I have heard this about a dozen times since being a pastor and every time I hear it I’m baffled. It goes something like this: “Johnny’s been bad today, so I’m not letting him come to church/church event.” I try to hide my confusion, but I’m not sure how well I do, because it usually starts the person on further explanation. No explanation can assuage the heartache that I feel when I hear those words. I’m not sure parents have thought through why this is such a detriment to their children.
I want to give 3 quick reasons I believe that it is a big mistake to keep little Johnny from church as a punishment.
- If Johnny has been bad—if he has sinned—then he needs to hear the gospel. If he is not yet a believer, he needs to hear that sin has more consequences than being grounded or spanked. Sin has the consequence of hell. He needs to hear that Jesus paid the penalty for all who believe, and that if he will trust in Jesus, he will be saved from sin and hell, and will have a relationship with God through Jesus, indwelled by the Holy Spirit. If a parent deprives little Johnny of that message, it is to all of their detriment, but especially little Johnny’s.
- Little Johnny needs to know that even when he is bad—even when he has sinned—he can still go to God. If a parent keeps their “bad” child from church, it very well could lead to the idea that when they are bad they cannot go to God at all. Even if these words are never spoken (“God doesn’t want bad children in ‘his house.’”) the meaning very well may be conveyed. Little Johnny needs to know that God is always willing to receive the humble and repentant. He never leaves nor forsakes.
- Little Johnny needs the church members to be examples to/for him. The writer of Hebrews wrote that we are to remember our leaders and the outcome of their lives and imitate them (cf. 13:7). If Johnny is kept away from the church, he is kept away from godly mentors and examples. There are men and women who will help teach him why his actions were wrong (if you let them know). His teachers/pastors care about him; let them show you and him.
Perhaps you are thinking that your church doesn’t share the gospel; all they do is have fun. If that is true, then you not only need to keep him out that one day, but withdraw him. However, before doing that, speak with the teacher. Ask if the gospel is presented and how often. Perhaps you request that it be done more often. If it isn’t done at all and the leader/teacher refuses to do so, then go to an elder/pastor. If there is still nothing done, investigate the church as to its faithfulness to the gospel. Is this the only place that the gospel is abandoned or are there other places? If no/little gospel seems to be the norm, then it may be time to leave altogether and find a gospel-centered church. But whatever you do, don’t keep Johnny out of church due to punishment.
Am I wrong? Let me know. Perhaps there is a side of this of which I have not thought. I’d love to have your comments.