Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Should (not) Children Be In Church?

Yesterday I wrote a little about how it's proven to be a bit of a difficult task for us to find a church due to the fact that we have small children (and not to mention we are picky). And if you read that post you can probably tell that we know more about what we don't want in a church than we know about what we do want.

My friend, Ben, offered some insight and good advice on the topic. He said,...

Christ seems to identify himself with and accommodates the least of these, especially in view of his message regarding his father's kingdom. I would contend that the church needs to rethink and re-imagine how to follow Christ's example with respect to this. We (the Church) are already failing with accommodating and welcoming the poor, needy, 'those real sinners' and the disabled. This indeed is sad. More so, is the fact that there are many of the least of these (ie. children) who are within our midst but get pushed to the side. And the justification is completely pragmatic, even the best intentions.

He went on to give this advice,...

Ask the pastor/teacher to email you the sermon passage and use this to teach your kids during the week so that when they attend the service they can understand the sermon a bit more. You could even explain to the pastor your intent to do this and ask if they are willing to provide an outline so you can better engage your children during the week and at church. On Sunday you can engage your kids as the sermon is given. When the pastor/teacher or member pulls you aside and asks why you don't want to send the children to nursery or to the program say, "because it is the parents' role to educate their children and the church's job to accommodate the least of these in a way in which the least of these are given the best seats."


Now i grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist Church where it's the norm (as in most other churches and denominations) to send the kids off to the nursery or some type of class during the "adult service", but I really like the idea of children being not only welcomed in the service, but encouraged to participate in the service.

While I have heard of churches doing this (accommodating children in the main gathering) I've never seen it played out in any of the churches i have been to. Most churches at best have a nursery where people watch the kids play while the parents worship.

We do know we want more than that for our children.

So my questions are...

What are your thoughts about church being a place where adults and children a like all meet together, and Where the children, no matter what age, are encouraged to participate in the gatherings in one way or another?

What does your church do? Where are the children during the main gatherings?

And if you participate in a church that operates in this way, give some advice on how to make it work.

(note: I wrote and put together this blog from my phone, so please excuse anything that needs to be excused due to this fact.)


emergingjim said...

I have to disagree with the premise that 'providing for the least of these' is best done by keeping the kids in the 'adult' service. Providing that the adult service is done well it should not only meet mature believers where they are but also engage and challenge them in ways that are probably inappropriate for kids.
Having worked as a youth pastor previously, asking kids (even teenagers) to relate to a message designed to resonate with adults who deal with responsibilities that kids do not (like mortgages, child rearing, professional careers, and marriage) is a stretch. Conversely, if also done well, children/teen services have the ability to meet younger age groups where they are in life and faith. Touching on topics like understanding who God is and what role he plays in their life, and even learning basic bible stories that we, as adults, take for granted. Teens should be challenged similarly to adults but placed in a context that is more appropriate,.Perhaps more group interaction, media integration, even just talking in terms of school, friends, part time jobs.
I don't doubt that it can be done, and I do appreciate having kids in the service. My current church has the kids in the main service once every month. It is worth pointing out that many people skip that week because, either the service doesn't challenge them, or because they have a hard time paying attention while trying to wrangle their own kids. I would just question the notion that the best way to handle the spiritual growth of everyone is to put everyone together.
Sorry about the long comment, Maybe I should expand on my thoughts and post on my own blog. I'd love to talk about it more but I think I've already violated my own rule of not commenting larger than the original post!

Jkub said...

Thanks for the comment Jim. These are some of the sane questions/concerns I have as well and really why I am asking for other's opinions.

Also I dont mind long comments.

Ben Wall said...

Jim - Good day! I am he who speaks these meanderings. I was in no way positing and/or suggesting the creation of a norm in which 'providing for the least of these' is best done by keeping the kids in the 'adult' service. I would agree that contexts exist in which children and youth may experience better theological 'service' per se. Though, I 'personally' would contend that this ought to be supplemental to corporate church gatherings. I would contend on the basis of a theology of church identity and place that homogenizing any group of persons can and often causes much confusion about the meaning, role, and nature of church in general among those all persons involved in these structures. I would contend that the primary youth pastor in a child's life is his parents/care giver, regardless of acceptance or knowledge of this. Thus, the parent(s) are responsible for helping children and youth to understand better the message of God's word. I would contend that the lived experience(s) of situations related to what you call adult experiences are inextricably related to and profoundly affect the dynamics of home lives; thus, why not incorporate children and youth in services where they will learn about their place and role in God's plans for their mother's career, their family's mortgage, the future they will, presumably, take on themselves (?) I would contend that sermons, regardless of text and/or topic, etc. ought to imagine ways of relatedness to all persons in the service. At the heart of my musings is the notion that God's Word is relevant; it does not need to be made relevant. I think the incarnation witnesses to these most profoundly.

Concerning persons who do not and/or choose not to attend services in which the least of these are welcomed with the excuse that they are not challenged is, presumably, an unfortunately reality. I would contend that these persons have an incorrect view of the communion and body of Christ. I would encourage these persons to think about the gathering from the perspective of Christ who humbled himself and then identified with the least of these. I would exhort these persons that gathering is not about what they can get from a service but what they can give and how they can remain responsive and listen to the Word of God as God encounters them and the body collectively via a service that incorporates others who 'seemingly' [in view of your response] are revealing to the adults a sense of selfishness, human poverty, and refusal to stand by others b/c they are less or childish, etc. I would contend that their discomfort and being upset is a divinely appointed call to spiritually grow and mature.

It seems to me that spiritual growth as expressed, proclaimed, and lived by Christ himself is a way of descent. This is the paradoxical nature of the kingdom of God.

Bill said...

well said, emergingjim... this is such a huge topic.. needing people rethinking faith community to tackle. In the big picture, it may be a real shift to a life of loving/serving one another ALONGSIDE our kids... as opposed to a learning/teaching environment that requires we sit and listen and learn.

In the short term, I wish we could form a way of learning that is more mentor/mentee in our communities, where we together speak with, serve alongside and play and sing with ...children. in community.

Then there is the issue of WHAT we do teach our young minds.... as theology is going thru a major renovation, so should our discussions with our kids.

much more to say, but...
gotta run.


"Yesterday I wrote a little about how it's proven to be a bit of a difficult task for us to find a church due to the fact that we have small children (and not to mention we are picky)."

One simple thing that I want to point is out that I believe you and your family are like many people when searching for a church, but until you fully realize that it is not about YOU then you probably will never be satisfied. I encourage you to find a less than "perfect" church, meaning that it doesn't meet all of your preferences and it isn't necessarily who all like the same things as you and allow that to be your faith community where you get engaged and on mission. And if you don't like the way they do children's ministries then get involved with that and help them come up with something better that will serve more people in the church and the community.

Jkub said...


Actually we do understand that it's not all about us, and when I said picky I didn't mean "perfect" and I def didn't mean everyone has to agree with me. In fact, I prefer a diverse theological spectrum. But remember, I have been asked to leave three different churches for that different theological perspective.

And though it is not about us, doesn't mean I'm just going to go anywhere, and I'm sure you wouldn't either.

I do want to find a church that doesn't have the mindset that's it's all about us. :)