Force Church on Your Kids & Expect a Fallout of Faith

Janelle Harris

churchI am a born and bred church girl. So as a kid coming up in an actively Christian family, I knew my Sundays — at least from 10 a.m. to around 2 p.m. — were on reserve for the Lord.

My Nana was a super sweet, easygoing woman, but she was also serious about her Jesus, which meant I was free to hang out with my friends on Friday, free to schlep in front of the TV watching cartoons on Saturday, but come Sunday morning honey, I’d better brush my teeth, throw on an appropriate dress, and be ready to park my rear end in a pew of Mt. Sinai UAME Church, no questions asked. 

Then when I turned 12, I went through this phase where I wanted to be everywhere, anywhere, but sittin’ up in church. There was no real reason behind the falling out. I was just ... bored. But I adored my grandmother too much to give her the kind of grief that I really wanted to about not going. Instead, I’d wage these silent protests that I hoped would get me and my pokey antics left behind. I’d drag my feet getting ready in the morning like I was prepping to go to a calculus marathon. I came down with more mystery sore throats and more dramatic symptoms of sickness than a hypochondriac actress. When that didn’t work, I’d come out rocking skirts that were clearly too short for me to wear out of the house, let alone to God’s House.

My grandmother, bless her heart, never once checked me on being the insolent little knucklehead that I was. But she did get the memo and just like that, she didn’t pressure me to go. I remember feeling guilty at first, especially when my family was herding out of the house in their Sunday best and I was sprawled out on the sofa in sweats and a stained-up t-shirt, or when my cousins would half-snort, half-whine indignant questions like, “How come Janelle gets to stay home?” Ah yes, at first liberation was my greatest joy. And once you stop going to church, it gets easier and easier, and even easier than that, to make more excuses and find more reasons not to go. But after a while, I actually started to miss it, so I warned Nana not to get all mushy and excited when I decided to accompany her again. It was a dry run, I said.

The happy ending to the story is that my era of turning up my nose at the church didn’t last long. By high school, I was back in the rotation of being in every Christmas play, every Easter production, and every single Sunday School activity, including a scholarship pageant that paid for my books my freshman year of college.

Even as I finish writing this, I’m checking the clock because I have to be at church — singing in the choir to top it all off — in less than two hours. Nana would be so proud. Probably relieved, too.

I’m toting Tween Wondergirl (my daughter), who’ll sit in the back pew with her little homegirls and hopefully absorb some of the The Word floating through the air. Thankfully, she hasn’t given me any of her own flack about going to church. In fact, she likes to go. Part of the reason is because the church we go to (shameless plug for Hunter Memorial AME in Suitland, Maryland!) isn’t stodgy or stiff. My pastors are cool and laid back — never preachy, even though they are preachers — and there are plenty of kids her age to hang out with. I even let her wear jeans just about every Sunday.

The important thing to me is that she builds a genuine relationship with God, not that she gets “churched,” which means mastering all of the habits and traditions — including being able to recite scripture back and forth — but never really connecting with the Lord. That would be missing the whole, get-up-every-Sunday-morning point. Last week, I overheard her listening to a gospel song in the midst of her hip-hop and R&B lineup. I think my heart skipped a beat.  

If my daughter were to come to me and say she wanted to take a break from church, I’d be concerned just like my Nana probably was. And I’d pray for her to change her mind, just like my Nana probably did. I wouldn’t force her to go but I sure as heck would be God’s head cheerleader at home so that she couldn’t forget who was in charge, church or no church.

If your child decided they didn’t want to be a part of the temple/masjid/mosque/church scene anymore, would you make them go anyway?

Image via Eusebius@Commons/Flickr 

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