Valuing a Multi-Generational Approach
This blog post is more of an unraveling of some thoughts that I have been wrestling through over the last few years. I am not sure that I will complete it in one post, but I look forward to the journey of attempting to express some thoughts of mine. Hopefully through this exercise, I will be able to sort through some of my thoughts.
Almost six years ago I became a father. This changed my world and my perception of the world. I began to see things that I never saw before prior to being a dad. The first thing that jumped out at me was our culture’s view of children or friendliness to families—or lack thereof. Obviously this format precludes me from addressing this subject as a whole, so I want to limit it to the church context. I immediately discovered there is a pectrum of hospitality towards children in the church.
As a pastor, I like visiting other church during off times for the sake of being ministered to, without having to be “the pastor.” After Grace was born, we suddenly realized that Grace wasn’t welcome to visit all churches. This created a little bit of an inconvenience for us we desired to create a culture of family time and worshiping together. I was somewhat stunned to find that there were churches that literally forbid children under 12 in the sanctuary. I am sure this has been going on for a long time in a lot of churches, but I never noticed before as it didn’t affect me. This began to shape me as a young pastor restarting a church. What would be our policy? How would I handle this as our young church started to develop and come to life?
I don’t think I have a conclusion at this point, but I have discovered some pressure points that I am working between. I will address them in bullet form.
1. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). Clearly the Bible speaks highly concerning the gift and value of children. While our present culture may not value them, the church must view them as God views them. As I am exposed to families with multiple children, I begin to see some negative thoughts/feelings expressed towards them that are not in alignment with the scriptural teaching the children are a blessing from the Lord. With this point, I hope to cultivate a climate in the church that values the blessing of children.
2. Parents are responsible for making disciples of their children (Deut. 6:4-9). Ultimately the onus of making disciples of children lies on the parents. I have noticed that Christians conclude differently on the process of teaching their kids about the Lord. I have also noticed that parents often think their way is the best way and should be used by everyone. On this point I am convicted to help parents as ultimately they are responsible for teaching their children about God and walking with Him. God is not something that “they are to discover on their own” as many in our culture state, but parents have the responsibility to introduce their kids to Jesus. I want the parents to feel and understand that they are responsible before God on this point, and I want to help equip them for the task.
3. Jesus welcomed children to sit in on His teaching, even when the disciples had tried to shuffle them away (Matt. 19:13, Mark 10:13-16, and Luke 18:15-17). Elsewhere in the New Testament children are addressed in the text–it seems safe to assume that children were present in the teaching context. As an under-shepherd of Christ, I must aim to teach as he taught. On this point it means welcoming children in the Sunday service. Also, I want to encourage parents to worship with their children. As the pastor, I have the responsibility to encourage a climate of hospitality to the young ones in our service. This is a main reason why we include all the kids in the main sanctuary during the worship, which leads into my next point…
4. Sunday School. People learn at different levels and with different attention spans. We have no Sunday School during our first service, but I am not opposed to have one. As the teaching pastor, I have become more aware of a prominent group with in our culture–the single mom. While my wife is obviously not single, she is on Sunday mornings. I am acutely aware of her struggle with a six-year old and two-year old Sunday mornings all alone. Throughout the Scriptures we learn that God has a special place for widows and orphans (James 1:27). The unfortunate reality is there are many young women out there with children and an absent father. I am burdened to help these ladies grow in the Lord.
Also, we live in a fallen world. There are many people who don’t know the most basic things from Scripture and don’t really even know where to begin when coming to church in search of God. There are many people in our culture who have not disciplined their kids and life is pretty much out of control. I am not speaking down to these people–for I was one of them not long ago.
5. There is a difficult balance to strike between a child making a minor noise and a child that is disruptive to the service. The body should be gracious to the parent who is resolving an issue with their child, while the parent with the child must be sensitive to the the distraction their child is making. In my experience, it seems the parents are far more accutely aware of every peep and are far more uncomforatable when their child makes some noise. The goal is to raise the bar on the child, not lower it to turn the sanctuary into a preschool classroom.
So for some people, having a Sunday school (say children under 12) option for them is good in growing them and their children spiritually.
Here are my conclusions so far:
1. Children should be welcomed in church. Having multiple generations together is good for all.
2. Families should be encouraged to disciple and worship with their children.
3.We live in a less than ideal culture and we need to help those who are not ready to make disciples, but rather need to be discipled and Sunday school is a viable option.
4. This is not a simple or easy endeavor, but is well worth it!
My wife & I were stunned during a furlough (from ministry in the Philippines) in the early 90’s when we came back to our home church (the one I planted), to find that children were not welcomed in the sanctuary at all & that one would have to sit outside if leaving during the message. Is that something Jesus would do, we wondered?!
After preaching in many places with chickens, pigs, onlookers, children, and so on, it seemed pretty strange. I wondered, is what’s being said so sacred, so valuable that it can’t be disturbed in anyway? Again, WWJD?
Very good thoughts. Something is wrong with how we handle children…our current plan is failing as most kids leave the church following highschool…possibly to return when they have kids.
Thanks for your thoughts, Gunnar. You’re absolutely right, there is a balance to strike. Here is how we try to strike that balance at the church I serve. This is from the back of the bulletin –
WHAT IF I OR MY CHILD CAUSES A DISTURBANCE?
AS A MATTER OF REVERENCE: noise and movement during the service is a distraction to those around you. If you need to leave the service early, please sit in the back rows. Parents with young children are requested to use our Child Care. If it is necessary for your child to stay with you, please use the seating in the back so you can slip out quickly and easily should your child find it difficult to remain quiet. Thank you for you cooperation and sensitivity to others. It is appreciated!
No one has complained about this (at least I haven’t heard any) in 14 years. And there is a difference between a squak and a disturbance. Our ushers aren’t draconian, but if a parent continues to allow their child to be a disturbance, one of the ushers will inform the parent that we do have child care, or, if that isn’t an option, we have TV monitors in the lobby and the cafe and they can go there.
And, Trip, I don’t think that it is because something so sacred is being said that we have these measures. It is because people are so easily distracted. The policy has its reason in the distractability of the people and not the sacredness of the sermon. I have had something of the same experience as Trip. I have preached in Africa with dogs and lizards (big ones) walking through, and a Sunday School class being conducted right outside the open windows. It was a very noisy service, but the people were rapt listeners. If children – nursery and up – were to be allowed in the service, we would need to train our people to sit through a noisy service. One of our families just visited a multi-generational church where they believe it is wrong to have age appropriate classes during church because it divides the body of Christ. All were in one room for the entire service. They informed me that they won’t be returning there.
Thanks for letting your wrestlings be known…I know you’re not alone in the ring on this one. I LOVE the point that you made about raising the bar for the child not lowering it and turning the sanctuary into a classroom.
An extreme susceptibility to being easily distracted is an aspect of a large portion of American culture and I believe it needs to be considered. But not only considered and then respected, but also considered, expressed, and possibly changed in order to reach many of those from other cultures and many of the younger generation within our own culture.
Tim–thanks for showing us what’s on your bulletin and the point you made about your ushers having discernment about the “distraction meter”. Great balance.
Trip–not sure if you remember me telling you about the pastors who visited us in Cebu and told us to close the windows and get a/c because it was too hot and humid and the jeepney stop outside was too loud and too distracting for people to actually learn anything…classic! Bring on the wandering pigs, chickens, and dogs, and the two year old pulling on your pant leg while you skillfully exegete John 17!
Tim, I appreciate this, although I would have a problem using the line, “young children are requested to use our Child Care” as this conveys children are not welcome. I think our attitude should be we are here to help young people worship God (not just to be quiet so the grown ups can worship)…even at a young age. We give away copies of “Parenting in the Pew” to help parents get this. http://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Pew-Guiding-Children-Worship/dp/0830823409/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315558020&sr=8-1
Hi, Gunnar – it’s tough to communicate mood and atmosphere electronically. If you were ever at CC Fremont you/anyone would realize that children are very welcome – even in the sanctuary. Visitors would read these words on the back of the bulletin surrounded by children in the lobby and sanctuary. Plus, you didn’t note the full phrase. The atmosphere and culture of our church drain that sentence, “Parents with young children are requested to use our Child Care,” of any unwelcoming dimensions. No one has ever complained about it, while many have been appreciative. We have never disallowed babies/young children in our services. If the gentleman with ten children were to visit CC Fremont, we’d find room for them in the sanctuary. Obviously, upon entering, we would point them to the Children’s Ministry wing, but if they told us they wanted to all remain in the adult service – great!
We are not anti-children, we are anti-distraction. And obviously even that is an elastic statement. Whether a baby crying or a young child fussing or teens talking or adults texting or drunks teetering – there comes a time where something goes from an annoyance to a distraction and needs to be addressed.
Even though there are some Calvarys that forbid babies/children from entering the sanctuary, the home school emphasis of the last 30+ years has influenced me into keeping the adult service open to any age. 99 times out of 100 the parents can be trusted to be appropriately sensitive to the issues at hand.
Tim, good words. Your follow up is clear…I totally agree! It is hard to convey one’s heart through words…to easy for me to convey my experience into your response. I had an unpleasant experience at a Calvary Chapel (to remain nameless, but not the mother church and a small one) where 12 years and under were banned altogether and if you left the service (for whatever reason) you could not return. I remember thinking, “Man, I hate distractions when I am preaching, but come on…no one pays attention like we as pastors would like!” From that experience it helped me to see that we as a church want to love children and to view them as a blessing…not as in inconvenience.
“Let the children come to me…”
Thank you for your article. My wife and I have left churches who have physically barred us from entering with our children.
As parents, my wife and I take opportunities to train our children to be able to sit through church service during the week. We have learned much from the “Parenting in the pew” book, also “To Train Up a Child”. I believe that parents should be encouraged and supported in bringing their children into service. We keep all 10 of our children in the ‘main’ service with us. It is good for our children and for our fellow worshipers. Our children experience adults in awesome God centered worship, and our fellow worshipers have the joy of seeing children (5mo – 18 years) worshiping God with innocent child-like exuberance.
Do they sit perfectly still for the whole service- no. Can they ‘hold it’ for the whole service- usually. Do they make noise while the Pastor is speaking- yes. Do they rattle papers and drop their writing implements- yes. (But all things being equal, these are problems most older (65+) people have as well- but most people will overlook or excuse old people’s disruptions.) Do they want to be with us, please us and be apart of worship – YES!
Often times after service people will thank us for having our children in with us. Most people find it refreshing, encouraging and exciting to have children in service. Those who don’t, need to take a chill-pill and honestly examine their hearts. Do they want the things of God, or do they just want their 45 minutes a week (often the only time spent) with God to be undisturbed.
Many people are concerned and wonder how to witness to and reach young people, the lost generation, a generation coming up with even less knowledge and belief in God than ever before….. Start in the nursery! Welcome, no- INVITE the new & young parents into the sanctuary with their children. Band together as the Family of God to patiently raise and encourage children to be a part of worship. The body of Christ includes children, why don’t our worship services?
I never really thought about the concept of having a rule on leaving children out of the sanctuary… I guess not having kids yet myself it has been out of sight and therefore out of mind. I am realizing that there is so much more that goes into the running of a church than I thought. I can see a little more what Paul may have been talking about when you was talking about the cares of the church weighing on him. Thanks for the insight into your thought process and prayers concerning this situation. I do believe that it will be more relevant to me in the future.
Good stuff, Gunnar. Great openness. Much appreciated, man.
Stirs me up in thought in other areas of ministering…
Great comments, too, guys. Makes one think
C’mon guys… we just don’t like kids!!! At least that’s what the anonymous notes in the offering plate tell me 😉
We basically leave it up to the discretion of our ushers… they’re pretty good in this area. The kids are far less of a distraction than the person that refuses to reach down and turn off the “Stayin Alive” ringtone for fear of everyone knowing that it is actually their phone that is ringing.
WE ALL KNOW IT’S YOU!
Miles, stop blaming other people for your cell phone’s ringer with “Staying Alive” jamming on the first row all by its lonesome!