“Your children should never equate going to church as making a choice against family.”
Our church is busting at the seams with kids. A lot of them are under the age of seven. Long, Canadian winters, right? Whatever the explanation, having a young, active family presents some interesting challenges when it comes to getting involved in the life of a local church. The good news is that it’s very possible. Let me offer four reasons why I believe young families need to be connected and involved in a local church, and four ways to make it happen.
Reason number one: You are a part of a body when you are part of a local church. It means you are needed and the body needs you to not only show up, but to function in the role God has called you to play. (Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.) No part has the luxury of signing out, even when life’s circumstances seem to warrant it, without the rest of the body suffering.
Reason number 2: Your children, even when they are young, are just as much a part of the body of Christ as you are. Think baby toes. Even though they’re small, they have a huge impact on the body’s ability to walk. Though they may have limited capacity, kids still have a role to play.
Reason number 3: Your children’s involvement in church at a young age will almost always determine their level of involvement as they grow older. Children who see involvement in a spiritual community taking second place to things like leisure, sports or busy weekends, are more likely to grow up with a nominal faith (at best). When church is treated as a take-it-or-leave-it activity, they often read that as a half-hearted commitment to Jesus, and follow suit.
Reason number 4: Your children are watching you very closely. These are the formative years. Your children are watching you, learning everything about life by what you do and the environments that you interact with. They need to see you in action in your local church. Let them see how you respond to relational conflict, and what commitment looks like. Let them see you tithe, respond to preaching, worship, serve, and share.
So, how do I make church a high priority in my life when I have a busy family to care for and a million things to do that go along with the territory?
How number one: Find a way to reduce the gap between the family priority and the church priority. You’ve probably heard it said that your priorities as a family should be 1) God; 2) Family; and 3) Church. In principle I agree. The problem is that God and church are intrinsically connected; your children will see those two priorities as one and the same. To make church and family work, you need to find a way to make the two more synonymous with each other rather than opposites. “We’re going to have a family day instead of going to church” is a dangerous way of putting it. Your children should never equate going to church as making a choice against family.
How number two: Involve your kids in church related activities as often as possible. I’m convinced this is one of the reasons why our four teenagers still love going to church. You want them to be actively involved in some way, to have input, to feel like they are pulling weight. For parents with children, this is more important right now than your own personal involvement. Consider adjusting your involvement to be more family-friendly during this season of life.
How number three: Make your church friends theirs also. Our friends in church have always been our children’s friends. In fact, adults who weren’t interested in connecting with our kids—and they are out there—didn’t get invited to our home very often.
How number four: Teach your kids community living skills. All of what I’ve said so far is for naught if a parent doesn’t pay close attention to this point. You have to show them how to act, live, function, play, and work in a community setting. Here are the top five things we taught our kids about community behaviour:
1. Respect for others.
2. At appropriate times, silence and stillness are required.
3. When Sara or I were speaking to someone else, our kids knew not to interrupt until they were invited to do so.
4. Participation at church is not an option—it’s a family affair.
5. We defined indoor behaviour vs. outdoor behaviour.
It’s important to talk about these things ahead of time, rather than in the middle of a frustrating episode on a Sunday morning. We would often have family conferences on the way to church, gently reminding everyone of our expectations during time in the community.
Finally, the best thing you can do as a parent to give your kids a solid foundation to build their faith on is to display your love for God to them. Cherish every moment you get to spend with the Body of Christ. Those little people you’ve been called to raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord are very good at spotting the difference between duty and delight. Fall in love with the worship of God. Fall in love with the people of God.
Can you imagine the cumulative affect of spending 650 Sundays—that’s roughly how many they’ll get while in your care—watching you worship, relate, serve, and thrive in the community of faith?
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This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of testimony.
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