I'm in a phase of life right now where I am questioning everything. Not in a panicked, despairing sort of way, but in an analytical, if-it-doesn't-pull-its-weight-it's-out sort of way. You see, since I have started working full-time, I have become extremely protective of my time with my family, and this is beginning to make me reflect on that with regard to how we do church.
I have never been a big fan of "children's ministry" as many churches do it in the current American Evangelical culture. Don't we spend enough time with our children being taught by others by sending them to institutional schools 7 hours a day? The whole process of bringing my kids to church, dropping them off in a kid corral, and then going upstairs for "grown up church" has been wearing very thin for me.
Yes, I can completely get behind nursery care for babies and for the most part, toddler/preschooler care during a church service, but now that all my children are past that phase of life, I believe it is time we began training them to sit in a service that doesn't involve entertainment gimmicks. In my opinion, elementary aged children need to be able to respectfully and quietly participate in a multi-generational church service. They might not "get" everything the pastor is saying, sure. But truth creeps in. And if the pastor is teaching God's word like he should be, I don't shortchange the Holy Spirit's ability to do miraculous things with those words in a child's heart and mind.
In my perfect world as I see it at the moment, church would look like this: kids ages 5 and up would attend "big church" with their families, and the message would be whatever God impresses upon the pastor to teach to his whole congregation, based solely upon and undergirded at every point with scripture. There would then also be Sunday school in a time that does not overlap this service, where kids can be with their peers and adults with theirs. After these two elements are complete, then everyone packs up and heads home for time spent as a family.
While children's ministry says it's born of an desire to reach children on their level, I really do believe a lot of it is born of the "inconvenience mentality" Americans have about children. I realize different members of the population fall on varying parts of the spectrum, somewhere between living one's life entirely for one's children to the neglect of oneself and the idea that children have to exist in the narrow margins left around an adult's pursuit of whatever pleases them. But I believe the practice of dropping elementary-aged and older kids off at their own little section of church panders far more to the latter mentality than perhaps we like to admit. We say we want the United Sates to be about family again, but I say if we want that, we need to examine how much we are about family in our daily, individual practices. And please understand that I am pointing the finger at myself as much, if not more, as I am at anyone else.
What about you? How do you feel about children in church, your own, or other people's?