“Do you go to church anywhere,” I asked my mechanic in the last town. “No,” he replied. “When I was growing up my parents made me go to church. So now I don’t go any longer.” He sounded slightly aggrieved, as though his childhood rights had been violated; that his parents had somehow overstepped their bounds. At the very least, the experience of going to church, whether he wanted to or not, had left a bad taste in his mouth toward the church.
Any of you feel the same way? Young people walk away from church for any number of reasons. Is yours the same as my mechanic’s – forced attendance? Let’s talk about it.
On the one hand, I can understand why children don’t always want to go to church. It’s probably more fun, for most kids, to stay home than it is to go to church. Playing video games, going online, sleeping in, or whatever, usually beats listening to the pastor’s sermon, or singing hymn #223. They’ve had a busy week and Sunday morning, without church, is more relaxing and laid back. Plus, parents trying to get children out of bed, properly dressed and out the door in time for church, are not always the most patient. And, for many families, having Sunday morning free allows for some family time together. The week is loaded with school and extracurriculars. Saturdays are for chores, homework, and sports. So it’s normal for many, if not most children, given the choice, to want to stay home. They envy their friends who can.
On the other hand, staying away from church as an adult, because you were made to go as a child, in my opinion, is a weak justification and not just weak, but also an unfortunate one. Let me address both aspects.
Why is avoiding church because you had to go as a child a weak justification?
1. It’s a weak justification because it’s inconsistent
When you were a kid, did you want to go to the dentist, to clean up your room, and do your homework? Probably not. Kids, like all of us, want to do what they want to do when they want to do it. And they prefer doing fun things. So parents have to push them for their own good. Now that you’ve grown up have you stopped going to the dentist, or doing other necessary tasks that your parents pushed you to do? Of course not, in fact you’re probably pushing your own children in many of the same areas. So why is church attendance considered the exception? This leads to the second observation
2. It’s a weak justification because it treats spiritual formation as unnecessary or optional
The idea sometimes believed here is that while a child needs to learn certain practical skills and habits, and often must be taught to do them, their spiritual formation should happen naturally and without much parental intervention. It’s best if they just figure it out for themselves. If they want to go to church, fine, if they want to stay home, that’s fine too. We mustn’t force our spiritual beliefs on them or even read them Bible stories when they’re still too young to discern the truth for themselves. Some even call this “brainwashing”. This sets up the next point.
3. It’s a weak justification because every family teaches spiritual values anyway, whether they’re overtly religious or not
Our spiritual beliefs and values ooze out of us whether or not they’re specifically stated. None of us lives in a spiritual vacuum or neutral zone. Our kids learn our foundational beliefs from our attitudes and actions, whether they are directly stated or not. By watching us, they discover whether or not honesty is important or how to deal with conflict. They also discern if we believe in God and how important He is or isn’t in our lives. And, because they’re children, they absorb much of this uncritically and unconsciously. Not sending children to church doesn’t stop us from teaching them spiritual values. Church just teaches these values in a more organized, educated, up-front way than is often done at home.
It’s true that church/Sunday School isn’t always entertaining or even as well-done as it might be, but that doesn’t negate all its benefits. And some churches are better than others, try to find one of those. So why is all of this important? This leads to our second question:
Why is it unfortunate to skip church as an adult because you were made to attend as a child?
1. It’s unfortunate because your unwillingness to attend is often a sign that you missed the main purpose of the church in the first place
The main purpose of the church is not merely to teach us a belief system or make us better people. The main purpose of the church is to lead us into an eternal, saving, life-changing relationship with Christ. If all you came away with was religion, but not relationship, then your church upbringing did you minimal good. It might have made you a nicer person, but niceness doesn’t get any of us into Heaven. Going to church, by itself, saves no one. Church is meant to point to the One who does save – to Jesus. I suspect that many, though not all of those who skip church because they had to go as children, have never been truly saved. If we’ve been born-again, we love Jesus, and usually want to be with His people; our spiritual brothers and sisters.
2. It’s unfortunate because your unwillingness to attend means that your spiritual growth, if it occurs at all, will be unnecessarily limited.
This is true for both believer and non-believer. If you’re not a believer, by not attending church, you’re insulating yourself from hearing the gospel message which can save you from your sins and from spending an eternity separated from God. If you’re a believer, you’re losing desperately needed spiritual support. It’s tough to live for Jesus in a sin-soaked world, and to do it well on your own is extremely difficult. We need each other deeply.
3. It’s unfortunate because your unwillingness to attends means that you’re shorting other believers
Church isn’t just about you and your needs. It’s also about others. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says that each part of the Body is “indispensible” to the others. In other words, your spiritual gift will lie mostly dormant, and will be of little benefit to most other believers if you stay home. They will not receive the extra support God intended to give them through you.
Christianity is a team sport. The New Testament makes this clear. To stay home, as an adult, because your parents made you attend, is not only robbing yourself and others, it’s also disobeying God. Hebrews 10:25, commands us to “not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” The New Testament assumes the church as a norm for a healthy Christian. Do you want a healthy, productive relationship with God? Accept Jesus as your Savior and commit yourself to hang with your spiritual family. If you’ve built a life-style that leaves little room for church involvement, change your lifestyle. A hundred years from now you’ll look back and be glad you did.