I’ll begin with this: I am not a parent.
But I have been (still am) a child, and I hope to be a parent someday. As a former (current) child, and hopeful future parent, there is a discussion that I think we need to have in the Church.
I’ve been asked, recently and repeatedly, what can we do to get young people in the Church? It is a good and important question, the answer to which is both varied and complex. But there is one very easy way to get young people to attend Bible class, worship, and activities.
Now, of course, only the parents of said young people can do this, and really, not only could parents do this, they should do this. At a preacher’s meeting, attended by 8 or 9 preachers ranging from the very experienced to the young and new, the question was raised: are young people and their parents taking elderships hostage? That is, they tell the elders of the Church that they will leave if the Church doesn’t provide this activity, or make worship more entertaining, or provide this fun thing for their children. When elderships can’t or won’t comply, the young families leave. It would be one thing if they left and went to another New Testament Church, but these families often leave and go to a denomination, or cease going anywhere. These older preachers have seen it time and time again.
What is that about? As parents, is the happiness or pleasure of their kids more important than their salvation? Would they rather their kids have fun than worship God? Can they not make their kids attend worship, even if they don’t think it is “fun?”
There are so many facets to this discussion, and I can’t hope to address them all here. The most common response to this that I have heard is that if the parents force their kids to assemble with the saints, their kids will grow up to hate the Church. But that is ridiculous. Parents make kids do things they don’t like all the time. All the time. Eat your vegetables, go to bed at a reasonable hour, do your homework. These are things that kids and teenagers don’t want to do, but should and need to do. And guess what, at a certain point the kids and teenagers realize the necessity of such things, and even find enjoyment in such things. I didn’t want to eat broccoli as a child, but now I like broccoli. Sure, maybe your kids think worship is boring, but so what? Is it important? Is it necessary? Is it valuable? Are you the parent or not?
Can worship and Bible class be boring? Sure, I guess. But the failures of the Bible class teacher should not prevent you from studying the Bible with your fellow Christians. The lack of enthusiasm in the worship should not prevent you from giving your best to God. Maybe these are opportunities for you, as a parent, to set an example for your children about what is important. An opportunity for you to demonstrate that it is the job of each individual Christian to make these things better.
How many times do parents warp their schedules to make sure their kids can attend sports practice, or theater, or activities of various sorts? And yet we can’t make sure they are at worship? Even on a Wednesday, is football practice more important than studying the Bible with your fellow Christians? Than submitting to the eldership that watches out for your soul in part by providing assembled worship opportunities? We want so much for our kids to be involved in all sorts of activities, but we don’t want them to learn about God?
I don’t thank my parents often enough for the way they raised me. Growing up, worship was not optional. I could not get out of it, no matter how much I complained or argued. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do things or have fun; I was allowed to involve myself in any activity I wanted, like soccer or football or academic clubs, with the understanding that when the doors of the Church were open, I would be there. Again, this was not optional. For as long as they were paying for my food, clothing, shelter, etc., they expected me to be at Church. If I wasn’t, then there were consequences. Simple. Like any other thing parents train their kids to do. I know for a fact that my wife’s parents took the same approach.
And guess what? We don’t hate the Church. This, like brushing our teeth and eating our vegetables, grew into an understanding of why it was necessary. It taught us the importance of putting God first. It taught us an important Biblical principle, that I wouldn’t come to understand until I grew up enough:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10