Children in Worship
As a church planter, there is a seemingly endless cornucopia of pressures that are forced upon my church. One of those pressures is what to do with children during our worship gatherings. Pastors are reminded constantly that there are 4 things guests will grade your church on when they visit. One of those is the children's program.
At Grace Church, we have chosen to simplify our vision for children's ministry both by necessity and conviction. We emphasize the corporate gathering of our church as a primary discipleship tool for raising-up a faithful generation of followers of Jesus. Presently we do offer childcare for children 0-3 during our service as well as a family listening area for families who feel they must remove children during the worship time. Our goal is to encourage parents to bring their kids into worship so that they can learn what proper worship looks like modeled by the most important earthly relationship they have...their parents.
My goal in this article is three-fold. (1) I want to encourage church plants, smaller churches, and those that keep their children in worship. This work is hard but the reward is great. (2) I want to share some of the oft-forgotten reasons and benefits of children remaining in worship with their parents. (3) I want to encourage the parent who feels that they are ill-equipped to manage their children during worship.
From the outset, I want to say that I am in no way implying that like-minded churches cannot choose to do things differently than we do at Grace. There is a myriad of different scenarios that may preclude children from worship. Addressing them all is not the scope of this article. I hope my tone is received as a gracious and encouraging.
1.) The Biblical & historical witness regarding corporate worship gatherings has always included children. To be clear, I am a confessional Reformed Baptist. I am not suggesting this is an inclusion into the Believing household of God until they put their personal faith and trust in Jesus and follow Him in Baptism. The point I want to make is that some might argue that we are neglecting the pedagogical needs of our children by keeping them in the Sunday gathering. Additionally, others will argue that our child simply cannot sit still for a 30-45 minute sermon. All of these arguments have some weight to them but perhaps we can focus on other pedagogical opportunities than just the sermon. Perhaps the best lesson we teach is reverence and right worship for the Lord. Perhaps we can teach them the meaning of the Sacraments each week or take time to teach them a song we sing regularly at the church. It is acceptable for parents to train and discipline children to give reverence to God and respect others who are there to worship Him. Children will be noisy and inconvenient as we disciple them through this time but we can't let that be a deterrent to goal in teaching them to love the church gatherings. Maybe there is wisdom the historical practice teaching our children to participate in corporate worship.
2.) Keeping children in worship trains parents to be Disciple Makers. God grows us best through difficulty NOT ease. When we remove children from service we might assume that we are helping parents remove distractions, therefore, giving them unrestricted opportunity to learn from God's Word. This may be helpful. But children are not to be viewed as distractions, they are gifts from God under our stewardship and for our own growth in this life. Parents are being trained in the difficulty to be the lead disciple-maker in their children's lives when they suffer (yes I said it) through training a child to participate in a Sunday service. Because I preach most Sundays, my wife has had to bear the weight of teaching our 3 boys (presently 12, 9, 6 years old) to participate in our worship gatherings. She would testify that as tough as it was (still is, the tiny one still has his moments), she wouldn't change that experience for the world. She has noted wisely that children are coopted out to schools and sports all week, we don't want the church to be another place that we limit our God-given parental influence over their lives.
3.) Children will replicate what their parents do. Children learn to value what we value. Positively speaking, children will follow our example in singing, having our Bibles open and being expectant each Sunday, but it will take time. Negatively speaking, if the church serves at my convenience, then we may risk teaching our children that the church revolves around them and not God. This does not mean that we don't need pedagogically appropriate environments for children to teach them God's Word. At Grace Church, we have a fully staffed Sunday Morning Bible Study hour and we provide parents with some of the best catechizing resources available.
4.) Children are learning even if we think they are not. I have been amazed that when I think my kids are in Narnia on Sunday morning, how much they are hearing and learning after we leave Sunday morning worship. My middle son recently wrote out his testimony during service completely unprompted. Don't get me wrong, children can be complete hellions and often do help realize our deepest fears as parents but the positives outweigh the negatives.
5) Your kids are not nearly as embarrassing as you think they are. From an entire box of pencils spilling into the floor to the random fart noises that ring from your row, we are often mortified in embarrassment by our children's behavior during worship. Let me say this kindly. Moms & Dads, we need to get over ourselves. It's not about us. That's a tough word and not meant to produce guilt or shame. But let's be honest, other's eyes are not as locked on you when your kids act up as you may think. But note is needed to my pastor friends. We need to work hard at creating a culture where it is normal to have noisy kids in the room. Remember, our children are our stewardship from God. Stay in the game! Know that the Lord understands what you need and is using your strung-out Sunday Mornings for HIS glory and THEIR good...and yes, yours also.
Fight the good fight. The Lord is with you!