"I Can't. My kid has a ballgame."
I recently emailed an article to all the parents at Southern Hills. It was given to me by one of our senior members. Written by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, the article says that belief in God and regular church attendance are imperative if you want to raise well-adjusted kids. Here's a snippet:
"Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation."
How sad that, according to Gallup, church attendance in America is off 20 percent since 2000. Nearly half of adults under the age of 30 say they have no identity with God.
Perhaps even sadder is the believing parent who brings their kids to church "now and then." In other words, if something else less boring is going on somewhere, the church assembly takes a backseat. To follow is an article written by a preacher that I thought worth passing along.
When Church is Optional
by Blake Laberee
“Hey Preacher, I wanted to let you know that we won’t be at church for the next three months because my girl is playing ball and they have games on Sunday and practices throughout the week.”
My heart sank. I wasn’t shocked because I had heard similar statements from parents before. Sports, plays, bands, fundraisers, on and on went the list of programs and distractions that would inevitably take the family out of church.
“Well, let me encourage you to reconsider that,” I began.
But there was no talking him down. I explained in a hushed tone the importance of his role as a father to set the standard for his children. I talked about the importance of putting the Lord first. I talked about the importance of attending the local church. But, standing before me was a father and husband who, instead of leading his family in holiness, was choosing to inflict them with spiritual wounds.
“Well, they’re saved. So, what else is there?” he asked jovially.
I felt my face go flush. “What else is there? Life! The Gospel is for all of life—not just a ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ card. Being here as a family will do far more for them long-term than this sport will.”
He snapped back, this time with a more serious tone, “Well, my kids need to learn teamwork and stuff.” We exchanged a few more words and then he walked out – his children and wife in tow. We saw the kids at a couple more youth events and then never again.
I still ache thinking about that exchange and others like it. As a believer who considers the gathering of the saints as a commanded, valuable, necessary privilege of grace, I had always struggled with these talks. I am miffed at how easily Christian parents throw God on the backburner with the hearts of their children on the line.
How can we sing on Sunday morning that Jesus is my “all-in-all” and then decide to sacrifice the glorious, life-giving truths of the Gospel on the bloody altar of secular “busyness”? Our parents have exchanged “Keep your eyes on Jesus” for “Keep your eyes on the ball”.
There is nothing “wrong” with sports and hobbies at all—unless they cause us to violate God’s law. We must remember that anything which comes between us and God is an idol. Anything.
Skipping out on the worship of our Lord is never appropriate. Certainly, illness is an exception. But Sunday is a special day for God’s people and ought not be treated like a second Saturday. On the list of Christian priorities, sports and hobbies should be way down the list and never above our responsibilities to God and the church. This kind of thinking is counter cultural. For most people, sports and hobbies are the Sunday routine. But for the Christian family, God is Priority One every day of the week and especially on Sunday.
Perhaps the problem is not the sport or hobby itself, but the forgetfulness of the parents.
Parents Forget Their Responsibility for Their Children’s Spirituality
Children are a heritage and a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3-5), and as gifts from the Lord they are to be handled and cared for as precious beings made in His image (Gen. 1:27). Parents are commanded to discipline their children (Prov. 25:19) and teach them what they are to know about God (Prov. 22:6, Deut. 6:7). Parents are responsible for their children’s knowledge of the scriptures “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-17).
Parents Forget the Purpose of Youth Ministry
We can argue the effectiveness of youth ministry all day. Youth group is no substitute for parental training of children in the home. And yes, there are many bad youth programs out there. A good youth ministry is designed to come along side parents in equipping and reinforcing the spiritual needs of children. Youth group is one of the tools in a parent’s spiritual toolbox.
Sadly, many parents depend on youth ministry to provide all of their children’s spiritual guidance. Nothing is taught in the home. Parents “pawn off” the spiritual care of their children to the church for an hour or two a week (if there are no ballgames, dance recitals, etc.). Then when their children’s faith is weak, the parents blame the church!
The children live in a home that lacks any spiritual vitality. Is it any wonder why they get bored with God and fall away from the faith? Imagine if parents took responsibility for the spiritual growth of their children by praying, studying, and discussing the things of God with their kids.
Parents Forget the Purpose of the Church Assembly
When parents choose to enroll their children in secular programs that compete against church programs, it is a sign that they have forgotten the purpose of church assembly. It’s easy to say “Well, my kids have more fun doing x and y. They’re bored at church.” Please understand that the purpose of the church assembly is not to entertain you! There is a much greater purpose! Church service is not simply “something to do” on a Sunday morning. Author Mark Dever summarizes the purpose of the church assembly like this: “The proper ends for a local congregation’s life and actions are the worship of God, the edification of the church, and the evangelization of the world. These three purposes in turn serve the glory of God.”
Parents Forget Their Greater Affection
Most Christians profess their love for God. 1 John 4:19 reminds us that, “we love because he first loved us.” Love for God and love for others is the most prominent mark of believers (John 13:15). Jesus says in John 14:5, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Simply put, the Christian’s life is marked by love.
Consider the fact that Jesus lived, died and rose on our behalf. He died as the sacrifice of atonement for our sins, satisfying the divine wrath of the Father that would have justly fallen on us (1 Jn 2:2). We were once dead in our trespasses but have now been made alive (Eph 2:1). At our baptism, Christ took out that hard heart of stone and replaced it with a heart that would worship, honor, communion with, and glorify Him (Ez 11:19). We were bought with a price and we no longer belong to ourselves (1 Cor 6:20).
Jesus and His commands are EVERYTHING to us. Our love and passion for Him is what we demonstrate and pass down to our children. No secular activity, hobby or sport has done what Jesus has done for us.
When I put the things of this world above the things of God, I am not loving God and I am not loving my wife and children. I am programming my family to be satisfied with lesser affections. I am programming them for spiritual failure.
Parents, we need to stop “programming” our children to fail in the spiritual by substituting the secular. May we remind ourselves of our responsibility to teach and model the true joy found in having a relationship with King Jesus.
Blake Laberee is a husband, father, and minister for a small church in the Pacific northwest.
 Daniel L. Akin, Ed. A Theology for the Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014), 609. This book is a collection of doctrinal essays. Dever’s essay is entitled “The Doctrine of the Church”.