“I hate going to church.” Has your child ever said something like this? Maybe they don’t really hate going to church. Maybe they say they’re bored, they don’t understand what’s going on in corporate worship, or it’s just not fun. Or maybe it’s not church. Maybe it’s when you try to get them to have a quiet time or pray. Rather than coming away from those times with fresh insights from the Word or spiritually filled up, they come away acting like you just gave them homework to do first thing in the morning.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If not, congratulations, you have raised a perfect child. But if it does sound a little familiar, do not be afraid. You are not alone. If your child hates church, or is bored, doesn’t like reading the Word, or can’t say a prayer deeper than thanking God for the Chick-Fil-A nuggets he or she is eating as you speed off from the drive thru to sports practice, rest assured you are not alone.
Raising our children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord isn’t easy. It’s tedious work. Raising our children in church and under the authority of God’s word in the hopes that the Lord would awaken their hearts is discipleship and missions at its finest and hardest. I think many toddlers are still considered an unreached people group.
So, what do we do? There are all kinds of books written to address that very thing, but I want to put three words in your head as we think about how to move our children from bored with Jesus to beholding Jesus. From entertained by Jesus to enthralled by Jesus.
Those 3 words are: Duty, Discipline, Delight.
Let’s not forget that anytime we try to learn something new or try to instill in us a new habit or way of living, it tends to feel more like a duty. It feels more like something we are forcing ourselves to do. Duty isn’t bad. Especially with young children, many of the beliefs, behaviors, and practices, we ask of them will feel like a duty and not something they enjoy. If we expect them to love everything about the church and everything about reading the Bible, then we are expecting more of them than we do ourselves. So, if your child says she is bored with church, it’s probably not because she is demonically possessed. It just might be that she is human. And bored isn’t always bad.
If we can relax a little and give our children some grace, give ourselves some grace, and realize that this loving Jesus process is more like tending to a garden and less like putting a frozen pizza in the microwave, we will begin to be better equipped to help our children move from duty to discipline. The discipline stage is where we can help manage expectations and build the faith into the rhythms of their life. This is the stage where we do the types of things that helps cultivate faith like praying with our children, having devotions with them, worshiping with them in corporate worship, asking them about kid’s church and youth group, applying the Word of God to practical problems at home and school. These disciplines don’t produce faith in and of themselves, but they do play a big part. In the same way tilling up the ground, sowing seeds, watering them, weeding the beds, and keeping pests out doesn’t ensure you will have an abundant harvest. However, it’s the only thing you can control that gives you the best opportunity to be a part of the harvest. Discipline stage is where children move from the “Do I have to do this?” Stage to the “This is just what we do as a family.” Stage.
The last stage is delight. This is the stage we have no control over at all. This is the stage of faith that we pray to God about. This is the stage where God takes dead hearts and makes them alive. This is something only He can do. It is only God that can move a dead heart and make it come alive. Again, do not fear. Many of our children are somewhere between duty and discipline. Some of our children have confessed faith in Christ, but still need our help. Some of the deep things of God are not easily seen as delight to those young in the faith. If we are honest, all Christians wrestle with these things. We all move from duty and discipline, but hopefully because we are motivated by delight.
Keep sowing seeds. Keep tilling up the hard soil. Keep watering the ground. And by God’s grace may He grant us a bountiful harvest in this Next Generation.