When parents seek to follow Jesus by being the church in their communities (rather than by simply attending church), one of the questions that often comes up is “What about our children? How will they learn about the Bible? How will they discover Jesus? How will they learn to worship God?”
First of all, here is what it DOES NOT look like. Ever. At least, not in any family I have ever seen:
So how do we raise children if we don’t “attend church”?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but note, first of all, that the prevalence of such questions reveals how broken “church” has become. I mean, according to Scripture, it is the parent’s responsibility to raise up their children and teach them about God, but our modern way of doing church relinquishes these things to 45 minutes on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, in a building with a (generally) controlled environment, and to a person we don’t really know.
Isn’t that crazy?
How did we go from “Train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov 22:6) and “Teach these things to your children … ” (Deut 6:7; 11:19) to asking, “So what did you learn in Sunday school today?” on the drive home from church?
I sometimes think that the simple act of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning gives our children a terrible misconception about what it means to worship God and follow Jesus. The activity of “attending church” rather than being the church in our day-to-day lives can give the impression to our children that loving God and following Jesus is a “Sunday morning in the pew” activity, rather than a minute-by-minute awareness throughout the day.
Anyway, again, I don’t have all the answers … in fact, I don’t have ANY answers.
But here is my basic approach: We teach and train our children by loving them. Your children will not learn about God if you “go to church” but then treat them like crap the rest of the week.
Children learn to imitate what we do; not by what we say or what we tell them to do.
Remember that raising children to follow Jesus “outside the institutional church” is not at all the same thing as raising them to follow “outside the church.” If you are seeking to follow Jesus with your life, you are still raising your children within the church, and may be doing a better job of it than if you sat in a pew on Sunday morning and hoped that your children were learning something downstairs.
Over at the “All About Eve” blog which I am writing for, Eve asked these questions about parenting, and I proposed a bit of an answer. Here is an excerpt from what I said:
So while parenting might be the “good” you focus on right now, this does not mean you cannot get a job, write a book, care for the needy in your community, or do any of the other “good” things available for you to do right now. You might do any or all of them. But if you do, and if you have chosen to focus on loving your children, then these other things can be done in light of loving and training them. Take a job, for instance. You could show your children love through a part-time job by showing up for work on time, not bad-mouthing your boss or coworkers at home, and wisely using the money that you earn. This is just an example, but you probably get the point.
Go read Eve’s question here, and the rest of my response here.
Recently, I also heard a pretty good podcast about this. It was called “The Wild Ones.” You can listen to it here: The Wild Ones by Darrin Hufford.
Certainly, as we follow Jesus into the world, other people speak into the lives of our children, but raising and loving our children in the ways of God is not something we pass off to the youth pastor or the Sunday school teacher. It is a day-in and day-out way of living life before our children with Jesus by our side.
Do you have children? Are you seeking to teach them to follow Jesus outside of the “four walls” of institutional Christianity, and into a moment-by-moment relationship with God and others? If so, what ideas can you share? What challenges have you faced? What are your fears and how have you dealt with them?
Brian P. says
I have four children, now ages 18 through 12, and I think one of the biggest impediments I have had to face is the church itself. Our suburban megachurch, coming from Charismatic, Pentecostal, Dispensationalist, and fundamentalist origins, is changing orientations but this is slow. Many lay leaders have taught (and tried to teach) things that they have found to be central to their faiths that to me seem to be centered in 20th-century American Evangelicalism than any of the long history of the church, its outlook in a pluralistic 21st century, or, say, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth Himself. I have felt I have often had to give much thought about how (if at all) I should unteach faulty cosmology, biology, history, and epistemology taught to my children. I have often also thought them being taught in-group and top-down, fear-based morality rather than compassion oriented or intrinsic morality. At this point, now that they are in their teens and more thinking for themselves, I doubt any of my kids will turn into Christianity-at-its-worst style Christians. “How do we raise children if we don’t attend church” isn’t the hard question. The hard question is “How do we raise children if we *do* attend church?” They get taught some pretty wacky and dubious stuff downstairs.
Matthew Richardson says
Parents need to become more involved with their children these days. Too many leave the raising of their children to society.
Matthew Richardson says
Check this out if you have the time. https://answersingenesis.org/media/video/worldview/rescuing-our-kids/
Great post. I appreciate your not having all the answers, but I think the answers you gave were more than adequate to help concerned parents get pointed in the right direction.
Brian P. says
AIG. Alas. Weren’t we discussing four walls?
Living Liminal says
Living Liminal says
“I sometimes think that the simple act of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning gives our children a terrible misconception about what it means to worship God and follow Jesus.”
For my children, witnessing their mum being being driven to the point of emotional and physical breakdown by the abusive behaviour of her fellow ‘leaders’ offered a pretty “terrible misconception” too! Leaving the institution was the healthiest thing we could do for them.
And as you say, we “are still raising [our] children within the church”! It’s just the institution we’ve left behind 🙂
Ricky Donahue says
Well I agree the responsibly of rasing the children in Christ is primarily the parents not the church but to teach the importance of attending church as Christ instructed is also just important. We need to make sure that our kids know there is no perfect church because there is no perfect person but we are to obey Christ command to worship with those in a sound doctrine evangelistic church that we can find because we need their prayers and their fellowship in this sinful kingdom which we live. Be careful of the emerging church that is creeping up these days try to find out more information about them before you attend
Be careful of any “church” that you merely “attend”… 😉
My wife and I are raising our 5 children outside the 4 walls of a building that some mistakenly call “church.” However, we are very serious about raising them “in the church” as you have used the term here. We have found that training our children in the way they should go lives or dies on rhythms. We have experimented with a variety of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms over the past few years to find what works for our family. Now, it’s going wonderfully. Here are a few of the specific things we have implemented:
– Daily homeschool lessons include copying some Proverbs or Psalms for handwriting practice and then reading the verses back for reading practice.
– Daily prayer with my children at bedtime.
– A few nights a week, I will read a short passage of Scripture at the dinner table (frequently from Proverbs) and we will discuss it together as a family.
– Weekly practice of Shabbat (a.k.a. Sabbath), loosely following some Jewish traditions in how we practice this.
– Weekly “family training time” (usually on Sundays) where we pull out the whiteboard and talk about an important idea together. I spend time in prayer before this asking God what he wants to teach our family. When I get an answer, I go teach my family about that thing.
– Weekly gathering with other families in our neighborhood for a time of reading the Scriptures and worshipping together. This happens in our living room with kids running in and out of the room, sitting on laps, reading to themselves, participating, spacing out, etc.
– Celebrating the annual feasts described in Leviticus 23. This provides great opportunities to gather with other likeminded families for times of worship and Scripture reading and it creates really powerful memories for our kids. We are loving it!
Like I said, it all lives or dies on rhythms. Anytime we stray from our rhythms, entropy enters the system and chaos begins to take over. Getting to this point has been a series of baby steps over the course of years. We did not drop out of institutional church one day and take up these rhythms the next. Also, we did it with a lot of help and encouragement from other families who are farther down the road with rhythmic living than we are. I don’t think we could have done it without them.
Our family is thriving with this approach. There is no question in my mind or in the minds of my children who their spiritual leader is. It’s me! I’m responsible for their training and instruction. I lead my family. I do not outsource it to the “professionals.” It’s a big responsibility to shoulder, and I believe that’s why God gave men big shoulders.
The most important question I get from people about what our family is doing has to do with how I submit myself to other spiritual authority. I think this is a great question. For a while, I didn’t have a good answer. I sought out regular times of meeting with other older, wiser, godly men for direction and discipleship. I consider them my “spiritual fathers” (1Cor 4:15). I submit to their counsel and wisdom. They are not paid professionals. They are not staff members at any “churches”. They are simply fruitful men who match the description in 1Tim 3. They invest in me, and their investment yields dividends in my family. I love having spiritual authority over me. I’m not interested in being a lone ranger. That’s not the Church. But at the end of the day, no one else is responsible for my family. I am responsible.
Chuck McKnight says
Great post, Jeremy! More than anything else, my family is the reason I do not “attend” an institutional church. They are far too important to simply hand them over to such a system. Weekend services just aren’t conducive to true 24/7 discipleship.
My parents did what they had been taught, rearing their children “in” the institutional church. Church was a building, a place to go, an activity, sitting and listening to a man saying things that made no sense to a child, and singing songs that made little sense. “Being” a Christian meant saying a prayer, “going” to church three times a week, and a system of “do’s” and “don’ts” that also made little sense to me.
Jesus was a nice guy who died because I was bad. Huh? Why on earth did that mean I had to sit while the other kids in my gym class learned to square dance?
I was an adult before I figured out who Jesus really was and I wondered why I had never heard anything about loving our neighbors and living like Jesus had taught and had shown by example.
Dallas Swoager says
This has been an ongoing discussion between my wife and myself over the last few months… and we just welcomed our first child last Thursday. I know that more than anything my wife is looking for the support of a faith community in raising our daughter, and we don’t really have that to any great extent right now.
It leaves me caught between wanting to provide my wife with something that she needs, and having to buy into something that goes counter to what I believe in.
We discovered that “attending” church often does not = finding “the support of a faith community” for many people.
Johnny Blaze says
I agree with the author. Teaching children about is strictly the Parents responsibility. Remember parents your words have a more profound effect on your kids than a teacher. So parents do your Job.
“Live your life as if you were the hero in your favorite movie.”
MJ mackenzie book shows you how, get it on Amazon/kindle.
We are outside the four walks and absolutely love living in the liberty of the Spirit…we get to serve kids at poverty level and have become good friends with them…it’s refreshing to be accepted by them when rejected by the religious leaders in town for not going on Sunday to their building. We get to give to stop human trafficking, serve the elderly and widows…our lives are exciting and overflowing with the Joy that comes Ion following Jesus:) we worship with dance clapping sometimes everyone grabs an instrument to play, we draw or paint what the Holy Spirit leads us to, share dreams go over scrioture watch bible movies it’s awesome and we love it, we get to write poems and devotions that we wouldn’t have time for before in the four walls as we would b too busy in man’s busyworks.
Multiple moments throughout the day are training our kiddos and usually on Sundays we try to worship together and read bible together and share what Holy Spirit leads us to.
Last Sunday I found myself running outside around my house screaming at the top of my lungs that He who the Son set free is free indeed! This was after religious leaders/past best friends told us we are not connected to the Bridegroom or Bride bc we don’t attend the formal church on Sundays. Thank You Jesus for breaking every chain!
Jeremy Myers says
You are discovering your freedom! It is exhilarating, is it not?
Great post! What things do you do to teach your children the fundamentals of your beliefs? I believe that our actions speak the loudest of course but I also want my children to be familiar with scripture and learn the wonderful stories.