Andy Hood gives some practical tips on those all important but tricky conversations
Your daughter bounces up to you to tell you she’s been picked for the Under 15s football team, and you’re thrilled for her - until you find out that the games are at 10.30am on a Sunday. Your son gets a main part in the latest show at the local youth drama club and you’re delighted for him - until you find out rehearsals are 10am-4pm each Sunday for the next three months (that was my situation aged 15). And then the anxiety floods in - what are we going to do about church?
It’s a tough situation, and there is no one right answer. The best way forward will depend on your child, your church and your situation. So what follows are not hard and fast rules, but some words of guidance as you work this through with your child and with God.
Reframe the question.
One of the reasons a clash between church and an activity your child wants to do can cause anxiety is that it feels like a lose-lose situation. Either your son or daughter is going to sit resentfully through church each week, or they’re not going to be in church at all. Whatever you choose to do, their faith is going to suffer. But the question is not ‘how can I limit the damage?’, but ‘how can I help my child grow into the young man or woman God made them to be?’. God gives us the gift of the gathered church to build us up in faith (Hebrews 10:24-25), and he gives us gifts like sporting or musical ability which we can use to worship him in all of life (Romans 12:1). Your role isn’t ‘damage control’ but helping your child to make the best use of both of those gifts for their good and God’s glory.
Examine your own heart.
I once heard it said that if you want to know what someone’s idols are, just look at what they want for their children. And I know in my own experience as a parent that the default is often to do your best to make your child as happy and successful as possible, rather than seeing their spiritual growth as your number one priority. So as you work through what to do, ask yourself whether your deepest longing for your child is for them to walk faithfully with Jesus and grow more and more like him (Romans 8:29). Or is it for them to build a top-drawer extra-curricular CV? Or just for them to like you?
Talk honestly with others.
As a parent, you don’t have to work this through on your own. Most importantly, sit down and talk with your child about the situation. Be honest with them about what you care about and ask them to be honest and open with you. Even if you end up disagreeing, they’re likely to respond better if they know they’ve been heard. As well as talking with your child, do ask to chat with your church leader. As a children and youth worker, I know I’d really appreciate a parent (and a young person!) inviting me into the conversation, and I’d be very keen to help with the next suggestion…
Look for practical work-arounds.
Does your church have an afternoon or evening service that you could go to instead? Could you make it for most of the service and just head away slightly early? Is there any flexibility around the timing of the activity your child wants to do? Is there a different club that offers the same activity at a different time?
And if your child is going to end up missing church sometimes, what can you do at home to help them spend time with God? Is there a youth group that would give them the chance to meet with and be encouraged by other Christians? But do remember that going to a youth group or watching a church service online are not a substitute for going to church – which means gathering together with people of all ages and stages and backgrounds to worship God.
Pray like crazy.
Last but certainly not least, pray for your child. And rather than spending your energy asking for God to reveal the ‘right’ decision, or to change the situation, pray for your child to grow to love Jesus more and more. Why not use Psalm 1 and its picture of the blessed person as a prompt for your prayers? ‘That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers’ (Psalm 1:3).
Andy Hood serves as Children, Youth and Families Minister at Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell in central London.