It’s not enough. It simply isn’t. It never was.
God never intended for our life of faith to be relegated to a special building at a certain time on a recurring day. He never once commanded us to “Stay and make friends.” The explicit command was to “Go and make disciples.”
And yet, it seems like for many, the defining characteristic that sets them apart as Christian, whether to themselves or the world around them, is that they go to church. Don’t get me wrong; I am not against church. On the contrary I feel that the gathering together of believers is essential to a growing faith. However, I do not think it should be what characterizes one as being Christian, as though attendance alone is indicative of what being a follower of Christ is.
When church attendance is what we equate with Christian discipleship, we run a few risks.
First, it becomes very easy to compartmentalize our faith, to treat it as something we check off the list like grocery shopping or soccer practice, instead of a transformational lifelong process that grows the love of Christ in us.
Second, it can be deceptive to those who are learning from us what Christianity truly is, like for instance, our children.
Third, it signals to the world that it is perfectly fine to restrict Jesus to a specified place and not bring it into the public arena.
Finally, it creates a defeatist atmosphere where if our kids leave “church” we say they’ve walked away from “the faith” as though the two are one; a disheartening prospect both for the one who is leaving church (because now they are faithless) and for the one watching them leave (because now they are hopeless).
And I just have to believe we can do better than this, Church.
I have to believe that our kids deserve to see a faith that is much more intimate, much more vibrant, much more alive than church attendance on Sunday morning. Because, truly it’s not enough.
Our kids need us. They need us (parents, ministers, other adults) to live out their faith in front of them every. single. day. They need us to pray with strangers, love the unloveable, serve the family of God, talk about Jesus in the car, sing to God at home, read the Bible in our beds, thank God for His blessings in the public and private places…they need us to be Christians, to do the “Jesus thing” all the time, not when we are in the appropriate locale.
And our kids need to do it. They need to physically touch their faith. To hold it in their hands and use it. The New York Times recently ran an article that talked about how important it was for families and children to do “hard work” together. The author said,
“It’s easy to get caught up in moving all the individuals in our family around like pieces on a game board and forget that there is more to our lives together than finding a way to get everyone suitably fed and attired and delivered to the right place at the right time. When we work together on jobs that matter to the adults or to the family, (as opposed to jobs that are primarily focused on children and their needs) children see that they are a valuable part of something bigger than they are, and parents can see that their children can and want to contribute to that.
Now consider this:
When Fuller Institute surveyed 500 youth group graduates about what they wished they’d had more of in youth group, guess what showed up 2nd and 3rd on the list (after “more time for deep conversations”) – Mission trips and Service projects.
Research done by Diane Garland suggests there is great power in “family members serving together instead of separately” in attaching kids to their faith.
One major conclusion made by the Sticky Faith team is that “service is more likely to stick when it’s not an event but a process.”
Not an event. Not alone. Not an afterthought.
Linking faith to service, to doing, to going has to be more than a missions trip, a one-time thing, a moment. It needs to be…well, it needs to be how we live our lives. Not that every day we will do a service project as a family or go on a missions trip with our child…but every day we need to incorporate action into our faith in ways that show our children that while church is important, it is never enough – simply attending a meeting is not what makes us Christian.
We are Christians because we follow Christ. And where did Christ go? Out, to seek and save the lost. He washed feet, hugged children, ate meals, took boat rides, walked a lot, and he also went to the temple…but he was always “in church.” We are his body, alive by the Holy Spirit…that’s what makes us Christian.
Let’s go be that church
and let’s make sure our kids are right beside us.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.