When one of the Missional Tribe instigators spoke the title phrase in the midst of a conference call a couple of weeks ago, I wrote it down. Perhaps a bit of context is needed, but not much — I love the phrase for the shorthand way that it communicates so much by saying so little. In fact, this is one of the reasons I moved away from the institutional church… there can be a sense among many that simply showing up on Sunday mornings (or every time the doors are open, depending on your level of “commitment”) somehow absolves you of whatever it is for which you require absolution.
At one extreme, a church might be inclined to look the other way when they’re aware of an abusive father and husband, provided that “he’s trying” and he keeps repenting and keeps attending. On that basis, he must be forgiven by everyone involved, meaning no actions are taken to stop whatever form of abuse is going on. Somehow it’s presumed that any such action represents a lack of forgiveness. Never mind any legal requirements that exists to report certain forms of abuse. He’s absolved by attendance.
I’m not actually thinking of the extreme, though. I’m thinking of the more subtle idea that continued attendance absolves one’s responsibility for one’s own spiritual well-being, and that of one’s family. The biggest cry (in a rather appalled tone of voice) when one leaves the inherited form of church is “But what about the kids?” It seems to me that leaving the (“small-c”) church heightens one’s awareness of this responsibility that is so easily shuffled off to a program with the assumption it meets all needs. I acknowledge there are many different forms, but all-in-all, I wonder if “Sunday School” has really changed all that much since 1769. On the other hand, whatever one can say about its successes and failures, the educational system is always seeking ways to improve its form of educating children.
And for all of that, which kids do best in school? The ones whose parents taken an interest in and become involved in some way with their children’s education. Sure, I’m generalizing — but show me substantive proof otherwise. Why would religious instruction be any different? There is no absolution by attendance, despite what the actions and attitudes fostered by certain forms of church might imply. Sometimes it takes a deliberate removal of attendance to bring the realization home… where perhaps it belongs.
Bro M…just what I’ve been talking about lately, since our kids have been out of Sunday School since September. I found that it has changed significantly since I was a kid, even. Now it is more about playing games and babysitting, in so many ways. I definitely have been rising to the feeling that we are to be discipling our children — calling them to follow us as we follow Christ. And that means loving God and loving others each and every day…especially each other.
I hear that line frequently “but what about the kids”! I have been thinking about this stuff for the past couple weeks and your post pushed me over into actually blogging my thoughts on this subject. Thank you!
I think what needs to be taught more in Sunday school and church in general is that the only thing that can absolve you of sin is Jesus Christ. By living like Christ and turning from your sin is what the gospel says will get you to heaven.
Attending Sunday school or church cannot take your sins away.
And it only takes one sin, any sin to condemn any one to an eternity away from God.
That’s what I struggled to grasp when I was a child – thinking that God will judge you only on the big sins and let the small ones slide.
While reading this post, I kept hearing Ned Flanders wife: “Will somebody *pleeease* think of the children!” But seriously, I couldn’t agree more.
You are hitting the nail squarely upon the head. The issue is not the failure of the institution (which has many failings) but the irresponsibility of the congregation. We all face Christ at His judgment seat (2 Cor 5:10-11) one on one. No pastor or lawyer will stand alongside us to plead our case that the Sunday School failed, or the preacher failed. It is our responsibility for our own obedience to Christ, and for the children He has given us to care for. The attendance mindset is a cheap works mentality of a checklist of things to do that makes us “OK” with God.
heh … just had this conversation with BFF yesterday. We have the same doctor who is very good and also is a well-meaning Christian. She is deeply concerned that BFF’s family and my family are not involved in an ordinary church and talks to each of us about this when we go in for our physicals. She also sees our daughters for their physicals. It’s not a huge deal, it’s more of a ping along the lines of, “you know it’s important to have your kids in church for Sunday School, etc., etc.”
My BFF and I were talking about that yesterday and concluded, “Why? … why is that important?” Our experience of local churches and Sunday Schools and the so-called spiritual formation that goes on there is not really something we want to expose our children to. Most of the kids are more concerned with what others are wearing (designers, etc.) than they are with where their hearts are. I have no time for that. I have no time for the cliques and mean-spiritedness that my kids and their friends have experienced at the hands of local Christians. That’s not following Jesus. But I can do that at home and teach them do it here. So I will.
I’ll apologize in advance for saying this, but…
I’ve watched quite a number of friends over the past 20+ years leave “IC” and they all had similar reactions to warnings about “what about your children”.
But seeing their kids grow into young adults, I am deeply grieved by how few of them are following Jesus, or even giving Him a second thought.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps we need to adopt a new metaphor for church: village, and fight like hell to keep it (or get it back) on track.
For the children.
Point taken, Rob… but I think we could both point to people who stayed and have kids in the same boat. The main lesson here is that parents need to be involved in their kids’ spiritual lives and not think that being in church will do the trick. It won’t… but we can be lulled into a false sense of security. Church doesn’t necessarily mean communitas is present… we need to actively seek out “people of the spark”, n’est-ce-pas?
I grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday. The majority of the kids there did not care about learning anything. It was simply a time to have fun while their parents fulfilled their religious obligations of sitting through church. There were a few kids who did care, and wanted to learn – those were the kids with parents who also cared, and really tried to follow Jesus the other days of the week as well.
It all started at home.
Now, many years later, out of that same group of Sunday School kids, those same kids who cared are still following Jesus, They still care.
Out of the others, some (not all) still attend church, but most seem to do so with the same sense of religious obligation as did their parents.
The religious attendance at Sunday School did not make the difference. What they were taught by their parents in everyday life did.
What is our objective as parents? Are we trying to teach our kids to “go to church”, or are we trying to teach them to follow Jesus? One does not necessarily exclude the other, but what’s our priority?