And, What About…Making Your Children Attend Church
Q: “Pastor, should I make my children come to church or let them decide?”
Introduction: God commands all of us, children included, to attend public worship. What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold It sacred and gladly hear and learn It.
It is sinful to disobey God or allow our children to. However, God’s command is not mean, but gracious. It is like saying to a starving man, “You must come to eat this feast.” Based on the precious gifts that God gives us in the Divine Service we, and our children, should be begging to come. But, I understand that we are sinners too. We want to come to church gladly on the one hand, and don’t on the other. I also understand that parents are concerned that if they force their children to attend church, the children might grow up resenting the parents or church and not attend as adults. But, God’s wisdom is always better than ours.
As sinners and saints, we need the Law and Gospel. So, what to do with our kids?
God has placed the responsibility of teaching the faith to children on their parents. Ephesians 6:4 says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says,  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Martin Luther also reflects this Biblical teaching in his Small Catechism, as each part begins with, “As the head of the household shall teach his children.” Yes, God is clear that He wants children taught His Word privately in the home by parents and publicly in the congregation by pastors. Since God commands that we bring our kids to church to hear and learn God’s Word–if we don’t, or let them decide, we are disobeying God, Who has given us the huge responsibility and authority to teach our kids the faith.
Teaching the faith starts with parents. Parents must teach the faith in the home in word and deed. Parents must bring their children to church, as long as the child is under their authority, in order to teach the faith to them. Yet, teaching the faith to the next generation isn’t dropping our kids off at church and then going to breakfast. Teaching the faith to them also happens by modeling what it means to live like a Christian. Christians want to gather together to hear and learn God’s Word in preaching and Bible class. Christians want to have their faith strengthened and sins forgiven by the Great Physician, Who gives these gifts to His children by His Word. 2
There is no such thing as having faith and being a Christian apart from receiving the gifts of the Great Physician often. The faith that the He creates in us by the Word with water, Baptism, must continually be fed. Jesus has promised to do this feeding with His Word in the public gathering of His people—“Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am with them.” God has not promised to be present to strengthen our faith at the sports game, but by preaching. When Christians are gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments, He really is present to feed us forgiveness, give and strengthen our faith, and give us eternal life.
As Christian parents, we know that there is no more important part of our week or our entire lives than the Divine Service. As parents, we know that we cannot live apart from Jesus. This is what we want to instill in our kids. We teach this to our kids by demonstrating it in our own actions and words. They need to see that coming to church isn’t a chore or something we do for God, but a time when God gives His holy people a feast so that we have the food we need for eternal life. They need to see this hunger in their parents. They need to know that hearing preaching isn’t optional or negotiable. They need to see in our words and actions that receiving God’s gifts on the day that Christians have set aside to gather together is more important than gathering with the world around sleep, optional work, entertainment, or athletic success. They need to see that it isn’t a take it or leave it time of the week—an optional extra. They need to know that it is eternally worth it to be a Christian and hear God’s Word, even if it means suffering temporarily in a world hostile to Christ and those in Him. They need to see that it is way more important than making them eat their veggies or taking them to the physical doctor to save their temporal lives.
Think of the urgency you would have if you knew your child was dying physically whether he knew it or not. Would you let him skip treatment or skip the medicine to go to a baseball game? Would you let your child go to work to earn some spending money instead of going to the doctor to have lifesaving surgery? Of course not. This is the urgency and importance we need to teach our kids—church is the hospital for our sick and wounded souls that we all need desperately often or our faith will eventually die. Why? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith comes by abiding in The Vine, Jesus, by Word and Sacraments. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Letting our kids sin and skip church, not only weakens their faith now, but it teaches them that Jesus and His Words aren’t that important and other things, like sports, are. They are more likely as adults to have this same approach and Christ’s Church will be low on the priority list, if at all—certainly not “above all things.”
So, yes, bring your kids to church to receive the medicine of immortality. This is what we all need from cradle to finish line. As you run the race and fight the fight, keep in mind that we are all sinners and saints. Even as parents our flesh will not want to come to church. Our flesh is always opposed to the good we want to do as Christians. This is true of our kids too. Our kids’ flesh will want to sin and break the 3rd Commandment by skipping church. Our kids’ flesh will want to break the 6th Commandment with pre-marital sex. Our kids’ flesh will want to disobey the 4th Commandment by not obeying the police officer, teachers at school, or us parents in the home. Our kids’ flesh will want to physically hurt or harm a classmate. They will want to steal a candy bar from the store. But, as loving parents we don’t allow them to openly and deliberately break one of God’s Commandments if they want to. We don’t worry that if we make them return the unpaid candy bar to the store instead of letting them decide for themselves that they might grow up to be serial kleptomaniacs. No, we don’t allow them to do things that their flesh wants to do because we know it is bad for them—temporally and eternally. We use our God given authority as parents to insure with our words and actions that our kids obey the police officer, don’t assault their neighbor, obey us in the home, and come to church. We don’t let them decide for themselves.
Conclusion: Because we love our children and we know what is good for them, we make sure they get enough sleep on Saturday night so they can get up and go to the Doctor and hear and pay attention to God’s Word and so live forever. We want our kids to hear God’s Law that shows them that they are sinning against God when they grumble against coming to church. We want them to hear that it is a serious sin not to gladly hear preaching and God’s Word. But, we also want them to hear that it is for sinners that Christ lived, died, and 3 rose—Law and Gospel. Where do they hear this life giving message? They hear it through God’s ordained means–in preaching and His Word. So, yes, ‘make’ your kids come to church with you to feast; don’t let them skip this gracious meal.
Have we and will we as parents fail at teaching the faith as God requires? Yes. For this, all parents need forgiveness. This is also why we as parents run to worship service to confess that we are poor miserable parents, and Jesus is really present to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.
The feast of preaching and His Word is served often in church. Continue steadfast to come, feast, and live—this is for you and your children.
St. John Lutheran of Frisco, TX
Pastor T. Clint Stark
(This is not an official publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Catechism from Concordia Publishing House and Scriptures from the English Standard Version)
(I made the above article into a pamphlet and put it in the Narthex. I have, over the years, copied the format of the “What About” series by former LCMS President Barry and written on topics he didn’t cover. What About Series: https://www.michigandistrict.org/about/beliefs/whatabout Some I have published; others are still in rough draft form. The above is still rough, but it’s well time to share it more broadly. I wrote most of it in WI, but finished/updated it for you—a little more than changing “hockey” to “baseball”. My guess is that Dr. Barry didn’t write about this topic because it wasn’t much a question/temptation in the minds of Christian parents.)
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