Lately, their has been a buzz on social media about parents to bringing their kids to church. They lead with outrageous titles implying that skipping church will doom your children to become unbelievers.
I was shocked to see how many people were sharing (and liking) these negative posts. We 100% agree that church attendance is important and plays a role in kids coming to Christ, but some of these articles cross the line into legalism and parent shaming.
This needs to stop – busy parents need gracious encouragement, not to see all their friends piling on the Facebook shame machine. Here is our response giving in the spirit of grace – that we own to parents who struggle with getting to church every Sunday.
No Perfect Attendance Awards in Heaven
When working with children, reward systems ideally compel the desired behavior both at home and at church. It’s a known fact that kids will go to great lengths for a balloon or a piece of candy. Teachers everywhere both in the secular and church environments use reward systems to incite the best behavior from their students. I’m a believer in being prepared too. As one children’s pastor put it, “If you don’t put on a program for kids, they’ll put one on for you.”
One of the things that we encourage as teachers–besides good behavior is good attendance. In fact, back when I was in school, which was many years ago perfect attendance was such an amazing thing that our school celebrated those few perfect attendees with a special pizza night. I freely admit that I was never one of those kids.
Busy Parents Struggle with Time (That’s Normal)
I’m happy to say that I never experienced shame from a teacher because I didn’t achieve perfect attendance. Shaming parents and children because of imperfect attendance is not the way to minister to those families. And that’s what we need to talk about today.
I don’t want to come off as controversial but this is something I just can’t ignore. I’m going to be really honest with you here.
As a seasoned children’s pastor I freely admit that it’s more fun to teach to a full classroom of spiritually hungry children then it is to go home with all your snacks.
I study and prepare and sweat and pray over every lesson. I get it! It is always much more satisfying to stand in front of a full room of kids to demonstrate my latest object lesson than to wonder where everyone has gone to?
“Attendance Rules” are Man’s Rules
Yes, I have had plenty of those moments in my twenty-plus years in ministry, in fact. Would I rather have everyone in children’s church every week? Of course! But here’s the thing. We don’t have the authority to command that sort of adherence to our attendance rules. It may be in the bylaws (not really) but it’s not a requirement to reach heaven. Let’s not confuse the heavenly reward systems with the ones that we have.
Maybe you’re thinking Hebrews 10:25. Forsaking is a strong word, probibly a lot stronger than missing Sunday school because you have family visiting.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
But don’t forget verse 24
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
The provoking here means encouragement, not shaming fellow believers on social media.
God Rewards Kindness, Not Perfect Attendance
Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
What did they do? Gave food to the hungry, water to the thirst, took in strangers. They clothed the needy and cared for the sick. They went to the prisons for visits. The righteous described here by Jesus were out and about, in the world, doing good things in his name. They showed kindness!
Kids are naturally legalistic, always calling out “good and bad” behaviors. So let’s make sure that kindness is praises, not simply showing up no matter what.
There are so many wonderful things that are coming our way when we step into the heavenly realm to be with our God. And there are truly things we can do here to store up those heavenly rewards but none of us will be fitted out with gold stars for church attendance.
Faithfulness to the Lord. Yes. That’s an entirely different subject.
Church Attendance ? Faithfulness
I can just hear the door slam. Please don’t leave. Hear me out. I’m telling you this in love. We should not wrongly represent heaven’s reward systems to these little ones. We just shouldn’t do it. When we do that sort of thing, when we shame people for not attending or not tithing are not doing any of the things we expect them to do, we are telling them that this is what God expects even if we don’t say it directly.
We are His ambassadors of peace—not His enforcers. We should show mercy and grace to the people in our care. It is our job to work with families to infuse their lives with as much of the word of God and of Christ as possible. And sometimes that means abandoning our preferences especially in regards to church attendance and just being an example.
I know you love those children. I know that it is far easier to minister to people when they are in the room with you. I know that but we are rarely given the opportunities to minister in perfect circumstances. Those are such rare moments.
The onus is on us, literally. We, Ministers of Grace, have to change our attitudes about church attendance. The world we live in is a very different place than the one we were born into. With the advent of social media, and all of the other distractions that are available to children and families, with all the busy lives, the ballgames and ballet performances we have to be flexible.
We only have so many opportunities to show kids how much God loves them no matter where they are or where they go.
Skip the shame, choose to encourage.
Let’s get creative on how we stay in touch with families. So when you hear things like, “Hey, we’re going be out of town for a month. Rebecca won’t be able to attend this and this and this….”
Instead of feeling heartbroken or discouraged we can say, “Great! I’d like to stay connected. Here’s our YouTube channel. Tell Rebecca to comment each week and I will do such and such.” Or, “Ask Rebecca to comment on the post in the kids’ group.” Or whatever your creative and brilliant mind can come up with. Who cares if the religious crowd doesn’t count that as attendance? I don’t. You shouldn’t either. Attendance isn’t the bar we measure success by. It’s how much we affect positive change in a child’s life in Jesus’ name.
The key to making peace with the attendance issue is not to coerce families into behaving as we would wish but rather by becoming more versatile. That’s what needs to happen.
Kids need to know that their support system, their Christian support system–that is you and I–are available and supportive of them no matter where they are.
And when it’s time, let’s make it easier for them to come home.
You can do it!