Children in Worship … Or Not

I recently received an email from a Christian lady in Australia concerned about the approach her church has taken to the place of children in worship.  She writes:

“We are facing an epidemic of churches forcing their kids out of the worshipping community and into separate programmes. I worship in a progressive evangelical church that sends its children out for the whole service. The trend towards separating children and adults is particularly popular in these denominations, the reason given is that the parents (new Christians) need to have unfettered access to the Word so they will grow in their faith. Children in the service will distract them, especially if they are their own kids. The children’s ministry is often high-tech, visually over the top, full of energy and hype. Parents are forgiven for thinking it’s the best place for their children, but is it really?”

I share her concerns about the removal of children from worship.  I believe that children become worshippers by worshipping, and that worship is about much more than cognitive stuff for the benefit of adults.  In fact, having “inconvenient” children in worship with us serves as a wonderful object lesson for adults on discipleship – following Jesus is often about extending grace and care to those who don’t fit in with neatly laid plans and self chosen priorities.  If we cannot welcome the “little ones” of the world in our gathered worship, will we welcome God’s “little ones” (in the broader sense … marginalised persons of all types) in our Monday-Saturday lives?

Jesus says “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest” (Luke 9:48).  I believe that churches that do not take children into their midst in Jesus’ name have lost the art of welcoming Jesus in his fullness – it is to their spiritual detriment, and to that of their children.

In removing children from the larger body of Christ for high-tech, high-energy experiences I also believe that we are cultivating spiritual consumers, not spiritual practitioners.  What will happen when “faith stuff” is no longer so entertaining for them, I wonder (n.b. there is a difference between entertainment and engagement).  Will they have cultivated disciplines, practices and relationships to sustain them on the “long road” of discipleship?

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9 thoughts on “Children in Worship … Or Not

  1. Steve Dixon says:

    If adults want unfettered access to the Word, they should stay close to children. As the post reminds us, anyone who receives a child in Jesus’s name, receives Jesus. And he is the Word.

  2. I agree with all you have said – but in many of the churches I see – they are not likely to cultivate the disciplines, practices and relationships to sustain them by hanging out with the adults either! How we worship needs to be looked at in a fresh way – whether we are all together, or not.

  3. Marie says:

    I understand this concern and to a point agree with it, however, when parents allow children to pull, tug, play, talk, etc. during service, I believe they and all who allow it will give account to God for it. If someone is in a crisis moment with God and is distracted by this behavior (worse yet the same from adults!), God will ask us why this was allowed. Children have shorter attention spans and often the sermon is above their comprehension. I teach SS for preschoolers then we go downstairs to be with the congregation and return to children’s church (short version) during the sermon. It is open to age 2-12 or other if special needs apply. We worship during this time and have many discussions and dramatic play with songs. It seems to work well for us but I welcome any suggestions or comments. Our entire congregation numbers about 25-30 with the children about 7-9. There is one set of kids about age 8-10, that are not allowed to attend any functions but sit with their parent/ grandparents who continually allow them to get their feet in the air, etc. or else rub them from their heads down all during service. I do not find this appropriate. Thanks, Marie

  4. Theresa Worrall says:

    As a children’s pastor who has the children out for the whole service, I have carefully considered this question before coming to my decision. I do this, not for the benefit of the adults, but for the benefit of the children. Having sat through many services where the children don’t understand the worship, are plugged into their hand held consoles or are just plain bored, I realised that I didn’t want this to be children’s perception of what church is. I was also very aware that children may feel that they are okay to be in during the singing when their noise and activity may be covered, but were being sent out during the important “word” bit of the service. What does this say to the children about the importance of praise and worship, and ushering them out during the other bits. Also, when we have prepared a session for the children, how disturbing is it if praise and worship is in a flow and the children’s leaders are having to disrupt that in order to get the children into kid’s church! I know many churches where they keep the children in for praise and worship and it works. I know others where the children are in for the whole service, but this isn’t always as successful. In fact, many have come to us as they felt neither the children or the adults were benefitting. A child’s faith needs to be based on more than just the Sunday service. The Sunday service should be about preparing people for the coming week, giving them teaching and encouragement that will get them through everyday life, regardless of their age. The teaching done in the children’s work should be addressing discipleship, relationships, etc, but just as you wouldn’t put an 8 year old in high school, surely the teaching should be addressed where the child is at. The children who have come through our programme have such a strength of faith and conviction that they are witnesses in their schools and communities. When they go to high school, they integrate into adult church with no problem and go on to serve in other areas of the church. I agree that if the children are simply being removed to a “babysitting” service, then no, it doesn’t work. If though, the children’s ministry is working hard to create life long followers, all benefit. The children are not pushed to the sideline, but are celebrated and take part in communion, baptisms and dedications. The children are excited about coming to church and we have had a number of adults come to faith because their children have dragged their parents to church.
    This is what works for us, but I have learned in my years, that each of us has a different journey in faith. Just as God created each of us differently, how we express our worship will be different. No one formula will work for everyone, and as such, we should not judge.

  5. I agree with your concerns, and I think the separation of children from adults in most church meeting scenarios is also leading to difficulties in exploring and deepening faith together at home. If we don’t see and experience examples of how adults and children can worship, learn and pray together in a group environment, it’s hard for us to implement ideas in our families, which is one of the most potent places for children to develop their own faith.

  6. Sam says:

    This question will continue for many years. We are not the first to think about it and will not be the last. Why are we talking about the removal of children from worship? Why would the fact that they are in their own congregation mean they are removed from worship? Children instinctively know how to worship God and can do so in their own way, without being forced into a mould that us adults have created.
    Children are given their own congregations because it a place they can own, a place they can be themselves and meet God in a way appropriate to them, not just to give the adults a “break”. If we really believe that children have their moral and spiritual values in place before their teenage years we have to stop bouncing around the edges of putting kids first, get off our backsides and actually do it!
    Fine, have children with adults in the service, but make the service for them and let the adults sit bored, week on week, wondering what on Earth that guy at the front is talking about. Our priorities in Church at the moment are wrong, plain wrong.
    If the children are being removed to aid adults in worship, that is very wrong, but if the children are given a place where they can belong, grow and learn, then fantastic!

  7. The comment that we aren’t removing them from worship is right in one sense but we are removing them from the rest of the body of christ. Subtley I think we are saying that they are either not good enough to stay in or that the service, worship and teaching of the main church is not for them. That there is more fun elsewhere – and in kid speak fun=better. If you recognise that good biblical teaching is not all about the power point, visual extravaganza, multi-media moments – but about simple scripture then we have to realise that children need to be taught this from their earliest days. it’s not that these things are wrong as such – but they shouldn’t be given a greater place. I think it is important that families worship together, that old and young worship together – that we are one in christ and teach our children to be like. As young children learn so much by simple observation it is good for them to see other believers in worship. As we can never really tell the moment that a child learns the meaning of a word or concept it is good for us to continually expose them to worship, church, teaching – even if we believe that the teaching is sometimes beyond what they can understand. yes have the individual groups, tailored for them – kids love and need that – but the meeting together in church with the body of believers is something we have unfortunately neglected.

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