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Should I keep my kid out of church as a consequence?

Is it wrong to pull your child out of church as a consequence?

I’ve been asked two different questions that both center around the idea of keeping a child out of church or church activities.  Both are actually important questions, and come from different circumstances.  But the ultimate conclusion is similar, so I’ll try to grapple with both of them today.

Scenario 1: My child either didn’t do something they were supposed to, or the did something they weren’t supposed to.  They actually love coming to church (mostly because of friends) and I feel like grounding them from church as a consequence.  But I feel like a terrible parent for doing this.  What’s the right thing to do?

Let me begin by saying that I’m replying in general, and each specific situation is different.  But I’ve been thinking about this question for twenty years, and have been all over the place.  Here’s where I am today:

I’m a youth pastor and a parent.  As a youth pastor, I want all of “my kids” to be in all of our church meetings all of the time.  I know that the best discipleship happens over a long period of time with lots of reps together, not just in worship meetings but in life-on-life activities.  As a parent, I know that some of my kids would LOVE to skip church and some of them would take it as the worst punishment I can give them.  First, for the children who don’t really want to go in the first place (social anxiety, rather sleep in, lack of spiritual interest) I don’t want to give them a reward for poor behavior.  For the ones that really love to go, I want to be wise in the Lord.  So perhaps I let them go, but they have to sit with me instead of going to youth (pretend I’m not the youth pastor), or perhaps they must volunteer to serve with kids for a while, or perhaps they don’t get to go to the “fun” activities but are still allowed to go to the primary worship and discipleship meetings.  If they are getting into trouble with another child in the church, I want to be extra careful to set up boundaries or cut off access to their partners in crime.

Through all of this, my dilemma is that I want to remove them from them from environments that seem like a reward so that they feel the sting of what they are doing, but I also want to be very careful not to pull them out of what is hopefully the most encouraging spiritual and character enrichment time of their week.

So, in the realm of using church as a consequence, I’d say there are times and places for it (as a pastor I have occasionally banned kids from coming to certain activities for a period of time because of dangerous or rebellious behavior).  Trips, camps, retreats, and overnights are a privilege, not a right.  But I think those times should be rare, limited, and thought out in the council of other shepherds in their lives.

Scenario 2: My child is overwhelmed at school or is a slower learner than others.  They just really need to spend more time focusing on their schoolwork.  Should we prioritize school over youth and church activities?

This is a hard question and perhaps a little more challenging.  “Overwhelmed” and “slow learner” can mean SO MANY different things to different people.  Let me start by 1) affirming your predicament.  I’ve got at least one child that takes all kinds of special help to learn even basic concepts.  But I also want to 2) encourage you to not feel sorry for your child.  Don’t give them permission to play the victim or moan and cry because things are harder for them.  Every single one of us will have to face life scenarios that are harder for us than other people.  Perhaps school is your child’s scenario.  Instead of letting it because an excuse, learn to look at it as a tool.  So they’re going to have to work hard.  That’s a gift from the Lord, which will prepare them for life much better than if everything came easy.  It’s the super smart ones who often give up too easily when they finally hit a brick wall.

So, should you prioritize school over youth and church activities?  Let me offer another suggestion:

  • Prioritize time and task management.  If your child is a slower learner, they’re going to need to be a better scheduler their entire life.  Now is a great time to start.  Learn to sit down on Sunday evening and make a schedule for the week, blocking out what needs to be done and when it can be done.  Or, learn to get together Friday after school and spend 20 minutes with your child going through what homework assignments need to happen.  There is RARELY a time when your child legitimately CANNOT make it to church on Sunday because of homework.  It’s usually because they were doing too many other things on Friday and Saturday.  Maybe you can’t stay for both services, but with a little bit of advanced scheduling there’s almost always time for one.  If there are special youth activities coming up in the future, help them learn to look ahead and plan in advance.
  • Prioritize margin.  If your child takes longer to do things, perhaps you should help them pick just a couple of things and do them well, instead of encouraging them to be involved in 5-10 different activities that are going to pull them in so many directions.  If the school load is heavy, perhaps they get to choose ONE extracurricular activity.  This might help them to have quality experiences instead of running ragged.  Don’t transfer your own FOMO onto your kids.  They’re going to miss out on FAR more activities in life than they can do.  Encourage them to pick a few and truly BE THERE.
  • Midweek services may be too much.  I get it.  Kids are busy and loaded.  There’s not a ton of time after school to get work done before the midweek services.  This is part of why our church switched our primary youth service to Sundays.  Don’t live in guilt.  Kids can’t be everywhere and do everything. Living in guilt doesn’t enhance your spiritual standing with Jesus.

And Finally…

The concluding thought I have is just the encouragement that YOU are the primary shepherds of your children, not your youth pastor or your church.  If you can’t “make it to church” for some reason, BE the church together.  Don’t use this as an excuse to skip your church’s services all the time, but if some life circumstance prevents you or your kids from attending, remember that we are a Kingdom of Priests!  Spend time together in worship, fellowship, prayer, and sharing the word.  You can do it, God will be with you!