Monday, May 5, 2014

Children's Church or Children in Church

It seems most churches today have a children's church.  They make sure there is somewhere for the kids to go during the worship so the adults can hear and meditate on the Word without interruption and the children can learn things at their own level.  I certainly can see a use for it, but I sometimes wonder if we are not actually hindering growth rather than supporting it.

I happen to belong to a church that doesn't have a children's church.  We do have a nursery for babies and toddlers up to age 3, though we are loose with the age limits.  Parents are also welcome to keep their young ones with them.  However, from the point a child is old enough to leave the nursery the children remain during the worship service with their parents.  I must confess we have lost several families because of it.  Most of them leave looking for churches that have something for the kids.  They even sometimes suggest that we don't care about the kids because there is no children's church. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Besides, we do have Sunday School, a Wednesday night program, VBS and other activities that do focus on specifically teaching the children.

Having a daughter with special needs I too was concerned about what would happen when Gess got too old for the nursery.  They were actually great about letting her stay beyond the age of three.  However, when she was 4, I did start making her come to the service, at least for a little while.  When we first brought her in we would only have her stay for a short time.  At first she would stay until after children's moment, a special part of our service where all the children come forward and have a brief devotion and prayer with the pastor.  Then she would stay until after the offering and special music.  Then we let her stay until we just knew she would not be able to remain attentive. Eventually she remained through the entire service.

Our church does provide activity kits for the children in the service so they can cut and color bible pictures, use stickers, and even build things with pipe cleaners while they are listening.  These were a great benefit at first.  We did teach Gess that she wasn't to use it until the preaching began.  We had her participate during the singing, prayer, and offering and then she could quietly work on the activities that were provided.  We eventually took that away too and simply had her do devotional pages like Draw to Learn.

And then one day it happened.  Gess wasn't drawing any more.  She had no desire to color, do puzzles, or even sleep.  She was opening up her Scriptures and reading along.  She was filling in the notes on the pages we are provided in the bulletins.  She was sitting quietly and listening to the message.  She knows how to sit still and listen in church.  Not only that, she is learning things.  She asks questions about what the preacher says or gets excited if they mention a specific passage she is familiar with or has memorized.  It is working. While not every Sunday is as good as another, for the most part, she is attentive.

It wasn't easy to get her to that point.  We had many embarrassing moments along the way as we had to literally drag her out when she was rude, loud, disrespectful, and whiny.  Of course our congregation was never upset and every parent sympathized with us having also had their moments too.  It was still a humbling process for all of us, not just Gess.  But I think it was a process that was absolutely necessary and worth every awkward, trying, and exhausting moment.  For all the messages I had to personally miss out when she interrupted me.  For all the tears we cried.  For all the headaches I had to endure. For all the sacrifice it took to get here.  It was worth it.

Would it have been better if she were in a children's environment and simply just came in at the age of 12?  I don't think so.  I know there are adults who do not sit as attentively and as quietly as Gess.  There are grown ups that don't get as much out of the message as she does and I believe it is because they were never taught how to behave in that environment.  They literally don't know what is expected.

By keeping our children out of service I feel we hinder their growth in a few ways.  One is by delaying the behavioral teaching process.  By letting them be in children's church and youth environments all the time we make them think they can't do better.  If we expect them to act like kids they will, even if they are capable of acting more grown up. Instead we need to be expecting more out of them. We should always be working at maturing and achieving better in our Christian walk, even when we are adults.  There is no magical number at which we suddenly realize how it is done.  It's a step by step process, not something you hold back and throw them into head first when they reach a certain age.

Another thing they lack in children's church is being surrounded by adults.  I think it is important for us all to be a part of one community.  I like when the adults out number the kids and that the kids feel welcome with everyone. They interact, not only with each other, but with people of all ages. They get to literally see the body of Christ in action.  As they watch us participate in worship they are learning how they should act in worship.  They see the world as it truly is, a mixture of people.  Men and women, boys and girls, the elderly and infants all together in one place.  That to me, is part of the beauty of our worship.

That last, and maybe the most important reason is doctrinal.  If we spend their entire childhood watering down doctrine to bring it to their level of understanding, why are we so amazed when they don't seem to fully grasp it or respect it when they are grown?  I know, we don't look at it as watering it down. We think we are helping them. But think about it.  If you shorten it, abbreviate it or even worse skip over it because the content is not considered appropriate, that is essentially what you are doing.  I understand it is necessary at times, but not all the time.  If the child stays in church they hear the full teaching.  The get the full sermon, as meant for adult ears.  They hear how adults fail, how adults need to love, how adults should sacrifice. They learn what the gospel really is.

Maybe they are too young to get it.  That's OK.  They still hear it.  And as they grow more and more of it begins to make sense.  They still get the message even if they don't completely understand it.  There are many messages I don't comprehend fully as well.  But as they grow physically, they also learn to grow in knowledge.  They get to grow at their own pace and at their own speed. God gets to work with them in His way, in His time.

I am beginning to love the fact that we don't have a children's church.  It took me watching my daughter grow in the faith without those tools to help me see that.  I am sure there are people who have seen their children grow up IN a children's church who have matured into a responsible young person just like Gess.  I realize God can and does use many methods.  I just think sometimes we limit Him by thinking that the solution to every problem is entertainment or separation.

You can't make everything fun and you can't make everything about them. Life isn't all fun and life isn't all about us.  The earlier we get that into their heads, the better.  The sooner we get that into our own heads the better.  Life is about serving others.  It is about sacrificing pleasure and self for the purpose of showing love.  I am grateful that I learned that through this church in ways I did not expect to.  I guess sometimes it is good to go without the things you want because in the end you realize you didn't need that thing anyway.  Sometimes you are better off without it.

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