I am fortunate enough to be part of a church that desires for children to welcomed and integrated into the worship services. Not just the older children but even the tiniest of all. We have had some adjusting to do as the "sounds of the covenant" become louder as the last eight babies to be born are testing out their vocal chords and wanting to chat and sing along. Plus, there are two more on the way -- one of which is ours! We have a Mother's room but I think Mrs. Wilson's mention of a Father's room is an excellent idea as well. Mrs. Wilson makes a good point that the integration of all generations is important, with her focus being on the younger ones in this particular post. I love her point that their place among God's people is just as important as those of an older status. It also helps in their training and how to behave in service with the rest of the congregation.
Many would argue that children can be a distraction or that they would not understand. Let's first tackle the first issue. A distraction... children? I can see the point vaguely until we see how children are treated throughout Scripture. They are not just tossed aside but they are always included in the covenant promises from our Lord. We are told that children are a blessing and they are a heritage from the Lord. We are not told that children are a blessing except in worship. One would think that if they are a heritage from the Lord and a gift - then that's a good thing, right? Also, children are not the only distractions in church - maybe it's the unchurched guy that's being a little too loud, or making comments during the sermon... or maybe the elderly saint in the front row keeps talking above normal inside tones when the pastor comes to the front because she cannot hear or see very well. Do we cart them off somewhere to play? Do we remove them altogether? No! We gently address, correct, and work on the issues with grace and truth. Some issues are easier than others and can be taken care of with a slight tough of the hand or one spoken word. We find these others as an integral part of the congregation as well. Are they treated differently because they are over three feet tall?
Next, they won't understand, you say? Hummm... I watched an almost one-year old girl try to lift her hands to the Gloria Patri on Sunday and her first word is "Amen" after the songs and prayers. Sure, she may not understand the meat of the sermon but she's still working on the milk side of things - literally and spiritually. We must be mindful of our children's frame and not have expectations that we can sit down with our children at age four and work on the exegesis of Genesis or Revelation. Our expectations need to be realistic of where they are age wise and spiritually. I am amazed as I watch children of all ages engage at different levels with the worship service and the sermon in particular. (I will mention some of my observations and ideas at the end of this post for those who may be looking for suggestions.) There are times that I, personally, "don't get" the sermon and it requires more reflection and digging into Scripture after the service. I like sermons like that from time-to-time because they cause my brain to stretch and dig a little deeper into the Word and ask questions of my husband and our pastor and elders.
With all that to say, I am not totally anti-Sunday School. But have you thought about where Sunday school originally came from? It was originally an outreach idea that children could bring their unchurched friends to a place to learn more about Jesus. Unfortunately, in many churches it has become a place where people just drop off their kiddos and leave the teaching of the Scriptures to someone else - not following up with it when they are home or throughout the week. It's a place where the parents can find a bit of a breather. And, unfortunately, it is a place that is the thorn in the side for many as we pull teeth for people to man the nursery or teach. And what about those who are teaching - what about their time in worship? I will say that some churches do this well and not all is lost on Sunday School. I am just asking for us to think through some different things that most modern evangelicals are not exposed to because it is not the norm.
Do you wonder why some youth feel segregated from the church? Is it because they were never really integrated in the first place? Have you thought that church is the perfect place for children to work on their social interactions with adults and the elderly? Have you thought about the blessing of placing your child in the lap and hands of the aged who delight in the young squeals and sweet smell of a baby? Have you thought about how much your children need to see you model the great honor and pleasure of worshipping the One True God - from the youngest to the oldest?
I am sure I could go on... but I think that I will end this for now. Below I will list my observations of children engaging in worship - maybe some could work for your family?
Observations and Ideas
- Our church publishes all the music that we will be singing for the month so that it can be incorporated into family worship. Children can pick up on songs quite easily. Teaching and memorizing the songs together can be helpful when your five-year-old is just learning to read.
- For some older kids, I have seen them mark out the ABC's in a notebook and as they hear corresponding words in the sermon they write them down.
- Asking children to write down key words they hear in the sermon and how many times those key words are said throughout. (Jesus is always a good word to use)
- Asking each child about what they learned or understood from the sermon starting with the youngest and no one can repeat anothers answer. This, I believe, is a great way to have higher expectations for your older children. Parents play, too!
- Drawing out key themes of the sermon and whispering them to your child. I have been reading Edith Schaffer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking, and she suggests this as well. One friend tried it with her five-year-old and it seemed to work well! It doesn't have to be elaborate - stick figures will work fine. This idea can be compounded if you have smaller ones that need to be fed during the service or become fussy.