in mom’s flower beds.
I was drug to the homes of neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow their yard.
Those drugs are still in my veins; and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, and think.
They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin; and, if today’s children had this kind of drug problem, our world would be a better place.” (author unknown)
Yes, get your children involved in sports and drama and music. Yes, ensure that they study hard and work to make good grades. Yes, when they get older, encourage them to find a job to learn the value of a dollar. Yes, spend significant and meaningful time with your extended family and friends.
BUT, as a priority, ensure your family spends time with God and God’s people in the context of faith.
Put the big “rocks” of your life first into the jar of your life and see how wondrously you can fit in all those other pebbles. If you put in all those other pursuits first, there will be no room left for what is most important. When all the little, less important things get scheduled first, there is no room left for church.
You know the excuses…
Oh, we would like to come to church, but we have a birthday party to go to.
Oh, we were going to be there last week but we had to go shopping for some new clothes.
Oh, we had planned to come to worship on Sunday morning, but we stayed up too late after the Saturday game.
Why would I bring my kids to church?
Because we are more than physical beings. We are more than emotional beings or productive beings or social beings. We are spiritual beings.
The human spirit throughout history, in every land and tribe, has always sought the divine, has always reached toward something/someone greater than ourselves. The human spirit has always gazed on the stars in the night sky and wondered about the mysteries of life and death.
Our spirits need nurture and food, just as do our bodies and our minds.
In today’s world, many young people have become proficient at feeding their minds. Many spend plenty of time exercising their bodies. Many find ways to engage their social selves. But far too many are starving their spirits, neglecting the nurture of their souls. Do you think this is connected to the growing mental health concerns, to the preponderance of anxiety attacks, to the epidemic of suicide, and the scourge of gun violence?
The neglect of spiritual nurture can lead to unbalanced and unhealthy lives. The lack of spiritual development can lead to antisocial behavior. The dearth of spiritual connections can lead to self-centered narcissism.
Finally, does it matter which church we bring our kids to? I believe so. I encourage a church which takes Bible study and interpretation seriously, not simply literally or fundamentally, where the cross has central place, a church that seeks to follow the sacrificial ways of Jesus, which includes love for all, even enemies, and concern for the least and lowest and lost, which is connected to its community and not separated from it by any barriers, physically, socially, or economically – where the whole community is welcome in its doors which is concerned about the whole cycle of life, not just one stage the birth of children, the death of grandparents, the nurture of adolescents, and sustenance for the middle age years where beliefs are held strongly yet humbly, taking seriously that “we now know only in part” that on the mountain of God, we only see our path and we should not prejudge the path of others.
I encourage a church which is open-minded as well as open-hearted, where hard questions are just as welcome as complicated answers, where love is offered for all, not just for some.
Is the church imperfect? yes. Is every congregation imperfect? yes
Will you children have to learn to deal with some challenging or difficult people? yes, and learning to relate to challenging people will be an important part of their faith journey.
I will close with the ancient proverb that Dotun read earlier. This is sage advice that remains relevant in each new generation:
Train your children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church