In a real-life actual conversation I recently had with a local pastor, the topic of children in church came up. I kid you not, the pastor said, and I quote, "Kids these days need to learn how to sit in worship just like their parents and grandparents did. That includes gum and candy and crayons and books - whatever it takes."
Because the conversation had to end abruptly, I asked if we could continue this conversation at another time.
I want to filter through my thoughts about it here.
1. "Sitting in worship" does not equal worship.
Children have a completely different capacity for learning than adults do. Our droning on with words and more words- prayers, liturgies, sermons, announcements - fails miserably to connect with the heart of a child. To force a child to sit quietly for an hour + is not fostering in them a love for worship. And I doubt the child is actually worshipping.
2. "Gum, candy, crayons and books - whatever it takes", does not help the situation.
This type of tactic makes absolutely no sense to me. Not only does it say, "we know that we have nothing to offer the child, so just try to keep them quiet". But it also says, "Mom and Dad, you will also get nothing out of the service because you will be spending the bulk of your time just trying to keep them quiet".
3. "These days" are no longer those days.
Does this pastor seriously think that the way our (current parents of young children - because that is what he meant by "their") parents and grandparents did it is the time-tested and perfected way of doing things? Newsflash. We no longer have a cultural obligation to go to church. We would rather spend quality time with the kids at home than take them to a place where they will gain and learn nothing. Half the time I wonder if I am gaining and learning anything! If a pastor cares about evangelism, he/she will put themselves into the shoes of a potential visitor and try to imagine what the worship experience might be like now, today, 2008. For most...for many...ok, I will speak for myself: If I visit your church, and you force my 6, 4 and 2 year old to sit in the service with me, I will turn around and walk out. Straight talk. NONE of us will get anything out of it - myself most of all. And I will probably only leave there either mad at my children, mad at the church or mad at myself because I am a terrible parent who has no control over her children.