Keeping Kids in Church: Why?

Dear Reader,
A little while back I did a post on how to keep kids quiet in church and to train them to participate in worship. In that post, I promised that I would come back and talk about the why of keeping kids in worship. This is my attempt at doing so.
Of course it all starts with our view of children. In our church we baptize babies (now there’s a big topic!) because we believe that they are part of God’s covenant community. As such, they are expected and required to participate in worship just as their elders are. As an old pastor of mine used to say, “When the flood comes, you don’t leave your kids outside the ark; you bring them in!”
Nor is it enough to have kids attend some sort of Sunday school or children’s worship. Worship is family time — the church family — and that means all ages. Growth in Christ is through discipleship; the older members are to train the younger. This can only happen if they are together. Nor are carefully prepared Sunday school lessons enough. I would venture to say they are not the best training for young covenant members. The most valuable experience my kids ever had was when they were quite little and we could attend our church’s weekly prayer meeting and they could hear how other adult believers read and discussed the Bible, how they shared prayer requests and prayed for one another. Much of the discipleship that will go on in the church will not be explicit or intended; it will be what is absorbed from just seeing and hearing how other, more mature believers interact with one another and with their God.
And do not too quickly assume that what happens in service will go over your children’s heads. They likely get more out of it than you imagine. At any rate, they will not be better prepared to pay attention and to worship with the body by being excluded from it. My observation of friends’ children who have been segregated in children’s ministries till age 12 (or thereabouts) is that when they reach that age they are still not able to sit and pay attention as required. Whereas children who are required to do so from an early age are perfectly fine in worship quite early on.
Lastly, I want to quote one of my absolute favorite writers, Frank Boreham. Boreham was a minister in Australia and, I believe, New Zealand, some years ago. He was also a prolific writer. His tone is always pastoral and I find his works very comforting. As a pastor, he laments that some churches separate out the children, noting that their presence is not just for their own benefit but for that of the whole body. Here is what he has to say:
“I am told that, away beyond the Never-Never ranges, there is a church from which children are excluded before the sermon begins. I wish my informant had not told me of its existence. I am not often troubled with nightmare, my supper being quite a frugal affair. But just occasionally I find myself a victim of the terror by night. Ans when I am mercifully awakened, and asked why I am gasping so horribly and perspiring so freely, I have to confess that I was dreaming that I had somehow become the minister of that childless congregation . . . An appointment to such a charge would be to me a most fearsome and terrifying prospect. I could not trust myself. In a way, I envy the man who can hold his own under such circumstances. His transcendant powers enable him to preserve his sturdy humanness of character, his charming simplicity of diction, his graphic picturesqueness of phrase, and his exquisite winsomeness of behaviour without the extraneous assistance which the children render to some of us. But I could not do it. I should go all to pieces. And so, when I dream that I have entered a pulpit from which I can survey no roguish young faces and mischievous wide-open eyes, I fancy I am ruined and undone. I watch with consternation as the little people file out during the hymn before the sermon, and I know that the sermon is doomed. The children in the congregation are my salvation.
“I fancy that the custom to which I have referred was in vogue in the church to which the Rev. Bruno Leathwaite Chilvers ministered. Everybody knows Mr. Chilvers; at least everybody who loves George Gissing knows that very excellent gentleman. Mr. Chilvers loved to adorn his dainty discourses with certain words of strangely grandiloquent sound. “Nullifidian,” “morbific,” “renascent” — these were among his favourites. Once or twice he spoke of “psychogenesis” with an emphatic enunciation which seemed to invite respectful wonder. In using Latin words which have become fixed in the English language, he generally corrected the common errors of quantity and pronounced words as nobody else did . . . Ans so on. Poor Mr. Chilvers! I am sure that the little children filed out during the hymn before the sermon. No man with a scrap of imagination could look into the dimpled face of a little girl I know and hurl ‘nullifidian’ at her. No man could look down into a certain pair of sparkling eyes that are wonderfully familiar to me and talk about things as ‘morbific’ or ‘renascent.’ If only the little tots had kept their seats for the sermon, it would have saved poor Mr. Chilvers from committing such atrocities. Can anybody imagine John Wesley talking to his summer evening crowd at Dublin about ‘nullifidian,’ or quoting German? I will say nothing of the Galilean preacher. The common people heard Him gladly.” (Mushrooms on the Moor, Kindle loc. 1191)

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