Tuesday, November 13, 2018

When do you let your child choose to go to church or not?

The below is from the OCA's Diocese of the Midwest Orthodox Family Life blog, a post entitled "Acts of Growth, Dependence, and Independence: How do you know your child is ready to choose to go to church without parental dictate?"

The answer for me is never. There won't be a single child in my family - living in my house or coming back to visit for a holiday - who is going to wear pajamas and make hot chocolate with marshmallows while everyone else gets in the car to go to church. If church is a powerful medicine against sin and the singular pathway to Heaven, I would no more let my child "choose" to not go to church than let them opt out of heart medicine. Can a 15 year-old decide to just quit going to school? How about choose not to brush his teeth?

Of course children have to make their own choice to both go to church and live a godly life at some point. Making deals with your adult child or tying church attendance to material gain just makes rice Christians of them. But as a parent (and you too all you godparents) your children going to church should be up there with all the other life goals you have for them. If St. Monica of Hippo is any guide, earnest tears shed and constant prayer for the conversion of a wayward child is a salvific endeavor. Encourage and ensure your children get to church - of which the primary method should be modeling a love for God and His Church through your own behavior, prayer, and attendance.

(OCA-DMW) - In the past few weeks, I have attempted to demonstrate that decision-making, skill mastery, and the freedom to act is a process that begins early in life and continues throughout childhood and into adolescence. So at what point should one allow one’s child to decide whether or not to go to church on his or her own? I think it boils down to one single word: “responsibility.”

Does your child demonstrate the ability to take responsibility for his or her behavior? Does he or she behave in a manner that demonstrates a readiness for such independence? For example,

  • does your child attend school and perform in a responsible manner (i.e., does he or she complete assignments, maintain average grades or better, and demonstrate cooperative interpersonal skills with teachers and other students)?
  • does he or she have a job for which he or she shows up on time and has established a good reputation with his or her employer?
  • has he or she learned how to drive, obeying the traffic laws and accepting and following the parameters set by his or her parent[s] with regard to using the car?
  • is your child invested in Church by attending the services and participating in the spiritual life?

While this is basic, common sense “stuff,” attaining this level of maturity and responsibility depends on how the acquisition of skill mastery and autonomy had been handled throughout a child’s development and growth. If a parent is overbearing and dictatorial, the fruit of that approach will yield a child who is rebellious and oppositional. This does not mean that a child is acting in an independent manner. If a parent is over protective and reluctant to set limits, the result is likely to be that the child will be afraid of taking risks, depending primarily on others to “tell him or her what to do.”

So there is no magic age in this regard. In some families, parent[s] may allow their child to choose to go to church as early as 14 or 15 or as late as 17. It all depends on what kind of relationship has been established. In my upbringing, when I finished Sunday School at around the age of 15, my parents left it up to me as to whether I went to church or not. So, while I didn’t “have to go” to church any longer, I still chose to go. But in choosing to go, I realized that it was not the end of some type of accomplishment; rather, it was the beginning of a journey to learn what it meant to follow Christ and become His disciple — a learner of the Faith. Make no mistake about it, whether one is a bishop, priest, deacon, monastic or layperson, this road to being a learner never ceases. If you happen to have a copy of the Cat Stevens album, “Tea for the Tillerman,” listen to the songs, “On the Road to Find Out,” and “Father and Son.”

The Lord’s blessing be upon you,

The unworthy +Paul


  1. And what if this child wants to go to a different church (perhaps to be with friends, perhaps as a matter of conviction)?

    Before you answer, consider that somewhere else, some parent has a child who wants to attend an Orthodox church. Would your answer be the same for both?

    1. I don’t quite follow but will say I don’t subscribe to the branch theory where I’d say one “church” is comparable to another. Is a Baptist Sunday service better than nothing? Sure. But it’s not church.

    2. My point was aimed more at the issue of the child's free will / conscience / spiritual autonomy. Perhaps your child sincerely comes to believe in another religion. (It wouldn't have to be a Christian denomination.) Or perhaps they prefer a bouncier liturgy:


    3. I think the conscience is only doing its job, if it leads us closer to Christ. If the child's "conscience" is leading them away from Christ, then it was not their conscience at all, and direction/prayer/some sort of intervention from parents or loved ones is needed.

  2. Every family situation is going to be different because people are different. That said, as a practical reality, once the kids are living on their own and financially independent I think wise parents will realize that they may no longer be able to micro-manage their lives. That doesn't mean that good parents should stop prodding. But unless one is prepared to risk estrangement, one needs to tread with some care. Again, this is going to be a judgement call and mileage will vary, in some cases dramatically.

  3. At the root of this post by Bishop Paul is a psycho/social anthropology rooted in a vague utilitarian will (i.e. "choice") and moralism (i.e. right and wrong reduced to "maturity" and "good behavior"). It is the utilitarian, technocratic and even bourgeois consumerist anthropology of the last 150 years found in the "social sciences" and our managerial culture at large. Bishop Paul even tries to test market secular optimism/progressive world view when he says:

    "in choosing to go, I realized that it was not the end of some type of accomplishment; rather, it was the beginning of a journey...this road to being a learner never ceases...." (the Christian dressing inserted in between is subsumed and even irrelevant to this anthropology)

    Bishop Paul's thinking is *at best* a well intentioned if false mashup and incoherency of incommensurable ideas. I give him an F in both the social sciences & Christian anthropology/catechesis.

    Hopefully, this thinking is not actually influencing anyone...

  4. I will add that Bishop Paul's failure here is symptomatic of a larger problem, one that Schmemann' identified years ago as Orthodoxy's new and unprepared "encounter" with western secular culture. He even went as far as to say that this encounter is as significant and momentous to this Church of the East as the fall of Byzantium.

    We simply can not 'borrow' ideas, forms, frames of reference (even - especially - when they are given the imprimatur of "science") from the surrounding culture because they all have anthropological and theological implications.

    For a better discussion of the what/how/when of raising children in an Orthodox manner in secular culture see Vigen Guroian's new book, or Rod Dreher's Ben Op, etc...

  5. The Mormons and Hasidim seem to do pretty well creating little Zions in the middle of secular culture. Young people have better odds at marriage and successful family formation and a patronage network. The little Zions exist to help knock off some of the sharp corners of life for the faithful. That's how you grow a creed in its own pews.

    This is sharply at odds with the American evangelical obsession.