As a father, I have many goals for my children. One of the most important is that as adults they will be actively involved in a local church, not just as attendees but also that they have a love for God’s family and a desire to serve in the church. I desire for them to place the priority of corporate worship above other activities that compete for attention. Increasingly in our society, Sunday morning is like all other mornings and not set aside, as it once more commonly was, for worship and rest.
An instance at a church we attended pressed this issue upon my mind. The high school youth went to the city of San Francisco for a day of ministry to the homeless. This was scheduled on a Saturday and was two hours from our church. Instead of coming home that evening and attending church on Sunday, they planned an overnight trip that included Sunday at an amusement park. When I heard the announcements for this I could not believe my ears. My children were younger and would not be participating anyway, but I thought to myself, “If my kids were high school age would I send them or keep them here to worship on Sunday as a family?”
The answer came to my mind, “My children would be sitting at church and listening to the preaching on Sunday morning instead of losing their lunch on some roller coaster.”
“My children may be the only ones not at the amusement park,” I thought, and I’m perfectly at peace with going against the tide in such affairs, “but the priority of corporate worship trumps corporate amusement.” Edification before entertainment is a great motto in my opinion.
How is one to train children to love the local church when the church engages in such activity? What are these high school students being taught about the importance of worshipping together as Christians? They may have had a morning worship time before heading to the rides, but seriously, is that the same as hearing the pastor deliver the Word? Who invested more time preparing a spiritual meal that week – the preaching pastor or the youth director?
Studies show that over 75% of children are leaving the church within two years of reaching college age. No wonder! When church is placed in line behind standing in line at the roller coaster, when Sunday soccer scores more points with the family calendar then Sunday service, what should we expect our children to do when they are older? Why do so many parents not see the long-term results upon their children’s priorities?
I have wondered about the wisdom of having children in sports that compete on Sundays. Some of my friends, godly and gospel loving, take children out of church to attend athletic competition for a season of the year. I know these people love God, want to raise godly children, and are doing what they think is proper. But for me, no sports competition will be in competition with the regular corporate worship on Sundays. I remember this being one of the reasons my parents didn’t pursue a more competitive level of ice-skating for my sister. As more is caught than taught, their example was wise.
Having children in church with their family on Sunday is not the only thing necessary to stop the exodus from our churches at age 18. Many things need to be done by families and the church; placing a priority on corporate worship is one of those things.
Of course, I’m not opposed to having fun, resting, or vacationing, but our family rarely misses a Sunday morning service. Even when out of town, we are usually in attendance somewhere. This is far from some form of guilt or misplaced duty, or even legalism. This is in my opinion the proper place to be – in corporate worship with the family of Christ. I do it out of love, not guilt.
I remember, one afternoon when I was in my early twenties, being asked by a friend to skip the Sunday evening service so as to stay at the river. This was a few years before I was married, and although I was still living at home, these decisions were mine to make. I went to service that evening and enjoyed the sweet fellowship of other believers and the presence of the Holy Spirit; even time at the river could not compare.