We joined a large church last year that has three different worship services, two of which offer children’s ministry (aka “babysitting”) at the same time as corporate worship and preaching. Adults sing, take communion, hold baptisms, and listen to preaching while the kids do Sunday School–or whatever the trendy name for it is these days. Even though our church isn’t technically segregated by age, the complete lack of whimpering or whining during our services (except for a few holdouts like our own family) tells a different story. We are not family integrated. Not by a longshot.
Where we are now, it seems, most people don’t see the point in having kids around for sermons and worship. I sometimes wonder if we should keep looking for a different place to attend church, but God seems to have led us where we are, for at least a time, and I’m reluctant to walk away from such a wonderful community over one issue (or even a couple of issues).
“Family integration” is a hot topic in some evangelical circles, and I’ve struggled quite a bit with it myself recently. I’ve never attended a church where most of the children were separated from most of the adults for the entire service before, so it’s thrown me for a loop. I miss our home church, where it was assumed that worship was for everybody, all at once. There was always someone ready to take a fussy baby off your hands for minute, and the preacher just reprimanded the bigger kids himself if things got too noisy. Never did anyone take the shuffling and distraction to mean the kids didn’t belong there.
I’m not saying there’s never a need for a mom or dad to take a child out of the sanctuary to be nursed (or spanked), but the idea that they shouldn’t be brought in in the first place is a strange one–and actually a new concept within the Church. Until this generation, it never seems to have occurred to Christians that children aren’t complete spiritual beings in need of corporate worship just like the rest of us, or that they might be spiritually able to participate in things that are intellectually beyond them.
The reason most often given for separating the little ones from their families during worship is that “they need to learn at their own level”.
Children emphatically do not need to be taught about Christ “at their level”. In fact, I think children need us to go over their heads. It gives them something to grow into. Understanding doesn’t grow through spoon-feeding and condescension. It grows through exposure to difficult concepts. One of the most important things I’ve learned while teaching my own children is that if you don’t teach “over their heads”, growth takes longer, and sometimes doesn’t happen at all. I frequently read to my children from the difficult-to-understand translations of the Bible. Our read-aloud books are above their heads sometimes, but they still learn, as evidenced by their ability to retain information that I myself skip right past at times.
I credit long sermons on difficult topics for most of my academic “giftedness”, as the teachers liked to call it. I wasn’t any smarter than most. I was just exposed to a greater depth of thinking and more difficult literature, especially during church services. I spent much of my childhood listening to things that were “over my head” and that little ones shouldn’t be “allowed” to hear.
It was in those services that were supposedly so difficult for my little brain to comprehend that I learned the hymns that comfort me in my afflictions now. It was in those services that I ”couldn’t understand” that I found out that Jesus was not just a comfortable friend, but a Redeemer and a Savior, and a Sufferer who bled and died for me. I don’t know about most people, but I can’t remember a single Sunday school class where it was really brought home to me how little I deserved such treatment from God Himself. It took grown-up preaching to do that.
I recall one sermon during which the preacher said some truly shocking things while describing the crucifixion—things that many would consider to be completely unfit for children to hear. But hearing this sort of thing could only be harmful if it weren’t true. Jesus’ humiliation and suffering happened, and it happened through our fault, and for our sakes. But many would have us wait until children are not children anymore to have their hearts pierced with that knowledge. By the time a child is “ready” for such harsh thoughts, it’s often too late.
Sunday school was fun, but it was passionate preaching that buried the seed of the Word in my heart. Stories about Jesus are just stories until you’ve seen the tears stream down your neighbor’s face in recounting, week after precious week, what the Savior has done for him. The voices of preachers and worshipers may not have seemed to be doing much for me while I rested my uncomprehending head on my mother’s lap and dozed between songs and testimonies, but now that I’m grown, they’re the voices of home. Now, this is where I instinctively go for comfort—to worship. If we want our children to grow up to come home to the Lord, we need them to feel at home with adults in the Lord.
What think you? Do you feel like you “bother” people with your children during worship services? Does your church encourage you to bring your children?