I am feeling a little smug these days though I know in my head that I have no reason to. My husband and I chose our denomination before we were even married and we never considered its view of children when we did. Perhaps we should have, but we didn’t. So really I know I only stumbled into what I now consider a wonderful approach to children and church without any real forethought on my part (or my husband’s).
All of this a precursor to me telling you about a conversation I found myself listening to last week. I was sitting around at (indoor; brrr) park day with three other Christian moms, all of us from different kinds of churches. One mom was lamenting that her daughter is aging out of their church’s Sunday school program and now will either have to attend worship or help with the littler kids’ classes. She did not feel like her child was ready to attend worship with the adults and would not get anything out of it. As the conversation progressed, it came out that all three of their churches only have Sunday school for kids during worship through sixth or eighth grade and that at least two of them feel like their children, who are now reaching that upper limit, are not ready for or have no appreciation for corporate worship.
Now in our church kids are encouraged to be in the worship service from birth on. We do have a nursery that is available until age 6 (and six is a high limit which is set only because we have many immigrant families who have different customs and struggle with English). In reality, most parents keep their kids in service whenever they can and almost always by age three. It is not the quietest worship service you will ever experience. But the kids do fine. And I can attest that while my kids do not get everything, they do get something out of the service even at a young age, certainly by eight years old if not earlier. And these are not at all dumbed down sermons. They are accessible to a general audience while still being pretty meaty.
I am actually saddened by my friends’ situations. I care about both them and their children and it is sad to me that a 12-year-old would feel lost and bored in worship when my kids have been handing it fine from age two on. I also feel really
lucky blessed that we were led early on to the denomination we are in which includes children. It turns out that those Sunday school classes which were supposed to be training children and preparing them for adult worship just don’t seem to have done the job. What prepares children to be worshippers is to bring them into worship. To expect it of them. It’s pretty much my view of children in a lot of areas of life — we need to include them in real life. We can’t prepare them for real life by isolating them in fake environments that are meant to mimic it. And especially when it comes to imparting our faith to them, the bets thing we can do is to just live it out before them, to include them in all aspects of it.
Really there is a much deeper theological issue here about how we view children of believers. Are they heathens for us to convert or are they members of God’s covenant? In our church we believe they are the latter. We baptize them as babies and we treat them as members of the body of Christ unless and until they prove otherwise. An old pastor or ours would say that in the flood, you don’t leave your kids outside the ark. You bring them in. Include them. Treat them as members of the church. That means they too are called to worship Him every week. It is incumbent upon them as much as it is upon their parents. And I do believe that in the end God honors such behavior and chooses to save most of these kids.
So if you are a parent of young kids and your children are segregated on Sunday morning and not included in your worship, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider a different way. I hate to see these kids end up drifting away because they have never experienced what it is to worship with God’s people.