Short answer? Yes. Absolutely.
But let me pose the scenario for you:
Joshua, our 6 year old, has started going to “big church” this year. He gets approximately 30 minutes of worship and then a 40 minute sermon. More Sundays than not, it’s a struggle. If you asked him, “Joshua, do you want to go to big church?” he would probably answer no. It’s boring. But we make him go.
Should we do that? Here is one reason you could argue why we shouldn’t: we are teaching him a form of legalism. He isn’t going because he has a genuine affection for God but because he’s supposed to. If we keep doing that, he’ll grow up to only do the right thing because he’s supposed to, not because he genuinely wants to. Or he’ll begin to resent church and spirituality altogether and become embittered and rebellious.
Let’s expand the issue from this point. Let’s say that I wake up tomorrow morning and don’t want to read my Bible. Do I do it out of obligation, because I’m supposed to, or do I not?
Do you see how the issue gets a little tricky?
Ideally, I will want to read the Bible. And ideally, our children will be pushing us out the door to church. But it doesn’t always work like that.
I would argue that you make your children go to church even for the same 2 reasons you make yourself read the Bible even when you don’t feel like it.
1) You are acting in faith when you act even though you don’t feel like it. You trust that when you saturate your child in the things of God and the preaching of the gospel that something is going to get through. Eventually God is going to use those moments to bring about an awakening to the truth of faith in his or her life. You believe this, and therefore you act.
Similarly, you believe that the Bible is the Word of God. That it’s living and active and sharp. So you read it in faith, believing that the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate His word is more powerful than your feelings.
2) Feeding a particular area of life makes it grow. We’ve all experienced this in a negative sense. Think about the escalation of drug addicts. I’ve heard that often addiction begins with experimentation and goes on from there – from something minor to something major. The appetite is fed, and as it is, it grows.
Or this one: It’s easy to sleep in one morning and not exercise. The next day it’s easier than the first day. And so it goes. We feed our laziness, and laziness feasts and grows fat.
Doesn’t it stand to reason the opposite would be true? When we discipline our children to go to church, we are, slowly but surely, feeding their appetite for godliness. It’s one spoonful at a time, to be sure, but in feeding it we are helping it grow.
In the case of ourselves, we feed our appetite for spiritual discipline. For prayer. For study. For meditation. And then the water of the Spirit makes it grow inside of us. So big does that appetite grow that it actually begins to push out other appetites.
And low and behold, we wake up one morning and actually want to read the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do then because our children are up early asking when it’s time to go to church.