I don’t want this post to come across as passive aggressive, so let me make several clarifications of what this is not:
- This is not addressed to anyone in particular. I have no individual or couple in mind.
- This is not intended to manipulate anyone into conforming to some sort of unwritten code.
Please accept this opportunity for me to take off my theologian hat and speak to you as a parent who also happens to be a follower of Jesus. To clarify, I’m a follower of Jesus who happens to be a parent and I do believe that having that sort of order helps me work out an important priority (more on that shortly). Parenting is hard work, but so is following Jesus. If it weren’t for his grace and the work of the Spirit, I’d be unable to do both of those things with any sort of effectiveness.
I’ve only been parenting for nine years, so I’m no expert. I have, however, read a lot of books on the subject and have spent a lot of time doing counseling related to marriage and parenting. On top of that, I’ve had the chance to kind of get a bird’s eye view of parenting as it happens in churches here in the western world (i.e., the U.S.). One of the biggest problems facing parents today: no vision.
What I mean by that is this – if you are raising children, you need to have a vision that goes beyond the immediate moment and looks towards the future. There are consequences to choices we make, some positive and others negative. There are many positives to teaching your children a sense of responsibility. When they are seven years old it may not seem as important to teach them responsibility. When they are twenty-three and still living in your basement because they have no work ethic, you’ll understand why you should have taught them about responsibilities.
As a follower of Jesus, I can think of no more important need in the lives of my children than for them to know Jesus Christ as Lord. I believe that all of their happiness and hope flows out of that relationship. And I equally believe that God has chosen to use the local church as the primary community to experience God’s grace. Whether it is through the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) or spiritual disciplines (prayer, Scripture reading, serving, etc.), God primarily uses the church to develop and mature his people.
Sure, there are problems in churches and sometimes there are issues in local churches that can damage our families. In those cases, by all means, we should protect our families. Spiritual abuse can affect everyone from every age.
I’ve heard parents say that they are just to busy or that they don’t need to go to worship with other believers because “church is in your heart.” I’ve also heard parents say that children can’t really get anything out of church. These are just a few of the things I’ve heard. I’m sure there are many other excuses. I used all of those. I also found that since I was almost always in the nursery, I could tell my friends that I didn’t want to attend church because I didn’t want to end up with someone’s kid slobbering on me all day. Trust me, I feel your pain! I’ve been there! I still have some of those feelings now!
But I’ve changed my thinking about this issue because of that whole consequences issue.
Yes, you can be a follower of Jesus and not “attend” a church, sort of.
This might be controversial to some of you, so bear with me. I do believe that you can be “saved” (as unhelpful of a term that is) and “justified” and “forgiven” and not attend a local church. I believe that we our standing before God is based upon God’s grace through faith (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 3:28; 5:1). I wholeheartedly agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith when it states:
“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (XI.II.)
Church attendance, participation, and membership does not make us righteous before God. It does not cleanse us of our sins.
But… (yes, that’s a big conjunction)…
While we are justified by faith, saving faith is never apart from good works. After the apostle Paul noted that we were saved by grace through faith, he acknowledged that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). If we continue reading the Westminster Confessional, we’ll find a helpful balance:
“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” (ibid.)
Faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17, 26). What kind of works are we to be doing? Christians have answered that question by pointing to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, as well as the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 15:4). Thus, we are told in Scripture to not neglect meeting with other believers, a habit that some people have (Heb. 10:25).
If someone says they are a follower of Jesus, isn’t is safe to assume that they follow Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of his chosen apostles? If so, then I think it’s fair to say that you can’t really be a follower of Jesus if you don’t meet with other believers, sort of (feel free to push back on that in the comments).
Participating in a church doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense.
I realize that a lot of people get hung upon the whole “church” thing. I am constantly telling people that one of the weakest areas of Protestant theology is in the area of Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).
And I have no problem with house church gatherings or small groups or whatever-kind-of-church-type-of-meeting-that-keeps-some-resemblance-to-biblical-Christianity you have in mind. I’m a little cautious about house churches that are made up entirely of a single family and meet occasionally when everyone just happens to wake up accidentally earlier than intended. But I’ve also been a part of some good house church groups.
So let’s not jump to the conclusion that I’m saying you need to join the “institutional church.” Join a small group. Attend some regular prayer meetings. Get your feet wet, that’s fine.
Parenting as a follower of Jesus means you need to be involved in shaping the spiritual formation of your children!
This isn’t easy. There are plenty of reasons why you should stay as far away from the church as you can. But if you want to see your children and their children and their children’s children have some value towards the kingdom of God, don’t rob them of this important part of following Jesus!
Teach and model to them that it is normal for followers of Jesus to regularly want to worship with other believers, not the exception. Teach and model that it is normal for followers of Jesus to regularly receive ministry, not the exception. Teach and model that it is normal for followers of Jesus to regularly serve in ministry, not the exception. Teach and model that it is normal for followers of Jesus to prioritize the things of the kingdom of God over and against the things of the world, not the exception.
If you don’t teach and model some of these important things, you will make it very difficult for your children to grow up valuing those things. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Slowly, over time, those values and priorities begin to slip and slowly, over time, the daily and weekly routines that are helpful in our spiritual growth begin to become less and less a priority. By the third generation, those values and priorities are gone. It looks like this:
- The first generation participates in church irregularly and never commits.
- The second generation participates during Christmas and Easter.
- The third generation has no church connection.
It isn’t good.
With following Jesus comes responsibility. With parenting comes responsibility. Tie those responsibilities together and make a commitment to teach and model to your children that the ways of Jesus and the rule and reign of God as experienced in the kingdom of God are far greater and far more important than anything else in this world.
If you can’t make Sunday mornings, find a small group on a week night. If you can’t find a small group, check with other local churches. If there are no other local churches, pray about starting something. Don’t be content to just let it slide! Your children will most likely suffer the greatest damage!
There are consequences to not prioritizing and protecting church participation in your family. Sadly, your children face more than you may realize…
If you are working things out in the whole following Jesus department, I understand church participation/attendance may be a challenge. That’s okay. Don’t take this post as a pressure tactic. It’s not.
This is mostly intended for those who are mature followers of Jesus who just need a kick in the pants… ha ha ha ha. When I got that kick in my pants, it literally changed my life. I pray it does for you too!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.