Children and Church


From the age of six, I grew up in the Church. I found it hard to sit through the adult sermons, and as soon as I was able, began helping out in the sound booth (recording sermons on cassette tape), and in the Children’s Church, playing piano and enjoying the company of kids 10 years younger then me. I enjoyed the kids much more than the adults in our little Assemblies of God domain. They loved, and believed in, and lived their lives freely. In tiny ways, you could change a small life, and watch them proudly as they grew up. I even considered several times in my adolescent and adult life becoming a kindergarten teacher.

Until 1993, when I was 25, I attended Church faithfully. For a few years, I was even music director on staff for a church. I grew up fully conversant with the doctrines and dogmas of most protestant churches, my feet rooted in Pentecostalism, and my hands fully steeped in my work with the Presbyterian denomination.

In 1995, my first son was baptized, on my birthday. He was exactly 1 month old, as I turned 27. This is the last fully-churchworthy thing I’ve done in my life.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Order says:

When a child is being presented for Baptism, ordinarily the
parent(s) or one(s) rightly exercising parental responsibility shall be an active member of the congregation. Those presenting children for Baptism shall promise to provide nurture and guidance within the community of faith until the child is ready to make a personal profession of faith and assume the responsibility of active church membership.

We did none of these things for Daniel or Alex. I am still a believer, or so I say. But I certainly haven’t “provided nurture and guidance within the community of faith until the child is ready… to assume responsibility”.

This became rapidly apparent when my younger son announced his grandmother a few weeks ago “I’ve only read a few pieces of the Bible. Like the first few chapters of Exodus, I think it’s called.”

Later that week, in the car, my mother was playing Christian music, and my older son said “I’m areligious. I personally see no point to any of this music.”

The other day, while watching The Colbert Report, a priest was on TV, and my son sneered “That man is so deluded, it’s embarrassing.”

I didn’t mean for their faith to take on this tenor of anger or derision. Really I didn’t.

We prayed, every night, with our boys until they were in their early teens. We made sporadic attempts at attending church in the last 16 years. I thought I was giving them something better: the right to choose their own religion, or the chance not to have a religion, and to think for themselves. It may not be what the Book of Order prescribed, but it’s what we’ve done. My sons haven’t made a faith-committment to any church or religion, to my knowlede. I’m fine with that. I’ve made my choice, and I’m happy with what I’ve chosen. I simply refrain from shoving my religion, or politics down their throats.

Morality comes naturally. I don’t believe children are born in an animal state and without constant mentoring/beatings, they’ll remain bonebreaking wolverines. I believe, given a loving environment they’ll eventually see for themselves a lived enactment of morals within a parent. Children learn by example.  If I smoke, they’re more likely to smoke.  If I show delight in Church, they’re more likely to (without question) join a church. But I don’t want them to join a religion for that reason. I want them to examine every step of their lives, and if possible, to be happier people for it.

What I wouldn’t give to get rid of the “critique” curse. It’s all I can do. I wish I could go back to a church, unthinking, and blindly drag my kids into a front row pew, as I worship God. Those days are long past. But these decisions are ones facing my children. I hope they make good lifetime choices. I will guide them as I can, and happily confide to them my decisions. But in my heart, I know I as a parent can do no better.

If I’ve failed somehow, I hope they someday find it in their hearts to forgive me.

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3 thoughts on “Children and Church”

  1. These days, I don’t spend anything like the time in prayer that I did when I was in college. But the one thing I try to pray for every day, and that I certainly worry about every day, is that my kids will know God. It’s a weird place to be. I was raised in a fairly conservative, Pentecostal church, and I don’t belong there anymore. But the mildly liberal Presbyterian church that we attend now has done a spectacularly miserable job of Christian formation. There’s not a single adult in our church between the ages of 18 and 40 who grew up in our church. And with one or two exceptions, I don’t know of any adults raised in our church who are serving the Lord (at our church or elsewhere): they’ve all left the faith. As a result, Galena and I are probably going to be leaving this church, and going elsewhere. We need a church that has a good track record of raising kids who continue to serve the Lord even after they’ve left home.

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  2. Thank you for your openness and candidness in sharing this. As someone who works in children’s ministry and studies child spiritual formation, this is something I struggle with. I can’t say with certainty that I am sure what is the “correct” approach to teaching children about faith (I know that sounds weird coming from someone who’s committed to teaching children about the Christian faith). What I do know… and you said it well… is that our kids are watching us, and what we do–how we live our lives in front of them–will affect them more than what we explicitly say. In some sense that is way scarier to realize as a parent 🙂 We pray, we do our best, and we give our children to God.

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