Why don’t my kids go to church? We could easily replace kids with spouse, friends, parents, neighbors, and host of other people. And then, we could ask the question again. Why do those who have been exposed to the gospel, ‘raised right,’ and know all the Sunday school answers drift away from the church? They talk about getting back into church. But their alarms never go off, their cars never start, and their spot on the pew next to your’s remains empty. Why? Why don’t our kids and our loved ones come to church anymore?
Now before we dive into the topic, I want to acknowledge that this article has apathetic Christians in view. As the never ending news-cycle makes clear, some men and women leave their local church because their church ceased to be a biblical church. The local assembly went from sharing God’s love to spreading sin, caring little about those who were spiritually harmed and/or physically abused by its leaders. This article is not about those who have suffered under evil pastors and church leaders. Rather, I want to prevent further abuse and will discuss that more below. Our focus is those who drift away.
God takes on the hearts of our apathetic children and loved ones in 1 Samuel 7. In the previous chapters, we read that Eli and his sons had sent the Ark of the Covenant, the judgement seat of God, into battle. The Ark was captured by the Philistines who obliterated the Israelite army. But the Philistines do not keep the Ark long. All the cities who hosted the Ark experienced plagues and death. After suffering under the hand of God for seven months, the Philistines send the Ark back to Israel. The people of Israel celebrate and then desecrate the Ark. Seventy men in Beth-Shemesh die. And the Ark is once again sent away. Little national thought is given to the worship of God for the next twenty years.
First Samuel 7:2 says, “From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.”
What does all this have to do with our kids and loved ones who don’t attend church? Everything!
The Israelites grieved for 20 years. But they never worship God; they were worshiping their idols. In verse 1 Samuel 7:4 we finally read, “So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.” Though they had grieved much during those 20 years, they had not repented.
They same is true of our indifferent kids. They feel guilty about their lack of attendance stickers. They talk about returning to church. But they do not act on their guilt because they don’t love God. They are serving other idols, idols of the heart (Ez. 18). They live for money, houses, cars, vacations, the success of their kids, and the next thrill. They care little for God because God is not their master. Those who worship things other than God naturally have not time for worshiping God.
Those who have repentented, worship! After they Israelites repent they do church! In verse 6, we read,
So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
When men and women repent of their sins. They worship God. They assemble together and pursue God with a unified zeal. Notice that the people of Israel have gone from worshiping idols to enthusiastically worshiping God. The are fasting and praying. And this is not an isolated act. Read the Gospels and the Book of Acts! Those who repent have an unending appetite for worship!
Those who love God do not come to church to get a favor from granddad, to impress a girl-friend, or to make mom stop nagging them. No, they come because they love God. They want to come. Bind believers in chains, and they will pull at them till they are once again free to worship with the people of God. Jesus affirms this passion in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
On the flip side those who have not repented, will not love church. They will find church judgmental, irrelevant, and boring. They will mourn their feelings of guilt but will never come to worship because their hearts serve another master.
If we or our loved ones care little for church, can never find time for the people of God, and think all that religious stuff is a superfluous nicety, we and they have a faith problem. We have a repentance problem. We have loved ones who claim Christ but do not know Him. 1 John 2:19 clearly states,
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Those who willfully and intentionally leave church because they are busy are not saved.
Now some of us our slow, to label our kids and loved ones as unbelievers. We saw little Johnny get baptized; we went on mission trips with Sally; and, we sang in the choir with Phil. Yes, they have absent from the church for 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years. But they lost a child, they went through a tough transition, and they are just so busy. Shouldn’t we seek to win them back into the church? Shouldn’t we try to reengage them by getting them to help with the ushers team or to serve as the Sunday school event planner?
No, friend we should not welcome those in unrepentant sin back into the church as if they never left. We should like Samuel call them to repent and then invite them to worship. Notice that the worship services resumed after the people turned from their idols and not before. If we neglect the doctrines of repentance, faith and sanctification, we will destroy the very churches we seek to save.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
When churches embrace cheap grace, they implode. Our churches are filled with evil men and women who stir up conflicts, who silence gospel preaching, and who abuse children and teenagers because we have embraced cheap grace. We have welcomed both those who hate sin and those who love sin into the heart of the church. Instead of practicing church discipline to help lost know they are lost, to protect the glory of God, and to defend the defenseless, many church leaders let both good and evil people come into the church and stay in the church. As a result, our churches are wrecked by all types of evil. Did not Paul write in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
The same tragedy occurred in ancient Israel. Eli refused to discipline his wicked sons. Because Eli looked the other way when sinners entered God’s house, God’s house became of place of physical abuse, sexual immorality, and drunkenness (1 Samuel 2:12-3). Eventually, Eli’s ministry and family were undone by sinners masquerading as the servants of God. Can we repeat Eli’s failures and hope to escape his judgement?
Instead of wishing for a reality that does not exist, we need to treat our children like unbelievers they profess to be by their works. We need to lovingly call them to repentance at every divinely appointed opportunity. We need to mercifully warn them that their works point to damnation and death. And if they refuse to hear us and are members of our church, we need to practice church discipline.
Our kids and loved ones don’t come to church any more because they don’t love God. Are we ready to deal with this reality? Are we ready to pray for them, to evangelize them, and to discipline them?