Scott Hovater, PhD, grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent 16 years as a college professor in Taiwan before becoming the manager of online faculty for the College of Theology. He has a degree in TESOL, an MA in intercultural studies, an MA in educational psychology and a PhD in educational studies. He and his wife, Jenny, have 2 children.
Theology Thursday: Should Christian Parents Force Their Children to Go to Church?
“Why do I have to go to church?” Our 14-year-old son angrily asked this question one Sunday morning. As a Christian parent, it is a question that you hope you never hear. Unfortunately, it is a question that most Christian parents will hear at some point. When that time comes, what should you do? Should you force your child to go to church with you or should you leave that decision up to them?
This is a question I recently posed in my online Christian Worldview course. Most students felt it was important for children to attend church, but they felt the word “force” was too strong. They argued it is best to foster a loving relationship with your children so that they learn to love God and will want to go to church on their own. Providing proper teaching and encouragement, they said, is much better than forcing church attendance. Besides, forcing our children to attend church may cause them to rebel and perhaps reject the Christian faith altogether. No Christian parent wants that.
I understand where my students are coming from. All Christian parents should foster a loving relationship and strongly encourage their children to attend church each week. Ideally that will do the trick. However, what if it is not enough? What if, like my son, they still ask the question, “Why do I have to go to church?” Should Christian parents revert to force at this point? Let’s examine this issue closely through Scripture and a bit of common sense.
First, it is important to note that force does not mean being abusive in any way. R. C. Sproul wrote a short blog on this topic titled, “Should I Force My Teen to Go to Church” and in it he discusses the meaning of force. He writes, “I don’t like the word ‘force’ because to some people that means baseball bats and child abuse. That’s not what I’m talking about. I am talking about parental leadership whereby the authority resides in the parents and you see to it that the authority is carried out” (Sproul, 2017, par.3). The authority of the parent is very apparent throughout the Bible. The fifth commandment says we are to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and we are told in both Colossians 3:20 and Ephesians 6:1-2 that children should be obedient to their parents in all things.
Parents are also commanded to properly train their children to love the Lord. We see this in Deuteronomy 6:7 where God commands parents to teach God’s laws diligently and constantly to their children. The wisdom literature also contains several reminders that parents must discipline their children (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18 and 22:15). Perhaps the most famous is Proverbs 22:6 which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proper Christian training would certainly include regular church attendance (Hebrews 10:25).
Finally, what about common sense? Do we allow our children to decide whether or not they want to go to school each morning? What if our child says, “I hate math!” Do we allow them to skip that subject? I do not think so. At various times in a child’s life they hate or struggle with various school subjects. However, we encourage them and yes, force them to stick it out and press on. If we are forcing our children to learn math – even though they often do not want to – yet not forcing them to attend church, what does that say about our priorities? The spiritual education of our children should be a major priority for all Christian parents. In fact, it should be our primary responsibility.
One student in the Christian Worldview course summed it up best. He wrote, “The fact is, there is a whole system out there that works to change the minds of people and move them away from God. If we as parents don’t fight for our children with the same tenacity and intensity, we can never hope to take them from the grasp of this world. I do believe that parents should force their children to go to church, at least while they live in our homes” (Palacios, 2019).
I agree and I pray that all Christian parents will feel the same. Forcing our children to attend church is not a guarantee that they will follow the Lord as adults; however, it does provide them with a strong Christian foundation with which to build their life upon. There is no better gift that a parent can give.
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Palacios, Jose. A discussion forum response to a post in a Christian Worldview course titled, “Should Christian Parents Make Their Children Go to Church?” Christian Worldview course, Grand Canyon University. Posted on January 26, 2019 and retrieved on March 3, 2019.
Sproul, R.C. Should I Force My Teen to Go to Church? Ligonier Ministries. Posted on September 23, 2017 at www.ligonier.org/blog/should-i-force-my-teen-go-church.