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Dear Parent Letters // Church as a Punishment

The following is one part in a series of  letters to Parents. All of it is meant with the most serious of intentions, and is not directed at any one parent. It is simply the writing of a man that has worked with children and their parents in a church setting for many years now.

Parent Discipline

Dear Parents,

You love your kid. That much is obvious by your willingness to set rules and then hold your children to obedience to those rules. As a pastor to children, I commend your commitment to follow-up your parenting rules with consequences for disobedient actions. Consequences are good things.

However, suspending your child from church is not a good consequence. It sets the wrong precedent. Well-meaning as it is, for many reasons it is the wrong consequence. Obviously it’s a different scenario all together if your punishment is to suspend them from a lock-in, extracurricular activity, or other church-related activity. But when the church doors are open to teaching, mentoring, accountability, and the right kind of Godly relationships…please don’t keep your child from this as punishment.

This what I normally hear in the “witholding church as punishment”  dialogue:

“[Insert Name] was not obedient at school this week, and so I told him he has to sit with me in the sanctuary. I know he really loves church, and I just couldn’t let him attend with all of this bad behavior recently.”

What is wrong with this statement? Here is what you are basically saying to them.

You aren’t good enough to go to church, and I will use the adult service as punishment for your crimes.

Why is this bad? It’s bad because you are telling you child a few things when you do this.  You are telling them that:

  1. Adult Worship service is boring and is a worthy punishment. // Your adult worship services may indeed be boring, and if they are I hope that you work to make sure that you find a place to worship that isn’t boring. When you this strategy as a punishment, you are telling your kid that church is something to be “suffered through.” Why would you want to make that impression on your kids? That’s right, you wouldn’t.
  2. Learning God’s Word is NOT something important. // I know, I know…you think this is crazy and believe that God’s Word is important. But when you deny your child the opportunity to learn God’s Word from godly people who have prepared all this week for the moment that your child would experience on their visit…you are communicating to your child that the lesson he would have learned is not valuable or life-changing.
  3. God doesn’t want you when you’re disobedient. // This might be a stretch, but hang in there with me on this one.  When you punish disobedience  by witholding opportunities to learn about God, you are tying obedience/disobedience with God’s acceptance of us.  Our Father in heaven has promised to forgive us of ALL confessed sin, and he has said that nothing will ever separate us from his love, and he has said that he has redeemed us from our past mistakes by sending his Son to pay the price for our sin.  I say all that to say this…please be careful how you represent the most grace-giving, loving heavenly father in your discipline to your children.

I know that you love your kids, and you are trying to do your very best to lead them spiritually.  But from your Children’s Pastor’s to your heart let me please remind you that there are many, many, many more creative consequences for disobedience.  May I suggest suspension from television, video games, sporting events, after-school snacks, and I could go on and on and on?

Sincerely,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Children’s Pastor


Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.

10 Comments

  1. Jared M · January 27, 2011

    This one just causes me to cringe everytime I see it done. I’ve been known to beg parents not to ground their kids from church, though it still seems to happen occasionally. Once again, thoughtful insights on an issue I know we all deal with.

  2. Ashlee Osborn · January 27, 2011

    Specifically, I remember a parent who refused to let their kid come to camp because of a mistake he made. I knew that kid didn’t have a relationship with Jesus at the time and I tried so hard to change his mother’s mind. I gave my life to Christ at church camp, as well as had other Ah Ha moments there. Don’t use church as a punishment, use it as a “partner” to point your child to Jesus!

  3. Joe McAlpine · January 27, 2011

    This is awesome man. You make some great points here. Thanks for sharing! I just RT and facebooked this one!

  4. Pastor Kevin · January 27, 2011

    Pastor Cliff,

    I’m a subscriber to Group’s newsletters and linked to your blog through it. I love these letters and am wondering if you would be opposed to me reprinting them on my own Blog for the parents of my church (with your name listed, of course). I think some of my parents need to hear this as well, but would take it better if they knew it came from a third party rather than me directly. I’d sure appreciate it if I could. Please let me know… and thanks for the encouragement. Just knowing I’m not alone in dealing with this stuff helps.

  5. Jamie · January 31, 2011

    Our church services are inter-generational and inclusive. There is no children’s church. Before reading the article I couldn’t figure out how staying home on a Sunday morning was a punishment.