I have three small children and Sunday morning is so stressful, is church really necessary?
This is nearly a universal lament and ambivalence for young families/parents whether having grown up in church or coming into it for the first time as adults. If truly a question then the answer is, of course: “Necessary for what?”
Church is not necessary for a Christian spiritual practice but spiritual community is. If a spiritual community can be found or formed outside church as we know it, then it is possible to build a strong, vibrant Christian spiritual practice without church – so long as that community retains some kind of authentic connection with the larger historic and contemporary Christian community.
Christianity is a communal spirituality not an individual practice; it depends upon the wisdom, confirmation, and agitation provided by a group greater than oneself (beyond our person and our own family). Christian beliefs and worldviews are rooted in the notion, dating back to Judaism’s earliest memories, of a God who moves and speaks through a people. So rootedness in community is central to our spiritual practice.
But that does not mean requiring children to sit still and be quiet while adults worship in ways that ignore and repress the needs of children.
If you can’t find a church that offers vibrant and child-friendly worship where the message is loud and clear that kids are full members of the community, then create your own. Find other parents who share your desire for spiritual community and design a regular gathering for worship that enlivens everyone’s sense of God’s presence.
But sometimes, “Is it necessary?” is a lament, not a real question.
Mobilizing a family with children to do anything together, and get anywhere on time, is just plain stressful. Put it in context though. We go through obnoxious stress to make it to a movie, ice cream store, beach, soccer practice, the zoo, etc. If we resist and avoid discretionary activities because they are stressful, our children never learn how to enter into events greater than their own needs and desires.
When my four children were small we drove ten hours to a family cottage several times each year. It was miserable until each baby, toddler, and young child learned how to be a passenger. But my wife and I also had to learn how to be effective managers of their needs in a confined space for long periods of time. It was a mutual learning experience. The initial misery had great rewards: not only for the times spent at the cottage but because our kids knew how to travel well and family trips were not as stressful for us as they seemed to be for many families that had not developed that skill.
“You get what you pay for,” applies to more than money. Anything we value and care deeply about requires an investment of intentional quality time, as well as strenuous effort. Participation in spiritual community has rewards for you and your children that are difficult to perceive in advance of the experience, but one huge and elegant reward is the lasting imprint of being loved and embraced by adults beyond their own family.
“Is it necessary?” It depends. Is it worth it? Absolutely – and then some.