Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs”
– Matthew 19:14 (NRSV)
As a parent, you want the best for your kids. I have not been on the job long, but in the past year and a half I have been blessed (and a little stressed!) to observe how my kids have grown by going to church regularly. Church services can be difficult for children to understand and we have learned the hard way that it is not easy for infants to sit still, pay attention, and stay quiet – even when it is their father preaching. It is no wonder that babies cry in church!
Even though I have only been a father for a little over a year and half, I have already observed many wondrous ways that the experience of going to church regularly has benefited them. Let me share five of them with you:
1. The church taught my son to pray
In June, my family came to our house to be present for our daughter’s baptism. When we gathered around the dinner table to eat together, my son led us all by folding his hands for prayer. Now, I must shamefully admit that though I am a pastor, my wife and I are not very diligent about praying with our children before meals. On the scattered schedule of milk for one, formula for another, and still other meal times for us, we have not yet been able to settle into eating family meals together at the same time. Instead of asking Christ’s blessing upon a bottle of milk or formula before handing it to our children, we often just hand them the bottle.
Though we do not pray together at home like we should, we do pray together every week in church. This is where he learned it. The church taught my son to pray. Coming together every week and being in the presence of people praying together has taught my son to fold his hands in reverence to God. My son is not yet able to speak, but the church has already taught him to pray.
2. The church taught my children to fellowship with others
My son is a little extrovert… my daughter is not. From the get go, she has always been reserved and often outright scared of strangers. Instead of greeting them with a smile like my son did, my daughter would burst into loud tears every time someone tried to hold her.
That was, she rejected strangers for the first several months of her life. Over time, though, going to church on a weekly basis has helped her open up and be more comfortable around others. Going to church has taught her that people in Christian community are loving and supportive.
3. The church taught my son to sing
Childhood is full of beautiful moments that parents hold on to and cherish deeply. One of those moments happened on a morning when my son grabbed a book off the shelves in our house. This act alone is kind of run of the mill and a little annoying. He constantly rifles through the novels, cookbooks, and philosophy books that we have at home and it gets tedious trying to pick them up again before they ripped apart by little hands.
This particular morning was different, though, because my son grabbed one of the hymnals that we have in our house. When he placed it on the floor and opened it up to a random page, he began to sing. The church had taught him that this book was for singing praises to our God. By attending worship services in our community every week, he knew that when he opened the hymnal it was time to open up his heart to God, as well. It was a beautiful moment that I will cherish, and I have the church to thank for it.
4. The church gives spiritual rhythm to my children’s lives
Every Sunday, I lead a children’s sermon with the youngest members of our congregation. Every Sunday, I eagerly await the time when my son will come running up the aisle to sit in my lap as I teach children about the scriptures. Like clockwork, every Sunday my son knows when he can run up and sit on daddy’s lap- the time when children get to take ownership of their part of the service.
The simple experience of going to church has given him a spiritual rhythm for his life. He is learning when he is expected to sit back with mommy in the pew and when he can run to be with daddy. He is learning when to pray in the pews, and when everyone comes forward for communion. The basic experience of coming to church gives everyone a rhythm to their spiritual lives and this is very clearly seen in how my son is already learning to navigate our worship services.
5. The church is a place where my children encounter the Lord every week
Every week, we serve communion in our congregation. Every week, my children get to come into the presence of our Lord. In our church, we believe that Christ really shows up in the bread and the wine, both physically and spiritually. This means that when my children come to the communion rail on a weekly basis, they literally come into the presence of the Lord our God.
It may seem like a small thing to some, especially these days, but the fact that my children have the opportunity to come to the communion rail on a weekly basis is a big deal. As a parent, I have no doubt that my children are perfectly innocent, full of life, and have no need for forgiveness. Just like every other parent out there, the hospital gave me my very own set of rose colored glasses when my kids were born... But, as a Christian, I know that my children need more love and mercy than even I can offer them. Going to church every week teaches our children that they should kneel humbly before their God in order to receive Christ's forgiveness and love. They learn that at church better than I can ever teach them at home.
These are a few observations of how the church has already influenced the growth of my children in positive ways. The oldest is not even two years old yet, so I am sure there are many more good things to come! Based on my parenting experience so far, I would recommend that every mother or father bring their children to church regularly. It’s good for the kids.
-Rev. Seth Nelson
Rev. Seth Nelson is a pastor and author of the book, The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor. He lives in western Montana with his wife and two children.
Rev. Seth Nelson, author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor, writes this blog. The blog focuses on the future of the church as well as how God loves and cares for us in the present. He is a pastor in Ronan, Montana.