One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting next to my parents in First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, listening to Robert Jeffress. Well, I wasn’t actually listening to anything he had to say, but I had my coloring book, and I distinctly remember my parents having their Bibles open every week, taking lots of notes, and seeming to really care about what that book had to say.
Nowadays it is unlikely for children to be in “Big Church” on Sunday mornings, at least in your average growing church. Why? Because this is appealing to guests, and, honestly, it’s nice to give parents a break so they can focus on growing spiritually themselves. I definitely don’t want to rag on so many great churches out there doing this. But I do want to challenge us in the way we think about our children in the worship service.
Three reasons to challenge parents to consider keeping some or all of their children with them during worship:
- Children learn by imitation
Jacob will be two years old in March. He copies literally everything Lauryn and I do. It seems that older children often do the same thing. While they may not try and eat everything their parents eat, they do, in many ways, want to be like their parents. They learn by imitation. Take this passage from Deuteronomy as an example:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 | “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Did you notice what’s commanded first? We are to love the Lord our God with everything we are. These commands are to be on our hearts. Then it goes on to give specific ways that we can teach our children. Only when God’s commands are on our hearts do we have the ability to effectively impress them on our children. Hence, the most important thing we can possibly do to raise our kids in the faith is make sure that our own faith is strong and growing!
I’ve been around children just enough to know that you can’t really fake it with them. They see right through inauthenticity. The greatest way we can teach them about Christ is showing them Christ in our hearts and lives. Then and only then will our time teaching them be effective. Don’t just tell them, show them.
One easy way for us to show them how much Christ means to us is by allowing them to be with us when we gather as a church. Let them see our desire for the Word. Let them see us take notes. Let them see us worship. Let them see us feel joy and conviction and peace and awe. Let them see us apply what we learn from the Word. Children learn by imitation. By simply being authentic in our faith, we’ll likely be teaching them way more than we know.
- Children are the Church
The earlier children learn that “Big Church is not just for big people,” the earlier they’ll learn that they, too, are the Church. In the same way the family can be so fractured at times due to busyness, extracurricular activities and, frankly, misplaced priorities, the church can also become a place where we each experience our own me-driven ministries and events, without ever being pulled together. In the church, we must make worship a family thing as much as possible.
I do think it’s important to engage children, and be intentional about communicating directly to children. That’s why at Raintree, we’re introducing “children’s bulletins” that have activities for children that go along with the message, and also still have childcare and Children’s Church for Preschool-2nd grade (during the message only).
But I also think there is a point at which we can be too engaging… What I mean by this is that at some point children too must learn that being part of the church means being devoted to one another, not just devoted to getting something out of church for me. Ha, for that matter, I guess adults need to learn this too!
Children are part of the church. The church is to devote themselves to God and to one another (Acts 2:42). I think we may be surprised at how much our children can learn to do this over time, particularly if they’re around the whole church more often!
- It’s worth it, even when it’s difficult
The trend right now is for children never to be in with the church body. In fact, some churches even have youth completely separated from the main gathering. I don’t think we should stop offering childcare and get rid of children’s activities during the service altogether, but I do want to challenge our thinking that children can’t handle Big Church.
We underestimate children, in my opinion. And yes, admittedly, I have only one son who is not even two years old. I have a lot to learn. But I still think I’ll have this opinion when we have more children. Kids can be trained to enjoy things that aren’t all about them. Some kids will have more trouble than others, but that doesn’t mean we must completely give up and not set some sort of expectations for children learning how to act in worship, and even how to actually worship in worship!
Long term, if children are allowed and even assumed to be a part of the church’s main gathering time, they will see literally hundreds of adults grow in their faith and learn from the Word. Long term, they will see their own imperfect parents be transformed by the Holy Spirit. They will have moments where they are impacted by what’s happening, even at a very young age. Ultimately, they’ll learn that the Gospel isn’t just about them, but about all people. To me, that makes the time and effort of keeping our kids with us worth it!