Which comes first, church or family?: Study reveals common dilemma among Christian parents
by Christine Leow // June 21, 2022, 4:48 pm
Albert Lim (seated, second from left) with his children and wife Alison (standing, left) celebrating the birthday of his grandchild. When their children were growing up, Albert and Alison exposed them to ministry to help them "catch the faith". Photo courtesy of Albert Lim.
When Albert and Alison Lim were raising their three children, life was a whirlwind of activities.
Apart from juggling marriage, parenthood and their jobs, both served within and outside the church. Albert, now 61, was a lay leader in his church while both he and Alison served at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).
Despite their heavy commitments in ministry, the Lims did their best to balance it all. However, many Christian parents find themselves caught between serving actively in church and focusing on their families.
This is according to an inter-generational study initiated in 2020 by Christian consultancy, Graceworks.
As for the Lims, Alison, 60, gave up her full-time job as a head corporate trainer to go freelance.
“We believe that faith needs to be caught and taught.”
“She had been in the job for 10 years. She was doing well in her career and had gotten a few promotions,” said Albert.
Though they had a domestic helper, they also agreed to take turns to be home with the children when they were involved in ministry. Then, when the children were a little older, they included them in their ministries.
“We believe that faith needs to be caught and taught,” Albert told Salt&Light.
When the couple had BSF sessions, they would bring their kids along to attend the classes for children. When the church had outreach programmes, the children tagged along as well.
The family has even gone on several short-term mission trips together.
“They could see that their parents were busy, not just in work and business,” said Albert.
A different way to serve
The Graceworks study revealed that many parents grappling with child-raising chose to give up serving in church.
This was the case for Ling Sheue King, 52. She was a full-time worker in her church with a Master of Divinity from the Singapore Bible College (SBC).
When she became pregnant with her daughter, now aged 15, she quit her job. Her son came along the following year. He has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Sheue King never returned to work.
Serving in church has also been a challenge.
Her husband, Goh Kheng Guan, 56, heads their church’s audio-visual ministry and is busy every Sunday helping the church record sermons. That leaves Sheue King to manage their son alone.
Not being part of organised ministries in church did not stop Sheue King from serving entirely.
But not being part of organised ministries in church did not stop Sheue King from serving entirely. When her children were young, she organised worship services for the children of a mother’s cell group, of which she was a part.
She also began a prayer and support group for mothers whose children have ASD. There are four in the group.
During the pandemic, she started an online Sunday School programme for children on the autism spectrum with just four families. Two years on, Royal Kids’ Worship now has 20 children. There are even families from Indonesia and Malaysia joining in.
“We start at 8pm but by 7.30pm, they are already logged in, ready to worship. They come with a pure heart. It is amazing to see how they respond to God in their own special way. Don’t think they cannot understand. They can,” said Sheue King.
Last Christmas, 50 families joined their session. Even pre-believers and those of other faiths participated.
Whether parents shape their service to God to accommodate their children, or take them along when they serve, both approaches have their supporters and their detractors. But the dilemma is not new.
Family first, then church
The ongoing Graceworks study, which involves ethnographic research on five generations, aims to shed light on what is causing inter-generational rifts in the church.
In the Generation X portion of the study, one key insight was the Gen X Christian’s struggle of juggling church with other commitments, especially family.
Gen Xers are born between 1965 and 1980. Today, they are aged between 42 and 57, with many likely to be raising teenagers or young adults.
To communicate the unique life experiences of Gen X Christians, which were instrumental in shaping their mindsets towards church and spirituality, the researchers created seven archetypes.
Of the seven, one of the top archetypes speaks of the challenge of juggling church with other life commitments.
“I just want to go to church and enjoy the worship” sums up a typical Gen Xer’s view of church life.
The Family-Focused Gen Xer is someone who has prioritised the well-being of his family over church involvement. “I just want to go to church and enjoy the worship” sums up his view of church life. Over 73% of the 245 survey respondents across various denominations strongly identified with this archetype.
How did the Family-Focused Gen Xer come to such a view of church?
It can be traced to the faith journey. Church used to be a large part of his life. He may even have been active in church in his youth. Now, “the demands of work and parenting have caused (him) to reconsider the importance of church ministry.”
As a product of pragmatic and authoritarian parenting, which he views negatively, the Family-Focused Gen Xer has also decided that providing a “different environment for the children” is a way to honour God.
Why family comes first
Beyond understanding how their church and faith experience influenced each archetype, the Graceworks report also uncovered repeated trends among Gen X Christians. Three trends shed light on the family-comes-first struggle.
Trend #1: “My loyalty to a church and participation in ministry is influenced by my work and/or family”
Some Gen Xers are in that stage of their lives or families that require much of their time and energy. This has severely hampered their involvement in church life. So, they have made the decision to cut their involvement in church ministries.
Others have prioritised family, choosing to leave their church of origin to join another church with a better children’s programme and parenting support. This is so their children can grow up better in the faith.
Trend #2: “I am less engaged with the church because I am disappointed or jaded”
These are Gen Xers who had once served actively but are now “burnt out and/or disappointed” with the church’s leadership. Their experiences have made them shy away from serving in church and they have not returned since.
Trend #3: “I want to raise my children differently from the way I was raised”
There are Gen Xers who, as parents, want to avoid the mistakes they feel their own parents had committed. They cited “mistakes” such as spending too much time away from the family or not being emotionally available.
As a result, “healthy emotional and spiritual involvement as parents is perceived as being very important”, noted the report. This is why they choose not to sacrifice family time for church ministry.
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Salt&Light Family Night: How can I serve the Church while raising my children?
My children are so young, they need me now. In this season, I would like to step back from ministry in church.
If not me, then who? I’ll just take my kids along with me. It’s good that they see Mum and Dad serving God.
Two different ways of balancing children and church, with many variations in between. Is there a right way and a wrong one? Is one approach better than the other?
Join hosts Carol Loi and Alex Tee, and their panellists as they share their journey in this area.
Date: June 28, 2022
Time: 8.30pm – 10pm
Register at: https://bit.ly/familynightjun2022. Pre-registration is required.
About the hosts:
Carol Loi is a digital literacy educator, and leadership and family coach. A John Maxwell Certified Trainer for leadership and communication skills, she is also the founder of Village Consultancy, an organisation dedicated to equipping families, educators and children to be leaders and influencers both online and offline.
Alex Tee is a former banker turned home-schooling father and impact investor. He has been married to Channy for over 12 years and they have three children aged ten, nine and seven. The deepest desire of their hearts is to prayerfully raise children to be part of a family who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Besides the passion to raise strong children, he also loves connecting the rich and the poor through impact investing.
About the organiser:
Salt&Light is an independent, non-profit Christian news and devotional website with a passion for kingdom unity, and a vision of inspiring faith to arise in the marketplace.
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