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?