Getting kids to church can be a challenge — at any age. When they are infants it’s because it just takes so much work to pack them up. Kids at that age require so much gear! Later as toddlers, separation anxiety can make dropping them off at the Children’s Ministries area challenging to say the least. With elementary-age kids, sports and other activities can easily compete with and crowd out opportunities for kids to participate in church events. Then as pre-teens and teens, a normal and healthy burgeoning sense of autonomy can be challenging to parental suggestions or expectations for church involvement.
So as a parent — at any stage — the question on any given weekend can understandably be Is it worth the effort and energy to help get my kids to church this week?
Now I am a pastor so I know you’re probably not going to be shocked if I say, Yes! It’s worth it. (It feels a little like asking a personal trainer if working out is worth it. Of course they are going to say yes.) So I’m going to let someone else answer the question.
Recently, Christianity Today magazine published a summary of findings about children’s health from researchers at Harvard’s (yes, that Harvard) T. H. Chan School of Public Health (i.e. not pastors).
The researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele “…examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.”
The team was curious about how schooling choices and religious service attendance correlated to health outcomes. Here’s what they found:
In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)
So parents you can breathe a little sigh of relief there. But what about religious service attendance? How much does that matter?
“What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” [VanderWeele] said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”
In other words, the kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.
Did you catch that? If you take two kids — one who attends church once a week regularly and another who goes to a religious school five days a week but attends church only sporadically — it is the regular church attendee who fares better. The researchers concluded that “…religious service attendance in youth was clearly the more dominant force in shaping health and well-being, at least as this pertains to the data and experiences 20 years ago.”
Here’s the bottom line from the Christianity Today summary:
Furthermore, “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity,” VanderWeele writes in his latest article for Christianity Today. “People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose, and to volunteer.”
“So regardless of school type,” VanderWeele says, “it’s beneficial to go to religious services, both as an adolescent and as an adult.”
These findings highlight the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for the local church. When parents dedicate their children at Christ Community, one of the questions they are asked is: Do you promise, before God and this congregation, that you will be faithful in worship, both in the home and in the church?
Those two spaces —the home and church — are vital to human health and flourishing. This is why Christ Community’s Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries staff and volunteers put so much effort into equipping parents. Parents play an outsized role in their children’s faith development. However, what the Harvard analysis shows is clear. It isn’t enough to simply be faithful in worship at home if we want our children to truly flourish. It also requires being faithful in a worshiping community; a local church.
If you really don’t want to know how your kid’s day went, ask them how their day went. I mean really, has that ever worked on any consistent basis?
The over-used “How was your day?” question rarely engenders any useful or meaningful dialogue, yet we continue to use it to gain insight into the lives of our children. There has to be a better way to engage our kids in conversation about their Monday lives!
This is where I find such great wisdom in the person of Jesus. He was masterful in the way He drew things out of people in the questions He asked and the stories He told. Can you imagine Jesus simply asking His disciples how their day was? No way. He would have some compelling question, perplexing parable, or intriguing inquiry that would lead to something deep, rich, and meaningful. How can we do the same with our families?
Let me offer five simple and fun alternative ways to ask your kids about their day, without asking your kids about their day. These are all practices we have used in various ways and at different times in our own family. And I should make it clear that parents are expected to be participants and not just facilitators in these practices. You can’t expect your kids to share about their days if you don’t model it for them.
True or False
Everyone at the table has to go around and share two things that happened that day. The trick is that one of those things must be totally false. Then the rest of the family has to vote to decide which one was true and which one was false. Once the truth is revealed then you can begin to ask more questions around that specific story. Clearly that story was significant in some way if they chose for it to be the true thing that happened that day. You now have an inroad to their day through this story.
Fill in the Blank
This is my favorite question to ask my kids at the dinner table because of how it both provides insight into their day and helps them process their feelings. Here is how it works. You choose someone at the table and then you choose a feeling. Once those are selected, you phrase the fill in the blank statement in this way. “Something that made Pearl frustrated was ________” The person then thinks back on their day through the lens of that feeling. It is always good to mix up the feelings you choose to help your children process a wide range of emotions. Not only do you learn more about their day, but this practice gives you the chance to help your kids process how and why they feel certain things.
High and Low
This is probably the most classic tactic, but it still works so well. You simply share the high and low points of your day. Similar to the fill in the blank question, this helps develop healthy categories of joy and sorrow in life. It is vital that our children know they have the freedom and permission to share the pains and heartaches of their life. We all know that life isn’t perfect, and this is a good way to provide a safe space to process the realities of our fallen world.
This one requires a little more creativity, but it is the one that produces the most laughter and smiles around our table. Have everyone choose something about their day that they want to share in story form. So rather than just reporting the facts of what happened, everyone recounts a particular event as if it were a fairy tale, sci-fi, mystery, or any kind of story. After the story-telling, ask them to translate it. For example, the dragon that they slayed in their story might be a metaphor for the spelling test that they got a perfect score on. The fun part is seeing the creativity of your kids and how they describe the ordinary things of their day in extraordinary ways.
Each person selects a story to share from their day, but they have to retell it in the most opposite way. Then everyone else has to try and interpret what really happened by flipping the story upside down. The fine part of this tactic is that it gets everyone at the table talking together and focusing on one story. It is also quite hilarious at times to see what your kids consider to be the opposite of things in their day.
These suggestions are by no means the silver bullets that will make your dinner table discussions or car ride conversations deep and rich with your kids. But these small practices can build a culture and tradition of more transparent sharing in your family.
What practices and traditions have you found to be helpful in creating spaces for conversation with your family?
A wise character once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The Old Testament reveals to today’s families the truth of God’s character as a loving father and a faithful provider. From the Old Testament to the present, families have had to make, and continue to struggle to make, the choices that are right to grow in God’s character as His image bearers.
Adam and Eve’s choice was obviously wrong, but they picked it (see what I did there?) in the hope that knowing good and evil would make their life easy. Sadly, they were not satisfied with the good, loving, and caring environment God placed them in. Thus, they believed Satan’s temptation would unlock wisdom. Instead, it brought insecurity, confusion, anxiety, and fear.
Today’s parents face the challenge to guide the descendants of Adam not only towards a relationship with God but also through the minefield of temptations culture presents.
Daily, parents can relate to the heartache, frustration, hurt, and defeat around their children’s choices. These choices often reflect taking the easy path over the right path. Inexplicably, a preschooler will begin lying not to disappoint, an elementary student allows an idol to shape their language and behavior, a middle-school-aged student will bully out of pride, and a high schooler will turn to drugs, alcohol, or self-harming as a release to fit in or mask their differences from others.
God’s story reflects the treacherous path of His children to replace what is right, and perhaps possibly challenging to do, with the facade of easy. This facade leads towards a path of self-reliance, destruction, loneliness, and ends in isolation. Being made for community, isolation is the perfect ending for temptation. At the core of evil, we are isolated and cut off from the truth and the hope that God can rescue us and love us again.
We are a forgetful people, born into a long lineage of forgetful people. Even the Israelite descendants who passed down unbelievable stories of rescue from Egypt, the Red Sea, and the wilderness were doomed to become amnesiac again, reverting to their old ways and emotions.
The covenants and laws reminded God’s children He is the faithful provider, even when they rebelled or became lost in their forgetfulness. Each covenant beautifully builds upon the last from one man, to one family, to one nation, and ending in all people. This narrative, when told from the beginning in Eden to the incredible ending of a new heaven and new earth, represents the faithfulness of God to provide a way.
Parents, you are not alone. You have a perfect parent, God, who knows the cost of raising generations of children who have walked away from a loving environment due to forgetfulness. Our children are daily reminders that we are still growing in doing what is right, even when it is hard. As champions of our children’s spiritual faith, we stand on the front lines constantly repositioning our children to be on a path toward God.
We do not want to be weary parents. We must be strong and courageous, daily strengthened in Christ—looking to Scripture for words of wisdom, humbling ourselves in intercession and prayer, and above all, seeking the will and provision of the Father. God has demonstrated throughout the Old Testament His love as a father and faithfulness as a provider who is always right on time.
“If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby, who made Joseph and Mary?” That was the question from my five-year-old daughter, Lucy, at bedtime a couple of weeks ago. We had been talking about the Christmas story.
She’s heard us say again and again in her short life: Jesus made everything. “Lucy,” we’d ask, “who made the trees and the penguins?” “Jesus!” she’d reply. “Lucy, who made you?” “Jesus!” But recently Rachel, my wife, gave birth to our son, Graham. And Lucy understood clearly there was a time when Graham was not here. She’d watched as Rachel’s pregnant tummy grew larger. She’d been there the day we brought Graham home from the hospital.
Now we are talking about the Christmas story: “Mary gave birth to Jesus,” we tell her. And her mind starts working: “Wait a minute??? If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby who made Joseph and Mary?” Good question, Lucy.
For centuries, churches have used a tool called a catechism to help Christians of all ages internalize basic biblical truths about who God is and how He is at work in the world. The word catechism comes from a Greek word that means “to instruct or teach.” For example, in Acts 18 when we are introduced to Apollos, we read:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. (Acts 18:24-25)
That word translated “instructed” is the root of our English word “catechism.” From the earliest days of the church, leaders developed methods of instructing children and new followers of Jesus in the faith.
The catechism was one of those methods. Usually arranged in a question-answer format, a catechism enabled a believer to be instructed (catechized) in biblical responses to questions like: “What is our only hope in life and death?” or “ How and why did God create us?”
However, this tool has been forgotten in many contemporary church traditions, which is why a group of people came together to create The New City Catechism. The introduction explains:
“The New City Catechism is a modern-day resource aimed at reintroducing this ancient method of teaching to Christians today.”
It is a fantastic resource, whether you are new Christian, have been a Christian for a long time, or are parent or caregiver trying to help the children you love to know and love God.
Comprised of 52 questions and answers, The New City Catechism is designed so that you can work through it over the course of a year, memorizing one question and answer per week. For each of the 52 questions, there is a shorter answer for younger children and a longer answer for adults or older children.
It is available as a free app for your phone and also as a printed book. An incredible feature of the mobile app is that there is a song to help children memorize each question.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed using this tool personally and introducing our 2 ½-year-old and five-year-old to it. But even though it is designed for modern audiences, I have found that at times the language can be a bit cumbersome. However, I do appreciate that they are drawing on the linguistic riches of the historic catechisms of the faith.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the purpose of a catechism is to introduce us to the mysteries of the Christian faith, not to explain them away. Catechisms at their best are gateways into the glorious wonders and mysteries of God and His salvation. Russell Moore put it well in a blog post on teaching children about the Trinity:
….we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. [But] learning of God’s oneness and threeness in terms of wonder and awe is a good place, I think, to start vaccinating our children from the kind of sterile rationalism, Christian or atheist, that can lead to a boring, despairing, tragically normal sort of life.
I love that! So what do you think? Are you ready to step through the gateway of a catechism into the wonders of the God who made us and is redeeming us?
Check out The New City Catechism and other related resources.
And maybe make this year “the year of the catechism” for you. Find a group of friends and do it together. Or do it with your family or small group.
It won’t answer all your theological questions, of course, but it will give you the basic building blocks to begin forming answers to good questions from young theologians like, “If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby, who made Joseph and Mary?”
Sundays were my favorite as a kid because it meant lunch at my grandparents’ farm after church. When we arrived, everyone pitched in to set the table and finish prepping the food.
I loved visiting my grandparents’ home because they lived on a farm, and there was always something to be done. I wanted our time at Grandma and Grandpa’s to last as long as possible, so after lunch, I would search for a way to help my grandparents.
In the house, I would quietly sneak back to the bedrooms to strip the beds and remake them with clean linens. I would clean the shower in the master bedroom, knowing it was hard for my grandparents to do. I would start doing their laundry and press my grandpa’s jeans. Yes, he loved pressed jeans for work. I would head out to the chicken coop to clean and put down fresh straw, or hike out to the pasture to dig up the thistles that frustrated grandpa. The best part of Sunday was going in search of a way to surprise my grandparents with an act of service to make them smile.
Sundays were like a day of playing Hide and Seek around my grandparents’ farm, where there were hundreds of hidden ways to serve them as an act of kindness and generosity. Serving my grandparents cultivated in me, at a young age, a behavior of seeking to serve and help others.
Seeing the smile on my grandma’s face at her freshly made bed or my grandpa’s pat on the back of thanks for ironing his jeans gave me a deep sense of joy! An unstoppable joy, which I have continued to cultivate in my lifetime and now see being passed down to my daughters.
The beauty of serving others is developing a sensitivity to the needs of another person. Cultivating this in our children means we must model attentive posturing of the heart towards others. We must use our eyes to see and ears to hear ways we can serve. It’s leading our kids to play the biggest game of Hide and Seek, where winning is discovering ways to serve another.
When we play Hide and Seek, we hide so others can’t discover us. The same is true when we genuinely need help. We can be so embarrassed or ashamed of our need that we hide it from others. In order to seek out how we can serve others, we need God’s wisdom. Engage your family in conversation around these questions.
- Let’s celebrate the many ways God can use us to serve others. Take turns as a family, going around in a circle, sharing ways God can use you to serve others. Keep going until you run out of ideas: prepare a meal, walk someone’s dog, mow a lawn, make a bed, write a card, weed a garden, etc.
- God says when we “seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness…all these things will be given unto you as well.” What are “all these things” that will be given to you?
- Share about a time you discovered a way to serve someone else, and how it made you feel.
- Start at home. Pray for God to use your family, then send everyone in the family on a Hide and Seek hunt to discover a way they could serve in your home. Challenge them to think about how they can serve extended family members, neighbors, friends, and strangers.
In the coming weeks many of our students will be returning to school. Some will return to the schools they were in last year, while others are starting afresh on a new campus, or in a new building with new teachers and new classmates.
No doubt some of them are finding this season to be fraught with difficulty, while others may be elated by the chance to reconnect with old friends, or make new friends. Regardless of where they are on the emotional spectrum, we wanted to share this prayer of blessing as they continue on in their calling as students in this season of life.
Whether you have kids or not, we invite you to pray this prayer over all of our students.
Father in heaven, the start of every school year brings with it a mix of emotions. With so many changes that can be both overwhelmingly joyful and unbearably sorrowful, we pray that you would be found to be the unchanging God who remains constant in a world of ever changing variables.
Lord, as our students enter their schools may they know that you are already there and that you have gone before them. If they go to chemistry class, behold you are there. As they ride the school bus, you are also there. When they enter the locker room, indeed you are there.
But may they not simply be aware of your presence in their lives. May they also see your glory and your hand at work in the subjects that they study. May they see your beauty in their art classes. May they see the glory of your creation in biology. May they see your providential hand in world history. May they see your creative brilliance in mathematics.
And in all of this, may they see your great love as they grow in the knowledge of you and your world.
We pray that this year would be a year of relational, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual renewal for our students and for those that they come in contact with. May they come to see the beauty and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that tells of the good news that we have not just been saved from something, but that we have been saved for something. May they live as your “sent ones” in the world as they display your goodness, proclaim your truth, and live out your mission.
Oh Lord, may this year be used by you to equip our students to more faithfully and fruitfully love and serve others for the common good of all and to the glory of your name.
We pray this in the name of Christ and for his glory.