We brought our first child to church when she was just over a week old. We repeated this practice with two more children, and each time heard the same, disheartening question: “What are you doing here?”
If ever there were a segment of our church body that we tend to exempt from the active participation of church membership, it’s families with young children. I write as a mother, in the throes of raising my three little ones (all younger than 5), and I understand the frenzy of Sunday mornings. Further, I know all too well the temptation to skip church when the kids are a handful, or worse, to resent the church when our expectations aren’t met.
Having young children has become a type of carte blanche, excusing us from regular attendance, service, hospitality, and evangelism. But I plead with you, mothers of little ones, don’t give up on your local church.
Lowering the Bar
With young children, everything is more difficult. Joyous, sure, but easier? No mom spends a day with her little ones doing everything she needs to do at home, investing in her relationship with the Lord, her husband, and unbelievers and thinks This is so much easier now that I have three children in tow!
Regular church attendance can suddenly feel impossible. The church you joined and served as a young couple may not be as practically hospitable now that you have children. Maybe the children’s ministry is just beginning or not yet strong. Perhaps your church meets during your toddler’s nap, or you’re trying to get your baby on a schedule. I have been there in each instance, and rarely did a two-hour detour one day a week make or break the challenges of that season, though mentally I felt it would.
As a pastor’s wife I have the added challenge of being the only parent available on Sundays. If even one of my three kids has an illness, I have to miss church altogether. There are many legitimate reasons for families having to miss church on a given Sunday, but there are also many illegitimate excuses competing for our empathy.
Grace and Accountability
The sleep deprivation of a newborn, tantrums with toddlers, and a schedule in disarray are unfortunate parts of life with little ones. When raising young children, parents absolutely need grace. Jesus’s invitation to Paul is also his invitation to the weary parent: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
If you’re a mom of young children, you might be tempted to assume no one will miss you if you don’t attend church this week (or month). This belief forgets that the whole body of Christ has been given different gifts, each to build up the body. 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. You are sharing your burdens with the body of Christ and testifying to God’s goodness in a chaotic season.
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).