June 25, 2007

Children in Church

"If the two-year-old is in church with us, it's only because he's sick in the first place. Without the nursery, we wouldn't have heard a sermon in years."

I don't want to pick on Lenise, but I don't like church nurseries or special children's worship services. We go to church to worship God and part of that worship is listening to the sermon, but that is not the only part. One of a parent's primary jobs is to educate their children about God -- to train them up in the way that they should go.

When we send our children out of the service to a nursery, we tacitly say they are not part of the main church body. They must be shunted off some place until they learn to behave. But if they are sent out of the service, when do they learn to participate in it? When do you change from fun nurseries and watered down children's services to "Okay kids, now you have to grow up and listen to the boring stuff." Wouldn't it be better to train the children that the one service is for everyone? God is for the eight month old and the eighty year old alike.

Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me." Are we to suppose that listening to an entire sermon or making sure that nobody around us is bothered by a wiggling toddler is more important than teaching our children that they are a vital part of a church.

Are my children perfect? Do they sit still, face forward and pay attention? Almost never. Are they part of the body of the Church? Yes. Do they need to be acknowledged as such by encouraging them to participate in worship with the adults? Yes.

In today's society, we grownups spend a lot of time trying to get away from the kids we have, because we think they are annoying. Sometimes they are. However, it doesn't make them less annoying if we don't spend time teaching them how to be adults. I take my children to real restaurants, on errands of all kinds and I take them with me to church.

I do not take them everywhere I go and I occasionally like some down time away from them (I like dates with my husband and quiet trips to the grocery store as much as anyone), but one place I think it especially my duty to instruct the little blighters is at church. Sure send them to Bible classes when they split up into various ages, but when the congregation comes together to worship God as a body, they are part of that body and they need to be there.


Oh my.

I hope you will have the grace to accept other folks who decide to have a separate service for youngsters. If indeed we do have a church "body", then can it be OK for other parts of the body to help raise up our children to understand how to worship and serve the Lord? A parent can also participate in the separate children's service (SCS) and influence their's as well as other children.

My wife recently missed both the Mother's and Father's day services at out church because she does not want to go through the stress of keeping our 3 y.o. daughter under wraps for an hour and a half (SCS was cancelled for those days). I suppose it would be different if it was just a 45 minute service, but it is not possible for her to sit that long without making a scene. I did attend the Father's Day service with my two sons, and while there were some rough patches we made made it through. Neither of them were interested in worship, though, despite my efforts to encourage them as well as modeling it as best I could.

"One of a parent's primary jobs is to educate their children about God - to train them up in the way they should go. When we send our children out of the service to a nursery, we tacitly say they are not part of the main church body." Do you primarily go to church to worship God or train your kids? Is church the only place to train them up in the Lord? If a church has more than one service (i.e. 8 and 10 am services) is the body cut in half?

I don't know if there's a right answer, and I'd like to see any specific examples from the Bible on whether or not to include children in worship services. Children do have different attention spans, interests and ways of learning. AND, I'll go out on a limb and say that most are not ready for full worship until middle school (if not later). When they're ready, I'm overjoyed to praise God with them. Misbehaving children in a church service does not annoy me, though as a parent I tend to be sympathetic.

Our first service to the Lord is worship, our second is training up the children He has blessed us with. It is not mandatory that children are excluded from the main worship service, but the extra services are provided so that parents can focus on worship as needed.

Again, I hope you will have the grace to accept us "separatists". From the tone of your post it sounds like something else is troubling you. May God continue to richly bless you and your new home to soon be ready for training up your children.

Posted by: Marc V at June 25, 2007 11:44 AM

I'm used to being picked on. ;)

I've heard folks say this before, and from your descriptions, I'm sure your children are very active too. We would seriously end up having to walk Jay around, either inside or outside of the sanctuary to keep him from crying or running away! Maybe we were doing something wrong, but I just don't know how it would have been possible for us to keep him in the pew without raising a large ruckus.

Next year, (as a 3-year-old), he'll be in the congregation for the opening hymn/creed/ praise songs and then join children's church. Personally, I think this strikes a nice balance for the older tykes, as I agree that children ARE part of the congregation, but Jay is just not likely to sit still for 90 minutes.

We have our own logistical challenges- parents having to escort children to children's church and then slip back into the service en masse, and now that we are moving to a single service in our new facility, that leaves the 11 AM nursery workers without a worship service. That strikes me as a significant problem. We may move back to 2 services in the fall- I hope so, just for the nursery workers' sake.

Anyway, no offense taken. I know some people do manage to keep their kids in the service, and small children don't annoy me- just the 7-year-olds who kick one's seat repeatedly! Now that we have real pews, though, that shouldn't be much of a problem!

Posted by: Lenise at June 25, 2007 07:11 PM

We have very busy and active children (3 of them bouncy boys!), and helping them learn to worship with our family has certainly taken ongoing work, patience, and consistency. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman was such a help and inspiration to me as I changed my perspective from helping my children to learn to "behave and sit still" in church to desiring them to understand and actively participate in worshiping our great God. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking for some refreshing input on this topic. I can now honestly say that worshiping together as a family brings me some of the greatest joy I experience as a parent.

Our worship training always starts at home with family devotions in the evenings. We sing, read Scripture, pray together, and talk about many different aspects of worship, on a child's level. That is how we helped our little ones to learn to sit for any length of time, and to have a sense of what we are doing on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, when they get to church, they have no prior experience or understanding of what is going on in the worship service.

Also, I should add that our kids don't stay in church with us during the period between approximately age 8 months till a little past a year. Once we start bringing them in to church after that one year mark, we keep them with us for perhaps only a few minutes, not expecting that on the first Sunday they will make it through the entire 90 minutes, and we have worked with each one a little differently - some have had an easier time with the long service than others. But regardless, we just build up gradually and patiently. I have one extremely active little boy who struggles mightily with self-control. But even he, before age 3, was able to not just sit through the whole service, but to actively, on an age-appropriate level, worship too.

I do think that nursery for very young (read: under age 3) children can be quite helpful for visitors, and families who are new to church, as an aid and help to them as they acclimate and learn to train their children in worship too. Just my two cents. :)

Posted by: Tricia at June 25, 2007 08:44 PM

Wow. OK - while I'm part of the demographic that would traditionally complain about small kids in the service (middle-aged single woman), I personally don't mind having them there, provided at least some training has gone on and no one is throwing sippy cups at me. I've been in churches that keep most kids (4 and up) in the service, and churches that keep the youngest in nursery, and have the K-3rd graders go off to a separate message after the singing time in the main service.

If I remember correctly, there are no specific injunctions on including/excluding kids in a worship service in scripture, just as there are no specific instructions on exactly what a service should look like. We're to bring children up to worship and reverence God, and that teaching takes place 24/7, not just on Sunday morning. What Sunday morning looks like seems to depend more on where your family is in their faith walk, and the personalities and maturity of the kids involved than any set script. The core question isn't so much "what is the right thing to do?", but more "are my kids able to learn to worship, and are they doing so in the present circumstances?". As with the homeschooling ciricculum, you chose what works and accomplishes your goals.

Jordana's comments "In today's society, we grownups spend a lot of time trying to get away from the kids we have, because we think they are annoying. Sometimes they are. However, it doesn't make them less annoying if we don't spend time teaching them how to be adults." truly resonate with me. Honestly, you think the kids have Black Plaque the way some parents avoid them. We are to train them in the way they should go - kind of hard to do if you avoid spending time with them.

And it's all easy for me to say, since I have no kids of my own :^)

Posted by: Diane at June 26, 2007 06:57 AM

I don't know; my first two years as a parent have made me a bit twitchy about this subject, mainly because our church's anti-child-noise attitude has meant that I have personally missed a lot of services (or parts thereof) over the last two years. (My husband's and my over-commitment to church needs like children's church and nursery duty has also contributed.) I was raised in the Episcopal church, where we children had our Sunday school during the first part of the service (including the sermon) and then were brought in for the finish (including communion), and I think that's a decent happy medium. Everyone expected that the service would get a bit more rowdy/squeaky after the kidlets came back, and that was fine.

I would settle for a church with a mother's room where we mommies could actually see and hear the service while calming our restless little ones. But (and I know I've told this story on this blog before), one of the most refreshing experiences I've had as a mommy in church was at a Catholic Ash Wednesday service, where the tired and wired little Squid's noises and wiggles were met with approving glances and positive comments from people of all ages around us as we kept her with us through the whole service (and I didn't get any cool looks for breastfeeding her there, either).

So, yeah, no really helpful input from me ... just my not-so-well-thought-out feelings on the subject ...

Posted by: Another Jordana at July 1, 2007 08:06 AM