Make Sundays the Sweetest

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Sometimes it’s hard to get out the door on Sunday mornings. We have three young kids — one 5, one 3, and one brand new. Between our front door and our newly purchased minivan is a flight of stairs, a double doorway, and then a long stretch of sidewalk through the beautiful seminary campus we live on.

We are from Southern California, and it’s our first winter in Chicago. On cold mornings, the simple geography involved in church attendance can be a challenge. Picture the five of us after a recent snowfall, trekking through the 200 yards or so to the car — typically I shout encouragements to my elder two (who want to give up and make snow angels) while holding my infant son and trying not to slip. By the time all three are buckled safely into their car seats, my wife and I feel like we have completed a triathlon.

“If you treat Saturday night as a time to start preparing, Sunday mornings go much better.”

I can understand the temptation during these seasons of life to slacken a bit in church attendance. I notice lots of families going this route. Sunday becomes “family time,” with church attendance as more of a sporadic add-on (especially during holidays). Others simply do away with church attendance altogether during these years.

While appreciating the struggle and leaving space for special circumstances, we should be reminded that if the appeal to “not [neglect] to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25) was written to the persecuted of the first century, it surely applies to parents of the twenty-first. I believe that Christian parents should make it a priority to attend church weekly, making whatever sacrifices necessary.

Make It to Church This Sunday

I write here in the spirit of encouragement, wanting to say, “Keep going! You can do it!” I do not want to merely induce guilt. To that end, I offer two encouragements and three strategies.

1. You need church.

Many in our society downplay corporate worship. We like spirituality that is squishy, manageable, and private. We are wary of institutions and accountability. A prevailing mind-set goes something like, “I can worship God by watching a sunset, so I don’t need to get all dressed up on Sunday morning.”

But of course, this is a false dichotomy. We need both private and corporate worship. When we veer away from commitment to the local church, it leads to a deprived, not enriched, spirituality. There is much power and encouragement in all those “one anothers” in the New Testament that you cannot get while you’re alone watching a sunset. More than that, the blessed presence of Jesus is promised to us specifically in a corporate context: “where two or three are gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20).

During this season, I have had the opportunity to notice how faithfully God meets us as we have committed to attend church weekly. Often, it’s something small, like a little phrase or verse from the liturgy that strikes me. Some weeks, of course, we are more consciously aware of his presence than others. But the cumulative effect is clear. God is at work among his people as they gather in his name. James promises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

2. Your church needs you.

Young parents, have you considered that the rest of your church family actually needs you to function optimally? You are a part of the body of Christ, and you have a role to play. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

“Our society likes spirituality that’s squishy, manageable, private. We’re wary of institutions and accountability.”

In this season of your life, God is teaching you, guiding you, providing for you, and working in you in unique ways. You have an opportunity to bless and minister to others from the very struggles you are walking through. You have a voice. Don’t deprive others of hearing it.

Now, I recognize that churches don’t always make it easy on young parents. Some churches lack good childcare, or don’t reflect a sensitivity toward those in this season of life. But perhaps you might be a part of the solution to this problem. Perhaps you could graciously communicate to your leadership how your church could minister to young families, or perhaps you could initiate such a ministry yourself. Almost certainly there are others in the same season of life who might benefit from your efforts.

Three Ways to Guard Joy on Sundays

Sometimes we are so exhausted from our week that we simply “let go” when the weekend comes. I can understand that, but I also have found that a little intentionality on the weekends can go a long way. During this season, we’ve discovered a few simple changes that have helped our church attendance, and the whole Sunday experience, be more fruitful.

1. Sanctify your Saturday nights.

If you treat Saturday night as a time to start preparing, Sunday mornings go much better. Are there ways you can make Saturday evenings special? Can you go to bed a little earlier? Even something as simple as talking with your kids about church the next day over dinner, and then praying about corporate worship before going to bed, can make a huge difference. A joyful Sunday morning often begins the night before.

2. Prepare for the inevitable fight or spilled milk.

I am amazed at how often something goes wrong on the car ride to church! I believe this is often Satan’s strategy. He needles us in the car on the way there, or on our way out the door — whatever he can do to get us grumpy and discombobulated by the time we walk into the sanctuary. If we prepare for this in advance, we can catch him in the act, “for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

So, when you climb into your minivan, tell yourself in advance, Someone is probably going to spill their milk in the van, or pull their sister’s hair, or chuck their Bible out the window on the interstate. When that happens, I will pray rather than yell.

3. Find creative ways to make Sundays a delight.

There is no reason why Sundays should be austere rather than a delight. We might associate “holy” with “somber,” but that is not how the Bible talks. Notice, for example, the language Nehemiah and Ezra use when they lead the people in covenant renewal:

“This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. . . . Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. . . . This day is holy; do not be grieved.” (Nehemiah 8:9–11)

In this context, holiness is celebratory. The logic goes like this: “today is holy, so stop crying and drink some wine.”

“A joyful Sunday morning often begins the night before.”

We also should pursue cultivating an atmosphere of joy and celebration on Sundays. Is there a favorite restaurant you can make your Sunday tradition, or a favorite breakfast food you can make on Sundays? What other Sunday traditions might help the day be enjoyable? When your kids think back twenty years from now, what memories and associations do you want them to have with Sundays and church?

God is our greatest joy and we want him to be our children’s greatest joy, and Sundays are a unique weekly opportunity to worship and enjoy God together. Let’s strive to make Sundays a delight for our children, not a burden.

(@gavinortlund) is a pastor, author, speaker, and apologist for the Christian faith. He is a husband to Esther, and a father to Isaiah, Naomi, Elijah, Miriam, and Abigail. He serves as President of Truth Unites and Theologian-in-Residence at Immanuel Church.