Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Threats and Guilt: It Is How We Do Church!

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate but boy his wife better get them dressed in their nicest clothes and have them on their best behavior and make sure they get to "worship" every Sunday or someone is being weak and needing a slap on the wrist. And for crying out loud, keep that baby quiet, can't you see we are fixin' to worship here! (Psalm 127:3-5, Institutional Church Version)
For some reason I still often read Gospel Coalition articles and often they make me do a facepalm but just when I think I have seen it all, I see this: Moms With Hands Full Need The Church by Emily Morrice. Now from the title you might assume that the point is that the church needs to help and support new moms when the church gathers, something I am all in favor of. You would be wrong. There is some of that but the gist of the article is that having your hands full with young kids is no excuse for not getting them to church every Sunday.

Here are some choice quotes with a couple of comments thrown in:
If your children are younger than school age, Sundays might be the only day you have to hustle out the door and be somewhere on time. This process requires discipline where we may have grown weak. In the case of church attendance, churches are often ready to extend grace, but sometimes at the cost of accountability.
HUH?! So women with kids younger than school age have no where to be on time all week. No doctor's appointments, nothing. They just sit around all week waiting for the opportunity to go hear a sermon so by golly suck it up and get your kids to church! Unfortunately a lot of the church has been blinded by the lie that women have to leave the home and work so they absolutely are getting their kids somewhere on time all week long. The next line is even more insulting. To suggest that these young moms lack discipline and have weak self-control is a slap in the face. Capping it off is the less than subtle appeal to "accountability", which is code for "show up or the pastor might have to have a chat with you". That is essentially threatening young moms with church discipline for not showing up on demand. So in other words, if you don't make it to church because of family issues you are weak, lack discipline in your life and ought to get called on the carpet by the elders for your disturbing lack of faith. After all, it isn't like we have designed "church" to be akin to a theatrical event or an academic lecture where a child fusing is a distraction to the rest of us. Family friendly!
Church membership requires church attendance. In an age of individualism, particularly in matters of faith, it is important that churches expect attendance from their members and accountability to that end. Yet too often families with young children are left out of this assumption.
The old canard, if you don't show up to church as demanded you are obviously caught up in the individualism of this age. Here is a news flash: being a member of the church comes from being born again and adopted into the family of God, and that is true no matter how often you go to church (or if you go at all). Conversely being a "member" of a local religious group and showing up whenever the doors are open doesn't make you a member of the church. For a tribe of the church who takes such pride in their Protestantism, the Reformed seem awfully clueless when it comes to how much they still look like Rome in how they view the church. Our problems in the church have less to do with "individualism" than they do with "hive mentality collectivist tribalism".
Pastors and elders, don’t enable young families to drop off the face of the earth in the name of child rearing. By all means, do what you can do make your church a hospitable place for families. In the times when mothers can’t attend church due to a child’s illness or postpartum healing, consider how you can bring fellowship to her or loving service to her family. At the same time, practice accountability with mothers, as you would all church members.
Even here where elders are encouraged to find ways to help families we see that same fall back to "practice accountability". If you can get around to it, make some accommodations for families with young children but if they still don't show up it is time to break out the church discipline hammer and remind them who is boss!
It’s easy to lose heart when our congregation is sitting under solid teaching and we’re in the hallway with a fussy baby, or when our church is praising God in musical worship and we’re called to the nursery—again. But if we’re honest, this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to put our needs behind those of others. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul urges us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
So showing up to church and then spending the entire hour sitting in the hallway with a fussy baby is just the way it is. No thought is given here to the notion that maybe how we insist on organizing the church into a performance might make it nigh impossible for young families to do much other than try to sneak out the back every few minutes with the inevitable stares from other families who are trying to hide their irritation at being distracted. "Be quiet you, can't you see I am worshipping over here!"
Having young children gives us myriad excuses to miss fellowship with our local church, but God’s Word is clear: our interests cannot be paramount. When we don’t attend church because it inconveniences our family, we are robbing our larger spiritual family of our fellowship, our service, and our witness (and of course our check in the offering plate).
In actively participating in your local church, as a mom with her hands full, you are giving others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you. You are setting a priceless example to the younger women as you love your family and prioritize Jesus and his bride.
Actually you are probably scaring young women. Wow, I don't want to have kids that I have to struggle with every Sunday. I have been in a lot of churches, and I have seen a lot of moms struggling with little kids. I have never thought to myself "Boy that looks awesome, let's have more kids!". Now we do have a lot of kids but never because I was so inspired by how delightful it looked to wrestle with toddlers in a pew.
Families with young children, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
Ah the obligatory misuse of Hebrews 10:25 which is apparently a requirement to get anything posted on the Gospel Coalition webpage. Somehow I don't think that the average young mom trying to hush a crying baby in the hallway and straining to hear a snippet of the sermon comes away at the end of the service feeling like she encouraged anyone or was encouraged herself. She is mostly just glad it is over. Any use of Hebrews 10:25 to guilt/cajole/threaten people into showing up to a culturally mandated religious event on Sunday morning is dishonest, poor exegesis and theological malpractice.

What a hypocritical people we are. We talk about being family friendly and loving children, we put pro-life bumper stickers on our cars but then we get stuff like this (and this essay is only putting on paper what a lot of the church believes) that basically scolds the imperfect parent and makes showing up to a religious event with a colicky baby the mark of a young mother's faithfulness. The dirty little secret in the church, and let me be blunt and a bit angry here, is that for all of our talk about loving children and family, our attitudes toward them are not much different from the world. We encourage our kids to build careers and the ever elusive financial stability before getting married and then delaying child birth. We are terrified to come out and say that women should stay at home to care for their own kids rather than dumping them in institutionalized child care because that might offend someone and after all a two-income family can write bigger checks. We design our "worship" services to be as child unfriendly as possible, an hour or more of sitting in uncomfortable chairs or pews watching a performance on stage so that moms are often either out in the hallway or trying to entertain their understandable bored kids, or even worse we dump our kids into nursery so they don't bother anyone while we are "worshiping". Our "family friendly" attitude is really little more than slogans, a political tool to get us to the polls and something to manifest with pictures of our kids on Facebook.

If we really care about family, let's encourage our young people to get married and start families rather than chasing the demonic promise of "financial security" and let's gather the church in such a way that young families feel like they are truly welcome rather than something that the rest of us have to tolerate.


Aussie John said...


"The dirty little secret in the church, and let me be blunt and a bit angry here, is that for all of our talk about loving children and family, our attitudes toward them are not much different from the world".


Bethany W. said...

Spot on, Arthur! Thank you!