Going to Church is HARD-Why Bother
What follows is a reflection by Kris Neely--he is honest about the struggles to get a young family to church and the blessings that are to be found. He is the Professor of Art and Interdisciplinary Studies at Spartanburg Methodist College, owner and creative director of Wet Paint Syndrome, a husband, a father, and most importantly a follower of Jesus Christ.
It would be easier if we had not increased our commitments at our church. As Caroline and I raced to get to St. Christopher's Episcopal Church Sunday morning I remembered where we would have been a year ago. The night before, we worshipped as a part of a beautiful wedding.
It was the last weekend before school ended for Patrice and the girls. We had a ton of things we needed to accomplish. We were all tired.
A year ago with any of these reasons, we would totally have been able to sleep in without regret.
Instead, we were racing out the door to get a seven year-old to acolyte duty. Is it worth it?
Why have we chosen to do this to ourselves?
I would be remiss if I acted as if excuses and laziness and unconventional attitudes were the only barrier to committing to church.
It is a difficult dilemma for parents to decide how to approach church with kids. The news reports have no shortage of horrible stories about religious institutions abusing children. When you go, you must be vigilant to protect your kids, no matter your denomination.
We found a church with good child protection policies that are followed carefully by adults we have come to know and trust. We are still careful, and we try to be present or involved in their experiences. We talk to them about what they experience and we have worked to teach them how to talk to us if something is not right.
Here are some of the things we gained from being at church on Sunday.
Caroline was doted on by strong women who were also preparing to lead worship. She saw non-parental models of leadership that have an impact.
Caroline got to receive positive attention in a role of service. She could do a series of tasks that help others. She was being taught to be active and involved in worship. She learned more about how and why we do certain things. And then I could reflect with her about it, rather than being both teacher and parent. She processes that differently if she has to explain and report her findings. I also learned new things from this.
Don’t think that being late was our only hiccup. This adventure caused cross words. We had a sister-to-sister spat or two. There were band aids and bruised feelings during an interaction with a sweet church friend.
The other kids paid attention and participated when pressed. They interacted in a non-competitive environment with other peers. No grades or scoreboards or ranks, these were just healthy relationships as peers.
My teenager had questions. We had good theological conversations. We talked about a peer who is avowing atheism at school. We talked about Paul in prison. That is important to help him sort things out. He is the one who drew the connections. I did not think he was listening.
Will we ever sleep in again? For sure! But if it is every week at St. Mattress or the Church of the Inner Spring, we would miss so much of the developmental opportunities St. Christopher’s has for us as a family.
We also benefitted as parents. We received solicited advice on a kid struggling academically from a life-long educator. She knows the system. She knows our kids. And she has no skin in the game so she can offer a different perspective.
I worked on praying that I would help my kids grow into who God created them to be in the image of God. It is easy to hold them up to an image of myself and what I think they must become. We are different as much as we are the same. What I intend for them is important, but when they can choose to deviate from that beyond the framework I provide, I want them to have learned how to navigate that. It is easier to try to smush them into my mold, but that will not work.
We also got to step back for a minute and watch as they interacted with adults and peers. Some encounters deserved praise. Some moments earned a loud and hearty laugh. Some made us feel a little embarrassed that we showed out in public. The good thing about church, they keep loving us even when we show out.
If your circle includes a church, find a way to serve so you have a reason to get there even when you have really good excuses.
If you do not have that asset in your support structure, consider giving it a shot. At the very least, it is a low budget distraction with air conditioning and free coffee.
Come sit with us if you visit St. Christopher’s.