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Sunday Morning Drop-Out

Tackling the "I don't want to go to church" tug-of-war

"I don't want to go to church this morning. It's boring. I don't get anything out of it, and I need my sleep. Besides, I'm not sure I believe what the church says. You can't make me believe in God."

If you're the mother of preteens or teens, you'll probably hear this refrain at some point—if you haven't already!

Should you make your kid go to church? What if it pushes him away from you and the faith?

More than anything, we want our kids to become people of faith. Yet too often we feel inadequate in answering their questions and in helping them grow. Here are several strategies that will help you in your Sunday-morning battles.

Realize Your Kids Will Pick Up What Really Matters to You.

How do you view church? Is it a warm, fuzzy time that makes you feel good, or a non-negotiable in your life? If a sports team practices or plays on Sunday morning, do you skip church so your child can play and you can watch? If you attend church infrequently, or drop your child off for Sunday school and go out to coffee, you're communicating that worship isn't really important to you. Your nonverbal message may be: God's good for kids, but when you become an adult, he's not necessary.

On the other hand, if your child sees you reading the Bible, praying, and attending church regularly, he'll learn God is a priority. In the long run, our children need a vital faith more than they need a trophy on the sports team or a little extra sleep. A secure faith in a loving, all-powerful God will enable them to stand strong in life's tragedies and blessings. So even if your child is bored or says he doesn't know what he believes, insist he go to church with you. If you make "On Sundays, we go to church" a family policy, he'll know there's no use arguing. (This doesn't mean you can't extend grace on rare occasions such as after prom, or if he's completely exhausted.)

Remember it's normal for kids to question the faith.

My friend's son, Ray, told her the other day, "I just don't know if I can believe all this stuff, Mom. It's your faith, not mine. I have to find God on my own."

As uncomfortable as Ray's questioning was, my friend knew it was normal. Each person has to come to the place where he moves from an inherited faith to a personal faith. As your child hits the teen years, she'll likely question her beliefs. She may pull apart from you. She needs to go through this time in order to choose to believe because she wants to, not because you want her to. How you handle this awkward time is crucial. Here are three tips to help:

Be understanding.

Here's how my friend responded: "Son, I appreciate your sense of integrity. I love you, and more than anything I want God to be real for you personally. It's important for you to ask questions. I've asked lots of questions, too—and I still have questions. I'll be praying for you. I have confidence in God and in you."

Be challenging.

There's a fine line between bucking authority and asking genuine questions. If your child's sincere, honor his endeavors—but challenge him to seek answers. Arrange for him to spend time with a thoughtful older Christian who'll take his questions seriously and not merely give pat answers. This person should be someone your child would naturally like, who has a deep personal faith. Do research yourself; there are plenty of good books that deal with these types of questions.

Be firm.

Even during this time, insist your child go to church with the family. You cannot be held hostage to the fear that you'll drive him away from God. Although he may seem to mentally and spiritually "leave" for a time, what he takes in during worship will impact his life even if you and he can't see it right now. God's Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).

Find a church that fits the needs of your whole family.

We live in a culture that says "meet my needs." It's all too easy to use the same self-centered standards in finding a church. It's tempting to become church shoppers, going from one church to another in a quest for "the perfect one." But we should go to church to worship, not to be entertained!

It's far better to find a church that seems right for your family and plug in for a couple of years at least. Get involved in church life throughout the week. We each must contribute something in order to grow spiritually (Ephesians 4:16).

Some say, Well, if my child goes to youth group, isn't that enough? It's not. Church is the only place where you're thrown in with believers of all ages, races, social backgrounds, and economic standards—where you experience the relevancy of God to everyone.

When you look for a church, find out what the senior pastor's vision is. Note if the teaching is biblically based, if there's an emphasis on youth, if there's a mix of generations. But remember, no church will be perfect.

Encourage Your Teen's Involvement in a Vital Youth Ministry.

Peers are crucially important to teens, and teens are more receptive to hearing biblical truth from someone other than their mom or dad. It's critically important that your child becomes involved in a strong youth ministry as she goes through her teens. If there's no strong youth ministry at your church, either help get one started or encourage your child to attend one at another church. Groups such as Young Life and Youth for Christ can also fill this important role in your child's life. Plan now to take advantage of some of the summer programs sponsored by these groups. Kids desperately need to be exposed to peers excited about their faith, and to young adults who can become role models to them.

Pray For Your Kids.

The most important thing you can do is pray for your kids. Pray God will give your child a strong youth group and an older friend with a vital faith. Pray that she'll run to God, that she'll have a hunger for God's Word and experience its power, that she'll have the wisdom to recognize temptation and flee from it.

As you pray for your child, remember that you aren't the only one praying. Jesus himself is praying for her, too (Hebrews 7:25)!

Susan Alexander Yates, the mother of five, is the author of And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children and What Really Matters at Home: Eight Crucial Elements for Building Character in the Family (both Word).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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