Church and children and if I ruled the world

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?

Comments

  1. I totally agree. In my family, only the two yr. old and one yr. old go to the nursery, and everyone on up is in church. Children can be trained to sit quiet and still, without coloring books or movies. It just takes some discipline on the part of the parents.

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    1. "Discipline on the part of the parents" is where I think things begin to break down. At least I know it is for me. The places where my children fail to do what I expect are 99% of the time areas where I have failed to train them adequately. I know it's cliche, but parenting really is the toughest job a person can have. But the benefits are far more meaningful.

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  2. Yeah, that about sums up my thoughts too.

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  3. When I was a kid, sometimes I'd go to Big Church and sometimes I'd go to sunday school. As I became a teen and didn't fit with the teen group, I attended Big Church more and more. When I was little, my parents made me sit through the sermon and color bulletins. It was kind of boring (I was probably 6 at the time), but definitely doable. My siblings did, too.

    But yeah, like you said, it comes down to child training, and sometimes you have to lug the fit-thrower out of the sanctuary. :-p

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  4. Becky -- our church is set up almost exactly as you describe. We have an early service, then Sunday School, then a second service. So whether you have Sunday School after or before worship depends on which service you attend. Either way, the kindergarten and younger kids are brought in for the children's sermon and then taken back to the kiddie room, but kids from first grade up are expected to participate in worship.

    And I think that's the key. It isn't about teaching kids to sit still and be quiet while parents worship. It's about teaching kids how to participate in worship. I don't claim to have mastered this. It's extremely difficult. With my boy, during the pre-teen years it was hard to get him to sit still and focus, and during the adolescent years he often just sulked. But now that my son is an adult, he has a good grasp of what's expected and, more importantly, why.

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  5. My church also operates exactly as you describe. We do have church and SS going on simultaneously for both hours but children Kindergarten and older are not permitted to be in SS while parents are in service. It's just some folk do SS first Church second, and some do church first SS second. Its a space issue. Our church is really big on adult SS and there isn't space to accommodate the full spectrum of adult classes without offering two separate hours of SS. As for behavior during church, it took a long time when Thalia strted coming to service to get her and Lorien to behave (they were constantly bickering over me and picking on each other behind my back when we were singing) but its finally smoothed out. I still let them doodle on the back of the pragram but for the most part I think they hear whats being said.

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  6. A little late to this conversation, but as someone who has taught Children's Church for many years (and helped start it in a church that had formerly not had anything for that age group), I'd like to respectfully disagree. I completely understand personal objections to this ministry style, and I will always believe that attending separate services should be completely voluntary on the part of the parents.

    Here's the thing, though: not all children (or adults, for that matter) are created the same. One child may, from two on, always be able to sit meek and still during a worship service. One child may (as I knew personally) ask to be taken out and spanked simply to escape the dread of sitting still in a pew for an hour. One child may receive guidance and instruction from a traditional sermon. One child may learn about as much as if he or she had sat through the same service in another language.

    I have attended a service in another language before as part of mission outreach, and I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work there. I just don't feel that's an appropriate experience for me to have every week in furthering my understanding of the Lord or His Word. It seems to me analogous to deciding that simply because a child has mastered counting to 50, 100, or even 1000 in preschool, he or she is now ready to sit through a college (or even middle school) algebra lesson. Sure, a precious child inclined toward that subject matter might be able to glean some useful information from such an experience, but it is not one that I think many of us would find an appropriate learning experience for elementary age children.

    This idea that one should be sent to the main worship service immediately upon getting too old for the nursery also seems a rude transition. One minute a child is allowed to experience tactile learning, sing songs, color, and a snack as part of morning worship; another few weeks and that same child is now expected to sit still and quiet for upwards of thirty minutes to an hour in a space that is most definitely designed with adults in mind.

    At one I church I attended children's church attenders spent half the worship service with the congregation before leaving to attend a worship time specifically designed for their age: smaller chairs, Bibles that were easier for them to handle and read, and hands on activies. Once the children graduated from this ministry, they remained in the church service with the congregation for the entire service, but could serve as a helper on rotation with the younger children. Using older children's church graduates as helpers was difficult at times but helped ease the transition into "big church" for these kids while training them to participate in church service and creating bonds between them and the younger kids.

    I hope you understand I am not attacking your perspective or beliefs. However, I wanted to offer a different perspective on how children's church can be used as an effective ministry to this age group.

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