When kids say, "I don’t want to go to church!"

One of the struggles of Christian parenting is shepherding your children into the desire of following God. If I make them learn catechism questions, or go to church, they will grow up and reject the church and the gospel because I have made them do it. That’s sometimes what we think, and perhaps that’s a legitimate fear, or “concern” if you don’t like to admit to being afraid.
At what level do you “make” your kids do anything? How “religious” in nature should something be before you say, “OK, I don’t want you to have to do this.” For instance, school and breaking the Law are pretty much non-negotiables, right?  It doesn’t matter if they want to do it, they have to or don’t have to do it. 
Should it be the same for regularly coming to church? Bible study, catechism questions, etc…? Should we just say, “You have to come to Church?”
Right now my 4 year old lives for church. He has 3 years of children’s church before he hears his daddy preach. Will he enjoy it then? What will I do when he says, “I don’t want to come?” What should you do as laity with your kids? Instead of a road block, this is an opportunity to lead your family to Christ and His Church in a deeper way.
Here are some thoughts about the subject which have bounced around in my head for a bit.
1.) Don’t assume that making your kid go to church will necessarily make him not want to go to church when he/she gets older. My wife and I had to go to church growing up, but I only missed a few Sundays even when in college. There is not a tit-for-tat relationship for every child and mandatory church attendance. However, some of had experiences of having to go to church and decided to be done with it later in life. Experience varies.
2.) The Christian life is not easy. There are things that I want to do that I can’t. There are things God calls me to do that I don’t want to do. Following Jesus involves taking up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23). If our kids only do the things they want to do, and as parents we regularly foster that attitude by giving into the demands of our children to stay home on Sunday, then we are setting up a pick-and-choose Lordship of King Jesus. But his lordship is to be entire (though obviously impossible, that is the direction we are moving toward). So just leaving them at home doesn’t help in the long run either.
3.) The motivation of the human heart is never going to be perfect. Even when someone doesn’t want to be at church, and is only there because of duty-on his or his parent’s part-the Holy Spirit can still show up. He really can. I hear it all the time. When you put yourselves in the way of the oncoming train of grace, you are likely to get hit. His work of sanctification is there for the asking and we need to regularly point our kids to Him. Even folks driven by duty and gasoline can find grace in the preached Word, congregational singing, sacraments, and fellowship.
4.) Ask “Why” and get to the heart of the matter.  Don’t simply make your kids go without any explanation. Don’t simply just let them stay home from church whenever the want. Both will produce people who are either bitter or see no need for the church. Either of those methods completely ignore the gospel. But they are in fact easiest options in this saga, and so the tendency is to deal with it on a simple black-and-white level. Do or don’t do. Very Yoda-esque, just not gospel-esque.
Instead of saying, “We’re going no matter what” or “We’re going when we/you feel like it,” why not ask the deeper question: why don’t you want to come to church? Sounds like a simple question, but simple questions are often windows into our souls. 
Here are some excuses which have come up in my discussion with adults and youth over the years on why they didn’t want to come to church.
1.) Boring. Why is something boring? Having something not pertain to your life as a teenager makes things boring very quickly. But as a parent, you have the opportunity to follow up after the sermon and talk through the points, illustrations, gospel connections. Even if the pastor doesn’t do a good job speaking to teenagers (which ours does), you as a parent can play a big role in discussing and applying the sermons. It also sets you up to talk to bigger issues. Boring is the response of the soul that doesn’t really get the gospel. No one was ever bored with Jesus. Ever. They loved him and worshiped Him, or hated and tried to kill him. You never get to Jesus by simply a “come at all costs” or “just stay at home” mentality. Both stop short.
2.) Relationships. Sometimes interpersonal drama (I wish it were only the case with teenagers!) makes kids not want to come. There may be something more than “I just want to stay home.” Now you can apply the gospel to their relationships: forgiveness, peacemaking, truth telling, etc….I once heard an adult describe coming to church as “doing a dance.” This woman didn’t get the gospel. Even though the church was less than healthy, staying home allowed her to not apply the gospel to her situation. Perhaps she was right or perhaps it was simply her perception, but the gospel which tells her she is now in right relationship with God frees her up to not care what others thought of her dress.
3.) We want our kids to sense a “need” to come to church. Not that Jesus will like us more, but because we are dissatisfied with the substitute mini-saviors. Tell them, “Daddy needs to hear about Jesus big time. He desperately needs to hear about grace so that the mini-saviors begin to lose their appeal.” They’ll begin to see it’s not an obligation but a need.
4.) We also want them to want to come to church. Tell them, “Daddy wants to hear more about Jesus big time. In light of what He’s done, is doing, will do, I want to hear about Him and be among His people.” Tell them-if it is true-that Sunday morning is the high point of the week and that you hate to miss. Let them see and hear not only your need but your desire. They’ll begin to see it’s not an obligation but a delight.
In conclusion-which I know is not how you should conclude anything (but this was a bit of ‘stream of consciousness writing so I felt it necessary), don’t fall into the easy route of saying, “OK, you can stay at home,” or “You’re coming with us.”

Simply taking your kids to church every Sunday is not “doing all that we could do as parents.” When they don’t want to come, take pains to understand why. You will have ample opportunities to point them to Jesus, both to his commands and His promises. But you’ll miss out if you don’t take the time to ask the simply question, “Why not?”

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