What I Don’t Look for in a Church
After I first started having kids, I distinctly remember how important I thought it was for our family to attend a church with a strong children’s ministry. I thought that such a ministry would help our kids understand and embrace the Christian faith in a deeper and more tangible way, and that this would be even more important as the years go by.
But I no longer hold this to be a major priority for me and for my family. Here is why.
A study conducted by the Search Institute a number of years ago identified the main factors influencing the faith maturity of children. And the researchers discovered that family religiosity was more powerful than even church involvement. Specifically, the level of maturity of the mother was considered the most influential factor, even more so than that of the father. In other words, all that time I was thinking about choosing a church with a strong children’s ministry could have been better spent deepening my own Christian maturity.
It’s tempting to want to put all of our children’s spiritual development eggs into the church basket, sending them to their Sunday school classes while we go enjoy our own undisturbed worship and get what we feel we need out of the Sunday morning service. But I’ve come to realize that embracing this perspective results in a consumeristic view of church, where parents feel justified in leaving if the kids’ ministry or the worship or whatever else they are looking for falls short of expectations. The irony is that the best place to help our kids grow spiritually is right inside our own homes.
If you compare the amount of time our kids are in a church setting with the amount of time they are in the presence of one or more parent, there is just no comparison. My kids spend a total of about 4-5 hours per week in a church setting, if I include their weekly AWANA meetings. However, they spend an average of about 70-80 hours a week in my presence (and even if you don’t homeschool, your average would likely be about 30-40 hours more than the time your kids spend in church each week.) No matter how good their Sunday school teachers are, there is no way that brief time of influence can compete with my day-to-day example and witness to my kids.
In other words, we mothers have tremendous impact on the faith maturity of our children, by how we live, by how we demonstrate our commitment to Jesus in our own behaviors and lifestyles, and by the values we embrace in our day to day lives. How much do we display the fruits of the Spirit in the way we interact with others? How much does God’s heart for those who are considered “the least of these” evident in our lives? How deeply do we embrace values of generosity, hospitality, simplicity, and community? It can be sobering but also illuminating for us to recognize that our example in these areas and more will have so much more impact than the curriculum our church uses to teach our kids.
It’s important to be a part of a church community, but we should not expect that the church is going to be the main provider of spiritual teaching and development in our children’s lives. That responsibility falls on parents, and particularly on us moms. It’s not only an extraordinary responsibility and blessing, but also a biblical calling as expressed in Deuteronomy 6 to “impress [God's commandments] on your children.”
In next week’s post, we’ll ask the question of whether or not this all means that mothers are supposed to focus entirely on their families. (Sneak peek: my answer is no!) But for this week, if you are in a situation in which you are either dissatisfied with your church’s children’s ministry, or feeling called to a church community that doesn’t have a strong children’s ministry, have no fear: your relationship with Christ is the best teaching your children can receive on what it means to be a Christ-follower themselves.
As always, I love to hear what you think. Feel free to comment below!