Saturday, May 3, 2008

Kids in church

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.


shannon said...

Hmmm, interesting topic. I'm looking forward to more Nikki-thoughts on this one. Thought I'd throw this one out there too... does everything said from the pulpit need to be "child appropriate"? Could a sermon/illustration be geared for adults?

Dana said...

That's why we started our children's church program. The children stay in the nursery until they are 3, then they can come to Children's Church. We take from 3 yr. olds to 3rd grade out of the service, so the adults can actually listen and learn. We try to teach the children how to behave in church before the HAVE to sit through church. They get lessons and coloring and playing outside until they are a little better prepared to be in "Big Church". It's really hard for EVERYONE when there are little ones in the service. I for one appreciate your even thinking about disrupting others. We have some people that let their kids pretty much do whatever and it can be very distracting!!!

ziondreamer said...

Great comments Shan and Dan :)

RE: sermons being child-appropriate.

In regard simply to sermons, I do think the pastor must be tuned in to his/her congregation. BTW, that is just good public speaking etiquette right? I sat in a sermon where lots of children were present and the preacher that day was talking about a bull being slaughtered for sacrifice..."they slit the throat of the bull, hang the bull by its back legs, and cut the bull longways, blood and all the insides of the bull would pour out onto the worshippers..." PLEASE.

But even generally speaking. I would contend that "big church" as we know it - is anything but child appropriate (on a big-picture level).
I want children to learn reverence and respect for God's sanctuary (please don't hear me say they should never be in church). But I just don't think we quite get how to incorprate the WHOLE body of Christ in worship - and that includes children.

I would love to see a system that actually works practically and appropriately for people of all ages.

I like the childrens church idea. That way, the child gets the first few minutes of "big church", and by they time they get figetty, they get to go and worship in their own way.
Also I know of churches who DO try to make the whole service engaging to the children. They actually keep the children in the service in a children's area toward the side or the back, the children can move around or do art, but the hope is that the children are staying tuned into the service (as opposed to just shoving in their face the gum, candy, crayons and books - whatever it takes).

What are your additional thoughts??