Wednesday, July 23, 2008

kids' church

i may be jumping into a hornets nest with this one, but here goes.

nursery or big church?

this post asks the question. i love this blog and the writer is generally very insightful, but i'm not with him on this one.

to me, it comes down to the purpose of the weekly church service. is it a lecture, to gain facts? a concert, to have an emotional experience? or something else? yes, children are distracting. yes, it's hard for them to be quiet and sit still. but does that add up to a one-way ticket to the nursery?

i'll copy here the comment i left on the post:

taking care of children is not a distraction from worship. it is part of worship itself. would you ask if music is distracting? is the powerpoint screen distracting? the stained glass?

if our goal in worship is the cognitive acquisition of information, or attainment of an emotional meditative experience, then yes, children are a hindrance. but worship is not limited to or defined by those experiences. nothing wrong with them, but they're not the only reasons i go to church.

i want my children to love church and look forward to it. i want them to experience God there. if they can do that better in the nursery, then that's fine. if that happens in big church, even better. but i'm not leaving them in the nursery for my own convenience, and i'm not keeping them with me for my pride. a little flexibility and a little grace go a long way.

right now both of our kids go to the nursery. but here's my goal: i would like for them to be where they worship best, experience God most purely. sometimes that's in play. sometimes it's outside. sometimes it's being held and rocked. sometimes it's singing songs with mom and dad. both of my kids have been in church with me as babies, because that's where they felt safe and secure. laugh if you will, but i swear to you they worshiped as they napped in my lap or bounced to the music. (i think we need to broaden our definition of worship; we tend to define it too narrowly.) but for the restless ages, say 18 months to 4-ish, big church is just hard work without a lot of benefit. so i'm fine with the nursery. but they shouldn't just "sit church out" back there. we should provide worship appropriate to their age.

church is not just about "what i enjoy most" or "how can i best be fed." it's more than that.

church is not a product to be consumed by individuals.

families should not part at the church entrance to each go their own way, reuniting for lunch afterward.

church is also not about "being on our best behavior." many advocates of kids in big church say it's important for kids to learn to sit still and listen. ok, fine, but that's not sufficient reason for me. a child who may be unable to comprehend a college lecture or appreciate a symphony is not correspondingly incapable of worship. sure, teach them to sit still. but don't equate that with worship.

i want to teach my children to love God. to live in community. to sing praise and learn their Bible. they may do any of those things in the nursery or in big church.

or i can fail them in either place.

we need grace here. lots and lots of grace.


Prodigal Jon said...

Great thoughts Brandi -

Prodigal Jon said...

Whoops, I meant to continue that. I think you raised some good issues and appreciate the insight you brought to the post. I am admittedly knew to this debate (my kids are four and younger) and appreciate the thoughts of other parents.

I will disagree with you on one point though, I don't think you can compare music in a worship service to "taking care of your kids in a worship service." I have never in the midst of correcting my children and getting them to quiet down thought, "this is just like a piano solo." Throughout the Bible, song, chanting, music itself is used to invite us to worship. To me, I hold music in a different place than I do asking my children not to color on something they shouldn't be coloring on. Can kids be an important part of worship? without a doubt. Are they the same as music? Not for me.

Mommy, M.D. said...

fair enough, jon.

you're right that music does have a special place throughout Scripture and church history. as i compare it to childcare, it's a pretty big category. we can worship in nature, worship over the dinner table, worship at a concert. (even- gasp! - a "secular" concert). taking care of kids is like that. more like a mosh pit, somedays.

my point is that worship is not defined by a particular level of focus, a particular emotional state, a particular mood.

Steph said...

Wow! Great discussions! Noel Piper talked about this and was really encouraging. She said that yes, it will be hard and distracting to have your kids in worship, and maybe YOU won't "get the most out of it"...but when we decided to have sex and make babies...that's what we signed up for. (I paraphrased ;) She said it much more gracefully and tactfully.

I think that having the kiddos in worship may not feel or look like what we're used to, but I think there's great potential for learning and growing in our understanding of worship...just what you were saying. The good thing about being the Church though...we're all in it together!

Great post!

Justin Hyde said...

Very good post, hon. Insightful and succinct. Beautiful. Thank you. I'm interested to hear more about what to do with the kids when they're not in 'big church'. How to divide them, thoughtful ways to usher them into worship, how to teach a broad age group, how small churches function (with say less than 20 kids, but all ranging from 0-4), volunteer or professional, etc. etc. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I belong to a 2 year old independent evangelical church in Australia where we have around 80 people and 20 - 25 kids. We have a wonderful woman who coordinates our kids church program. Here's what we do. 0-2 years olds, parents have the option of a small enclosed area with some toys and chairs for their kids to play (sadly our venue doesn't have the facilities for these parents to still hear the sermon - however it can be downloaded from our website each week). Whether or not the parents take their kids there is up to them - not usually during the music though, mainly to limit distraction during the sermon. Then we have a fabulous program where the kids in two groups (2-5yrs and 5-10yrs) are taught a formal (FUN) lesson from the Bible. The kids stay in church for some of the singing and a short kids talk (usually a little skit or something that summarises the main point of the sermon)then they go out to another building for kids church. Then the kids who are aged 10 - 13 (thats our oldest kid) do a Bible study with one of the adults on the same topic as the sermon. They saty in the main church until just before the sermon starts, so they join us for prayer too.
Children are a super important part of our church - we take their growth and building up in Christ very seriously and we value them in our lives and in our weekly Sunday meeting (and other get togethers like Bible studies and other things). However we also value the growth and ability to concentrate of the adults in our church, so a culture of quiet and concentration is encouraged during the sermon, but other parts of church like singing, kids talk, etc, we are all in together - its great! Thanks for rasing this issue, I love to discuss how to best raise our children and especially want to learn how to give my children (boy 4yrs and girl 4mths) a genuine love for Jesus and an enjoyment of church and the family of God - I desperately don't want to stiffle their enthusiasm but I want them to learn how to use that enthusiasm appropraitely! Not saying we do it the best, but this model seems to work well for us. Oh yeah - and pur kids church teachers are parents and other peole from church who volunteer for a 10 week period - sometimes it can be tricky to get people on board, but 10 weeks isn't too much to ask when your own children benefit. The lesson is always planned by our coordinator who isn't paid either - she uses some great resources which cut down alot on her workload. It is certainly a big job though.

Mommy, M.D. said...

check out this post at Femina:

little kids in church

mandi said...

this is a topic that is close to my heart. i love when my kids are in the worship service with me. they mainly color or play with trains, but the closeness to them while worshiping the lord feels so complete. and hearing their little voices singing- so powerfully beautiful! however, right now, they both choose to go to nursery. i ask every sunday and they choose nursery every sunday. but what is great about nursery is that they are there together. sissy gets a chance to take care of buddy and the other babies- that's SERVING (ie: worship). they get the chance to practice being obedient and kind (ie: worship).
i would like to see traditional churches be more open to children in worship. i don't know how many times i have felt the eyes of judgement, or actually been verbally reprimanded for having our kids in the service. and while there is no biblical evidence (in regards to jon's post) that children were disciples, they still have a vital role in the life of a worship service. dylin has asked several times if she can join the praise team at church. and when i have to tell her no, i can't explain why- because i don't know why. i don't know why she can't stand in front of the church and lead them to god- that is her heart. why should her age be the hindrance? i mean, i understand that she is really cute, and cuteness can be a distraction, but come on! : )
anyway, for us, this is a day by day issue. but my gut and my heart is all for kids in big church.

Amy said...

I'm typing w/one hand here, (B's sleeping on me), so it'll be short..but, I really, really enjoyed what you had to say about worship & children. (esp w/a 2 yr old who still isn't quite fond of nursery) :)
Also, can I bring challah bread Sun night?

Mommy, M.D. said...

absolutely! we love your bread. can't wait to see little b at church. if you had been at church just a few months earlier, you would have seen me chasing br around the sanctuary. she only recently started going to the nursery. and she's been fussing some, so she may come back in.

the next time john leads music at ccb, moonpie is welcome up front! give the girl a tambourine and turn her loose. i draw the line at levi on kit, though. : )

christ church peeps:
our nursery worker just quit, so the decision may have been made for us!

one more thought on jon's comment:
i've never been in the midst of serving widows and orphans and thought "this is just like a piano solo" either, but apparently it is.

lest anyone think i'm getting a little too tough on poor jon, don't. he's way, way bigger than me. to feel the love, see my favorite post of his here

5 Chicks and a Farmer said...

The church we've been visiting in Brenham has ages 4 and up in 'big church'- for lack of a better term. I must say that when we first started having KK sit with us, I questioned everything about this whole set-up.

But, my heart is convinced that beautiful things happen when your kiddos worship corporately with a body of believers. It is a bit sad to look around at other kiddos totally not engaged in the message nor familiar with what is happening around them and some are even asleep- not a comparison to our family, just an observation.

I think the parents play a huge role in leading and guiding their children into worship- at church or anywhere. What I mean is, the parents can engage their children by explaining in simpler terms what the message is about. We don't have a full blown conversation in the middle of church, but I don't hesitate to whisper thoughts and insight to KK as they come to me. I let KK help find the books in the bible as we are thumbing through different scriptures. We draw pictures of different words used so she has that imagery.

So, to answer the question about "how to incorporate this into a church body", I'd say to start with the parents. Give them tools or even tangible ideas to help guide and engage their children.

After having KK sit with us through worship, I wouldn't have it any other way. Not only is it unifying for our family, but a beautiful picture of what heaven will look like- people of all ages worshiping a Holy and Righteous God.

5 Chicks and a Farmer said...

Oh and one more random thought on this.

I've heard the main reason why people are against having children in worship is the distraction. And while I agree that it can be distracting at times, I think this whole idea stems from a mindset of church being 'what we are getting out of it'. Too often and in too many places, the church is becoming a place that 'Christians' go to weekly to be takers.

If the only time we set aside to hear from the Lord is on Sunday morning, that's not enough. We should look at those children in worship as treasures and an opportunity to encourage a young heart. But, instead we look at them as a threat of interruption of 'our church experience'.

Coby said...

Hi Brandi, I'm Coby, Mandi Barnard's brother. I came across your blog while reading her blog.

I once was doing some research on "community" and I came across a beautiful posting on children in worship. I realize that this isn't easy in traditional churches but it is something we can shoot towards for sure.


Community - Whas' That?
November 13, 2004
"Whas' that?" is my son's catch all phrase and I thought it was appropriate here. He sometimes uses it because something has caught his attention, and his curiosity is sparked. Recently I've found my attention caught by the experience of community. It's like I'm mimicking Aiden - "community - whas' that?". I'm not sure I can put words to it but I want to try without using a concrete definition.
Last night our community gathered to pray. We met in the home where my family now lives and ministers to homeless, unwed mothers. As we sang, Aiden was doing his usual thing...dancing to the music, coloring, and walking around interacting with people. He passed crayons to Barbie, colored with me, sat in his Mom's lap, got his guitar and tried to help our worship leader Josh. While all this was happening, one of our pastors (Jim) was sitting on the floor. At one point he raised his hands as he worshipped God. As he did, Aiden walked over in his gentle fashion and put his arm around Jim as if to comfort him or tell him he loved him. Jim returned the hug with a kiss as if to say "Thank you, you are special." Even though you are only 17 months old, I appreciate that you care about me.
Tears came to my eyes as I realized how much that meant to me. Aiden is my son, but he is also Jim's son, Roy's son, Barbie's son, and the list goes on and on. Our church is becoming a place where we are all family. We live and share our lives on a daily basis. We share meals, watch TV, go places together, and, yes, we even help raise children. We live and share our lives together.
Thirty-three year old Roy is Aiden's constant loving companion. Aiden is so delighted when Roy walks in the door. Sometimes he bashfully runs away from Barbie because he wants her attention. He enjoys her joy and spirit of life. He gently lays his head on Miss Betty's shoulder while she rubs his back.
It scares me to think what my life would be without this. What would my life be like if all the friends I love were somehow removed? What if we had to go back to a lifestyle that is all about me? The American dream of self-reliance, self-preservation, self, self, and more self could be ours again. Our privacy could be restored and we could live in a world that promotes these values over the values of love, truth-telling, service, community, and sacrifice.
I have lived that life. I guess I should say that I hid in that life. That life helped create an illusion of safety and security. It kept me and my sin intact. But today, my life is lived openly in fellowship with those around me. We all have areas that make us hard to love. Yet we work hard on pressing through those areas in an atmosphere of love and transparency. And the result is that I find myself being increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
I know that I love my son, and I love how my son is loved within this small group that is church. I'm beginning to call this place home.
Community - "whas' that?" I don't really know how to put it into words, but it is looking and feeling more like home every day.