I’ve always kept my boys in Church with us but we’re most definitely in the minority. In fact there is not a week that goes by where we aren’t questioned or prompted in regards to our decision. Thankfully never in an antagonistic manner. The queries are always well intentioned – either a Church member reminds or informs us of the opportunity to send our children to “Children’s Church” as it’s called at our place of worship, or someone we greet and chat to opens with, “Oh we’ve watched your boys in church for years. Can I ask why they aren’t in Children’s Church?”. Families less firm in their stance could easily buckle under the unrelenting pressure to conform but…ask my mother…I’m not one to follow along with what everyone else is doing. 🙂
Why do we keep our children with us? No, it’s not to stand out or be difficult. I’d much rather blend in, really I would. But not at the price of segregating our family and handing over the responsibility of teaching our children to others. Essentially that’s why we don’t send our children away on Sunday. We desire to worship God together. We don’t look at Church as being mostly for the adults or less suitable for the children. Nor do we view the children as a nuisance that divert our attention from the service. Okay, well there were weeks when I was annoyed with the responsibility of training them. We’re all human. But so were the apostles when all those pesky parents wanted to bring their children to be blessed by Jesus. And what did Jesus say? “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mat 19:14). When I don’t know what is best, because so many of the options appear to have merit on the surface, I like to look to the very actions of Jesus. Jesus didn’t ask the parents to bring their children back later or huddle them all off to a convenient location away from the ‘mature’ seekers. He put them on His knee and kept them close to the action.
Let me assure you that I’m not saying that my church’s “Children’s Church” is less than superior. It may be brilliant. But to me the content and structure of the children’s program is irrelevant as the very purpose of its existence is what I question. Just as our children’s academic education is our responsibility and not the states, more so is our children’s Biblical education our responsibility. Who is teaching our children the most important concepts in the world? It should be us. And if we don’t know what to teach them, then share the learning process with them. If we are already teaching our children about God, then they will not need a special class just for them on Sundays. I fear that, by providing these classes, however good they may be, parents will feel absolved from their responsibility to train their own children in the Word. This has already happened in schools where parents expect their children to come out of the other end of school knowing the 3Rs and all the other stuff necessary to succeed in the world, with little parent participation in the process. When children have an academic question they no longer ask their parents, but their school teachers. Will this too become the case for our Christian children? Will our little ones wait to ask their Sunday School teacher or Children’s Church leader, the weightier questions in life, rather than turning to their family for guidance and tutelage.
“All sounds good in theory,” you might think, “but how do we get our children to sit through Church in a meaningful way that doesn’t disturb those around us?” Firstly I have to say that it won’t be easy and it will take time. It definitely takes perseverance, especially when the children are young or used to a child-centred service or class. For my own boys how we handle this training varied according to age. When the boys were small we expected the boys to participate where they could. But we kept age appropriate expectations. During Worship when the boys were little we picked them up and held them in our arms so they could see what was happening up the front. If our Pastor asked us to raise our hands or extend our hands in prayer, we encouraged the boys to join us. But while the Pastor was speaking I allowed my little boys to sit at our feet and colour or draw. I had a “Church bag” that contained several quiet activities that would amuse their hands. Just because they have something in their hands doesn’t mean they aren’t listening to some degree. When I read aloud to my boys at home they can be building Lego or pushing cars around the floor and still narrate the whole story back to me.
As the children grew we altered their expectations. At one point I made a little Church folder that included puzzles and dot to dot activities based on Bible stories. Another time I selected words that I expected our Pastor would say and challenged the boys to listen for and count these words. All of this was training to attend to the Word. By the time my boys were about 7 we expected them to sit on their chairs rather than playing on the floor. All they were allowed to bring with them to church was a notebook, crayons and a hand-sized fiddle toy (something to keep in their hands to fiddle with…usually something squishy since my boys like textures). During the sermon the boys would generally draw or just sit and fiddle with their toy in their hand. As they became more able we expected them to make note of one important thing they heard the Pastor say. On the way home from Church the boys would share their one note with the family so we could discuss it. Nowadays the boys are almost ready to move into the next stage where they’ll be expected to take several notes in order to summarise the main points and narrate the message. A great task for anyone really.
Yes, there were weeks when things were less than stellar. Under the age of 5 there were many such weeks. Training is a process that takes time. Because our childern were amongst the only children in church I was very sensitive to any noise they might make. Generally they were fairly good but as time wore on during the services, their ability to remain still and quiet dwindled so Hubby and I took turns removing our children from church. Nothing good happened outside. All toys were removed and they had to sit at a table while we watched the rest of the sermon on the tv in the foyer (yes, we were lucky to have this). The boys quickly realised that it was far more exciting inside than out and did their best to make sure they didn’t overstep that line drawn in the sands of Church.
Nowadays the training has really paid off. Most of the time the boys sit attentively for the whole duration. They stand beside us and worship, they watch us for cues during communion, they write their note and then usually close up their book and just sit and listen to the sermon. Yes, they still glance around and might need a ‘look’ or a hand on their knee if they start to wriggle too much. But generally they are less distracting than some of the adult around us. They are certainly less distracting than the primary school aged children who bring their ipods and ipads to church to amuse themselves during the few weeks when Children’s Church is on holiday. (I kid you not. I counted five one week…one kid was watching a movie with earphones! This is certainly not what I mean by keeping your kids in church with you!)
If you are looking for more guidance on how to keep your children in church with you, I have discovered a great little book that says it much more eloquently than I ever could – “Children in Church” by Curt and Sandra Lovelace. I’m only half way through it but so far I’ve found it very good. Having been through the most difficult training years there’s not a lot more that I can glean from it but it does confirm and strengthen my beliefs about keeping our children with us in church, which was nice for me as you start to wonder sometimes whether you’re on the right track when everyone else seems to be choosing the road most traveled. It’s nice to know we’re not totally alone in this decision.
The book shares Scripture verses to guide you and pointers about how to proceed, with plenty of tried and true tips and hints. But it also has a chapter about how to handle opposition. I was startled that there are actually churches who will all but insist you leave your children at the door. I pray none of you have such family hostile churches. While we choose to be a relatively lone voice in our church, we’ve never felt that our children were unwelcome in the service. In fact we often have church members come up to us and applaud the behaviour of our boys during the service. Perhaps it’d be a different matter if we allowed our children to disturb the proceedings and distract those around us.
If you are looking for support in your journey to keep your children with you at God knee, then the book, “Children in Church” by Curt and Sandra Lovelace, will definitely be a great help. I’m finding it a pleasant, easy read with much that my heart affirms and agrees with. I wish we’d had this book all those years ago when we were just making up our training as we went along. 🙂