Why Parents “Can’t” Bring Their Kids to Church

A busy calendar.One of the biggest challenges congregations face when it comes to catechizing their children is the demanding schedule of sports and extra curricular activities. It’s commonplace for games, practices, recitals, etc., to be held on Sundays. When it comes to trying to do midweek services or catechesis, forget about it. There’s something going on every night of the week.

One reason for the Sunday morning conflict is the simple fact that people work Monday through Friday. This makes Sunday morning prime real estate, since nothing else (or nothing important, apparently) is going on. Saturday schedules are already crowded, so Sunday morning tends to work for busy families.

Another reason for this dilemma is the simple fact that the world hates the Church as much as it hates Her Bridegroom (John 15:18). The increasing secularization of our culture has taken us from one extreme—the blue law era, which bordered on Pharisaism—to the other, where parents or organizations that desire to keep the Sabbath are considered weirdos (e.g., Chick-Fil-A and the Hobby Lobby).

For some, it’s a no-brainer: gymnastics wins. But others really do want their children to be in church and lament this situation. Sadly, lament is often as far as it goes. When push comes to shove and parents are forced to choose between giving their children sports and giving them Jesus, footbaal almost always wins. Sportolatry has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that parents will sometimes even say their children have to miss church due to their athletic “obligations.” This devotion is nothing short of religious.

St. Paul describes Christians as living catechisms (2 Corinthians 3:2), and our Lord says a tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44). What are you teaching your children? What does trying to squeeze a little Jesus into an overcrowded schedule confess to them about priorities? What does participating in Sunday morning sports and Sports iconactivities suggest about the importance of going to church? That’s the catechesis that’s going to stick, even if they find a way to get all of their confirmation requirements done. And if there’s any doubt about what should win, take another look at the First Commandment.

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)? If you really want what’s best for your children, teach them to set their minds on things that are above, not on the things of this world (Colossians 3:1-2; Matthew 6:19-21). The problem, ultimately, isn’t the sports schedule. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Why Parents “Can’t” Bring Their Kids to Church — 34 Comments

  1. The ancient church met at sunrise because the Lord’s Day was a regular work day in the Roman Empire. I wonder if modern Christians would sacrifice a little sleep in order to meet there secular obligations and still receive the blessings of the Divine Service.

  2. “footbaal” – I don’t know if that was a typo or intentional, but sports are the Ba’als of modern America.

    I find that “logic” of skipping church goes something like this. 1) My child has to be in sports in order to show they are well-rounded. 2) They need to be well-rounded so they can get into a good college. 3) They need a good college so they can get a good job. 4) They need a good job so they can raise a family and retire at a good age.

    To which I reply, “Well, that covers the next 50 to 80 years of their life. What are they going to do for the rest of eternity?”

  3. @Andrew Wachter #1

    Many do. Working adults who are coerced by their employers to work on Sunday, often find alternatives to receive Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament at other times or days of the week. In an increasingly pagan society, it would behoove the Church to make many opportunities for our people to receive the gospel blessings delivered through the Divine Service, when Sunday morning becomes problematic.

    It would also be important to discuss attendance at the Divine Service as Gospel rather than Law– since no one will bring a right heart before Christ’s altar by flogging them with Romish-sounding brow beatings about fulfilling their weekly Mass obligations. Such law preaching might put more fearful folks in the pews and bolster the weekly offering plates, but it is the Gospel which actually empowers true good works by faith… including participation in the Divine Service, upon whichever day and time it occurs.

  4. I never ever heard of sports events on a Sunday morning until about ten years ago. At worst in the 1980s we had special weekend trips now and then like Band trips or going to state competitions, which meant sometimes we were returning on a Sunday but it wasn’t a regular thing. I think most of the time we would return Saturday night even if we got home at 3 am.

    Even Wednesday nights were not usually scheduled for school things.

  5. There is still room for third use of the law parching in this area and not be Roman-ish sounding. I never took strict church attendance too seriously until understood it as a father. As an individual going to Divine Service and receiving God’s gifts was all about Gospel. But as a Father bringing my children is an obligation of my vocation.

  6. @Andrew Wachter #5

    Certainly true, though the 3rd Use of the Law (Guide) is always and only spring-boarded from the Gospel, since truly good works only come from faith rather than coercion.

    The only uses I detected in the article above were 1st and 2nd (Curb and Mirror) which are not the genesis of good works. It sounded very Romish to me from that perspective.

  7. Yeah, in agreement with a couple of the other comments: maybe instead of browbeating parents (and, by extension, others) who already feel guilty about not attending church enough–and believe me, I’m not even a parent and I can still tell you they do–maybe come up with actual suggestions for improving church attendance?

    For example, a really basic one is mindset-related. In college, my friends and I would often stay up later than was ideal on Saturday nights. But when my alarm would ring four hours after going to bed, I would wake up, say to myself, “I made my choices, I did this to myself, I’m not stopping it from letting me go to church.” I tried to avoid even thinking in terms of whether I SHOULD go to church or felt like it. When I got older and started feeling the need for more sleep, I tended to go to bed earlier on Saturday night, rather than deciding I needed to sleep late on Sunday morning.

    Otherwise: a lot of churches these days offer alternative times. If a service is offered on a Saturday night or a Monday night, some families might be able to make those work better.

    Otherwise: talk to your pastor. Hope he has more suggestions than Bible-verse brow-beating.

  8. @Andrew Wachter #1

    Personally, I’m an advocate for the Sat. Night service as well as early Sunday a.m.

    But regarding activities like that, we are quite clear with our children’s extracurricular leaders: Sunday mornings are pretty much off limits pending an urgent reason otherwise. And by urgent we mean “impossible to miss” which sports and music camp are not.

  9. @ Brad #6

    The law is the law, how it is preached doesn’t determine what use it is taking. The hearer determines the use. Pastor Andersen addresses the third commandment. If one person says, “Wow I am very guilty of this” it convicts him. The commandment is taking the second use. A different person can read it and be encouraged to be a better parent. The Law didn’t change but it is now taking the third use.

  10. @Andrew Wachter #10

    Not trying to be combative, Andrew, but how one uses the Law does indeed affect the way people receive it– otherwise, we wouldn’t teach such things to our seminarians in homiletics courses. To assert that the Law is a purely subjective exercise is misleading, and bears the marks of a post-modern approach to literature (often seen in the Bible study circuits as “what does this text mean to you?”). It also can unfortunately lead to Enthusiasm, and the internalization of the Means of Grace.

    I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in reading this post as a brow beating. I’m simply pointing out that brow beating will not improve the keeping of the 3rd Commandment (which is not just showing up to the 10am Sunday service) though it may for a time scare or guilt butts into seats and money into offering plates. Since I assume the point or hope of the article was to accomplish a better end, I have to note charitably that it has and will fail due to its approach.

  11. @Brad #11

    To put the best construction on it, perhaps Andrew misspoke and meant to say that the Holy Spirit uses the law in different people in different ways. I do agree with him that the law is the law. We were taught in seminary that the pastor does not use the Law, the Holy Spirit does. The pastor preaches the Law and the Spirit will work through it in whatever way He deems fit.

    I definitely agree with what you said above that the Gospel empowers good works by faith.

    I think this article identifies a big idolatry that is very widespread, as people are choosing extracurricular activities over the means of grace. The Law needs to be spoken in these situations.

    Yet, the Gospel also needs to be spoken: that we are not going to church to simply fulfill an obligation, please God, or get a mark in the attendance records, but but we are going to be fed by Christ in Word and Sacrament. We are going to be forgiven through His sacrifice on the cross. We are going to receive life and salvation in Christ. We are going in order to, like Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus and receive the one thing necessary. And this is a great gift for us.

  12. There is a difference in commitment to youth confirmation classes
    among Lutheran parents. Our parish solved the problem by meeting
    on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 8:30 pm We had
    great participation with this schedule and during Lent we switched
    to Tuesday evening. From September to May this arrangement worked.

  13. There’s nothing Roman about preaching and teaching the Law in its full severity; it’s only Roman when it is presented as meritorious.

    The reason for the Law emphasis in this post is because I intended it as call to repentance for the secure sinner and catechetical instruction for the godly.

    For those who are contrite, there certainly is good news: Jesus is still present in Word and Sacrament waiting for you and your children to come back. God is the faithful Father who watches and waits for the return of His prodigals. It is His joy and delight to embrace, kiss, and feast with you.

    Only don’t delay for too long, for the time is short (1 Cor. 7:29). Each Christ-less Lord’s Day only further confirms your children in the religion of the evil one.

  14. @Pastor Eric Andersen #14

    Pr. Andersen,

    You obviously have no interest in critique, so I’ll stop offering it. However, I would counsel prudence in addressing my children, of which you have no knowledge. I think their catechesis has resulted in a better ability to discern Law and Gospel than you have demonstrated here, and significantly greater charity in dialogue.

  15. Pastor Andersen how old are your children? Have you entered into the age where your children are participating in team sports and are asked to practice on Sundays? How many practices or games have you made your kids skip on Sundays?

  16. @Brad #15

    I’m sorry you find my comments uncharitable; I only offered them as clarification. You make a number of fine points in your comments. I recently told a friend of mine I’d offer Daily Divine Service if only people would come, so I agree with you when you say we shouldn’t limit our offering of the Lord’s gifts only to the Lord’s Day.

    However, I can’t agree with the notion that we should, as you say, discuss our attendance at the Divine Service as Gospel “rather than” Law. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and (cf. Matthew 4:17; 1 John 2:18-19). I’m not aware of having denied the Gospel in any way, or mingled the two. I will say it again:

    For those who are contrite, there certainly is good news: Jesus is still present in Word and Sacrament waiting for you and your children to come back. God is the faithful Father who watches and waits for the return of His prodigals. It is His joy and delight to embrace, kiss, and feast with you.

    I am certainly open to critique, but you haven’t done much other than to label my comments as “brow beating” and “Roman” (without offering any evidence). If by “brow beating” you mean “harsh”, then you’d have to accuse Christ of the same thing (cf. Matt. 23). You could say the same thing about any faithful preaching of the Law. It’s supposed to kill. And like I said, something is only Roman when it is presented as being meritorious. If anything’s uncharitable, it’s characterizing what I’ve written as “flogging [people] with Romish-sounding brow beatings about fulfilling their weekly Mass obligations.”

    It seems to me the problem here isn’t my ability to distinguish Law and Gospel (as I’m interested in preserving both), it’s with your Marcion-esque argument that there’s no room for the preaching of the Law when it comes to going to church or catechism class. Or are we flogging our people with Romish error when we teach the 3rd Commandment?

  17. Guessing your silence means you don’t have children at an age where you actually have had to make those decisions.

  18. @Gerdes #16

    Yes, they are in that age category. I don’t put my children into sports when there’s a Sunday morning conflict. And that hasn’t been an easy decision to make. Just to offer one example: I wanted my oldest son to continue playing ice hockey (I played myself and enjoyed coaching him when he was in the under-8 league in Colorado). However, all of the ice hockey leagues in my area have Sunday morning requirements, so he doesn’t play in a league any more. We can go to open skate, rat hockey, and find other things to do that aren’t on Sunday mornings.

  19. When I have had the privilege of hearing a pastor Sunday after Sunday preach Law and Gospel in such a way that I want nothing more than to be there is when I also have been equipped to speak to my children and to my own sinful inclinations about missing church or catechesis for my child or myself for that matter. To be called to repentance and immediately thereafter receive the comfort of the Gospel. To be reminded that here, in this place called Divine Service is where I will receive everything I need to sustain me in this world and the next is where I hear a Law Gospel distinction in preaching and teaching, in dialoguing with my pastor, and trained therefore to dialog with my children and training them to desire the better thing as my pastor has taught me. But, when the pastor has been Law/Law/Law, or even Law/Gospel/Law…I’m left with a bitter taste that I almost made it…that Gospel part…then told, but now prove you heard the Gospel and make better choices…that Law again…and I know I’m falling short and there is no relief for me even in the Word proclaimed. For that kind of preaching also produces fruit or lacks producing fruit. Should it be left up to the Pastor to master Law Gospel distinction for me to choose DS and catechesis over sports or other activities? No. But, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t influence because it does. Please preach/write articles with that distinction, Law then Gospel. Help me. For as a sinner, chief of sinners, I desperately need to leave knowing in repentance Christ died for my sin and His mercies are new every morning…not just when I get my choices right. Let me know His mercy calls me to DS and catechesis, as who doesn’t love being in the company of a loving and forgiving Father?

  20. Ok I can appreciate that. We all make choices as Christian parents. That’s understandable that you choose for your family to not allow participation on Sundays. That might also have something to do with your professional requirements. The pastor probably can’t skip a Sunday to take his son to hockey practice. That’s probably frowned on 😉 But do you really think you change anyones mind by the way you berate people for their choices. Our family just came through a really busy season of life with a teenager in sports on many summer weekends. I am so happy we spent that time together as a family. Life is short here on earth. Thank goodness it’s an extension of eternity for those who know Jesus as their Savior. Do we love the Lord less because we went 2 out of 4 Sundays a month for a short season….nope. I have 3 amazing kids who enjoy going to church and worshiping. Not because they have to because it’s Sunday but because they want to.

  21. Why do we say we place our hope in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet practically ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish – Paul Tripp. Yes I’m aware he’s not Lutheran
    How about Romans 5:12-21
    Have a good night. I just struggle with your posts. I just feel they are meant to bring conflict. I think this proves true if you look at the number of responses to your posts. You got me to respond so I guess it works 🙂

  22. @Gerdes #22

    I struggle with my own posts, too, which are born of my own struggle with God’s Word. That daily struggle against sin, death, and the devil is actually one of the defining characteristics of the Christian life. When that struggle isn’t going on is when we need to worry.

    I think it will always sound like we’re being berated when the Law is being set forth in its full severity. Scripture warns again and again about the dangers of sin. You can’t earn salvation, but it can be lost, and persistence in sin does harden the heart (Romans 1). Preaching against sin isn’t the same thing as preaching works-righteousness. That’s a distinction I think we need to recover. We’re so inclined to cheap grace/antinomianism today that faithful preaching of the Law is often met with the (false) charge of Romanism. If they lost the Gospel in Luther’s time, we’ve lost the Law today.

    I really don’t mean to bring conflict; I just mean to teach the Word of God faithfully. That will, of course, result in conflict at times, as our Lord Himself said (cf. Matthew 10:34).

    I’m glad you were able to spend quality time with your family over the summer. You’re right about how short life is here on earth, and we could never spend too much time with our kids. The problem is when our vocations conflict. I don’t think you love Christ less because you missed a few Sundays over the summer, but I assume you did miss out on the Lord’s gifts on those days. Had you chosen to go to church instead, maybe you’d be sinning against your kids because you’re preventing them from doing something else that’s important. For my part, I give priority to church not because I’m a pastor (my wife could take them), but because of the way God’s Word informs my conscience.

    All of that is to say, we’re probably going to end up sinning no matter what we do (this is in keeping with our understanding of the Law and a biblical anthropology). The problem is when we try to justify sin (I *had* to do x, y, or z…) or excuse it. How many pastors’ kids grow up hating church because of the poor parenting of pastors? If laity (in general) need to be warned about worldliness, pastors need to be warned about the dangers of gnosticism/monasticism. For my part, I struggle with both. Wretched man that I am! For the Christian, there can be no excusing sin, ever. Rather, we should recognize our sin for what it is, repent, and confess. When that happens, the angels in heaven rejoice and God is gracious to forgive. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

    There’s certainly a danger of legalism here, too. It’s not like Christ said we had to worship at 9am on Sunday mornings, so there’s always the option of finding evening or non-Sunday services. Some parents really do wish they could have both (that is, church and sports). Maybe you can. When you have to miss on a Sunday, maybe make an effort to find another service to go to. Or even pray Matins at home. It’s not that God’s keeping track and you need to stamp the church time-card, but if there’s some way to keep the Sabbath holy and receive the Lords gifts and participate in the activities, that might be a way to have the best of both worlds.

  23. @Patty #21

    The Gospel should always dominate in a sermon. However, this isn’t a sermon and there are circumstances when the Gospel must be withheld. My article was addressing a specific problem, namely, the parent who is so religiously devoted to sports and activities that they routinely choose that over church and don’t see any problem with that. That attitude must be met with a Law response. To preach the Gospel in such a situation would be a terrible confusion of Law and Gospel and give license to secure sinners to keep prioritizing the world over Christ.

  24. @Pastor Eric Andersen #17

    Pr. Andersen,

    I am ending our dialogue before it goes further downhill. You obviously have not understood my concerns about the relationship between the 3rd use of the Law and the Gospel, nor have you appreciated that the tone and content of your article has caused many to perceive in your writing a Law based argument to improve church attendance. A focus on Mass attendance by use of the Law is indeed a Roman Catholic theological distinctive, whereas a Lutheran theological distinctive with the Mass is to root it in the Gospel. This is not antinomianism– it is putting the proper order between cart and horse.

    However, your slanderous application of a heretical Marcion title to me is uncalled for, as is your unrepentant and ignorant slander against my children. I do hope your Lenten path bears better fruit than you’ve shown here, but I doubt it shall come our continued public conversation. You will remain in my prayers.

  25. @Brad #26

    I’m sorry you feel that way, and I remain willing to work toward unity in a charitable manner. I called your argument “Marcion-esque” because you don’t seem to be willing to apply the 3rd Commandment to unrepentant sin. In this post, I am addressing a particular problem–namely, parents who routinely choose sports, etc., over church and see no problem with that. My purpose here is to highlight that error and call it to repentance, not to offer a Lutheran theology of the Mass. If that were the case, I would have certainly opted for a Gospel-oriented approach. It sounds to me like you’re looking for something from this article that I never intended to provide. Re-reading the article on its own merits, I think, could go a long way to clearing this up. I don’t think every treatment of a specific error requires a full systematic exposition of the subject area’s doctrine.

    Also, I’m not sure why you feel I’ve persisted in unrepentant, ignorant slander against your children. How have I done that? It’s not the children I’m calling to task here, it’s the parents.

    I understand that many will not appreciate what I’ve written, but I suspect that’s because I’m not willing to give people permission to skip church. The Gospel can never be used to give license to sin. It may not be popular to call skipping church sinful, but I don’t know how we can get around that without getting rid of the 3rd Commandment.

    Thank you for the prayers. I pray that we can resolve our differences in a God-pleasing manner.

  26. Dr. Walther writes in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:
    “The second point of difference between Law and Gospel is indicated by the particular contents of each. The Law tells us what to do. No such instruction is contained in the Gospel. Rather, the Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing. The Law speaks about our works, whereas the Gospel speaks about the great works of God. In the Law we hear the tenfold summons: ‘You shall.’ Beyond that, the Law has nothing to say to us. The Gospel, on the other hand, makes no demands whatsoever.

    What if someone says, ‘But the Gospel demands faith!’ Well, just picture someone who is hungry. You tell him: ‘Come, sit down at my table and eat.’ That hungry person would hardly reply, ‘Who are *you* to boss me around?’ No, he would understand and accept your words as a kind invitation. That is exactly what the Gospel is–a kind invitation to partake of heavenly blessings.”

    The Gospel for Rev. Andersen’s article is in the Divine Service. If we rightly see the Divine Service as what it is–the Divine coming to serve us sinners–then that is where the free forgiveness of sins for us who neglect the gathering together of the saints is located. It’s found no where else.

    I applaud this article.

  27. What does one miss when one is not in attendance at the Divine Service? The bodily present Jesus, who is there to give the forgiveness of sins. St. Thomas was not with the Eleven on Easter evening (John 20), and he missed the resurrected Christ. What resulted from this? Unbelief. What is the result of dying in unbelief?

  28. @Gerdes #22

    It’s one thing to happen to miss an occasional Sunday due to circumstances (such as I had last week). It’s quite another to habitually, knowingly, and deliberately miss worship due to obligations which are not necessities, and I think that’s more or less what is being addressed here.

    Part of it, too, is establishing early on the priority of worship. Mrs. J. Dean and I, as I referenced earlier, established early on that sports would not take the place of church, and that if our children ever happened to be on a league that started playing on Sunday mornings we would have to bow out. Now fortunately that’s extremely rare regarding school-related activities, but I have heard of travel leagues (baseball in particular) who seem to completely disregard the fact that the parents may be Christians and schedule many games and practices on Sunday mornings.

    The bottom line is this: are we as parents modeling the priority of the assembling of the saints? Again, I’m not talking about a situation where there is no choice but to miss, such as with a police officer or EMT on call who has to leave the service for the sake of saving a life. I’m talking about things that are not essential taking the place of things that are, and doing so regularly.

    I don’t remember whether or not it was Augustine or Bernard of Clairveaux who said it, but one of them (I think) said “It is not the absence of the sacrament, but the contempt of the sacrament, that is sin”. The same could be said for assembling to worship.

    I do like seeing different times offered for services, and that does help. But it’s not “browbeating” to hold up the basic expectation of assembling to hear the Word preached and the Sacraments distributed on a regular basis. Hebrews 10:26 is pretty clear about this.

  29. It’s sad, but not not surprising, that folks kick back against the fact that they have prioritized sport, pleasure and leisure over church attendance. Having been granted faith, we have a vocation in the pew, and what better good work could there be than to drag your carcass to church as often as possible to receive what God freely offers through his servants? What is being confessed on Sunday on the sports field, and how does it uphold 1 Timothy 5:17-18?

    Thank you, Pr. Andersen.

  30. Pastor Andersen,
    Thank you for having the courage to speak forth God’s Word for the sake of exhorting and encouraging the people of Christ’s Church. Yes, God’s Word includes
    both Law and Gospel. I find it curious how worked up some folks get when any specific law is preached. A seminary prof once told me, “When you throw a stick into a pack of dogs ~ the one it hits yelps the loudest”. ( Truly ~ only a metaphor here…) I know that we don’t throw sticks or stones – and our people are certainly not “dogs”. Yet, I hear a lot of yelping and bleating going on whenever I attempt to preach and apply the whole Word of God, which includes very specific law passages. The truly angry ones usually feel the sting of the law – and react, so much so that sometimes they miss the Gospel that follows. I find it an absolute scandal that most modern Christians refuse to recognize any requirements of them from the third commandment. More tragically, it’s a shame when people turn on God’s shepherds for speaking His word to them, especially when it is spoken out of a sense of loving concern for the good of God’s “little ones”. Hearing the law is hard, preaching it is even harder; yet, it’s a cross that we carry. Thanks be to God that He took care of our burdens at His cross, and sent His Spirit to guide us and comfort us as we walk out this life of faith. Christ’s peace to you ~ as we walk the Lenten path of life. Keep on carrying out your calling.

  31. Dear Pastor Andersen,
    Thank you for your words of affirmation. After becoming a mother to a precious daughter and she became involved in sports, I talked to her about our priorities. God comes first. I didn’t think it would happen our first year, but it did, and because we had our discussion prior, it was not a surprise to her when she was not able to participate in every event. She now is very aware and if people ask her if she will be there on a Sunday, she says no, we ‘get’ to go to church. I have had people say, you go to church every Sunday, can’t you skip this one? No, my family and I need to be fed, weekly, in addition to our time at home we spend in Bible study and devotions. Once upon a time it was the natural thing to do on Sunday – go to church. Now in our 24/7 society, it takes effort and commitment to do so. Thank you and God bless you.

  32. @Debra Allen #33: “I have had people say, you go to church every Sunday, can’t you skip this one?”

    And these same people would never dare ask a Mohammadan family to skip going to the mosque so their child could participate in a sports event.

    After all, these people don’t have to worry about Christians cutting off their heads.

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