When I hear babies crying during a worship service, I smile. I’m pretty sure Jesus smiles too.
I understand the tension. Worshipers have a certain need and expectation during a service to both hear and focus on the proclamation through music and Word. Children and babies can at times distract from that focus. Sometimes I hear this referred to as a “disruption” and I suppose there are times when that may very well be true. But what exactly do we mean by disruption? Typically we mean that we, and others, are in danger of “missing” the point of the message or the impact of the song or that “still small voice” that requires absolute silence to hear. Here’s the problem…
The disciples were worried about those same things. And they got rebuked. Big time.
Jesus, after noticing the disciples prevented the children from reaching him (perhaps by directing them to a small room in the basement), said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15). After saying these words, Jesus embraced the children and blessed them.
With that in mind, here are a few things Christians need to consider:
1. Parents Are Nervous & Afraid Of Being Judged.
Parenting is a never ending cycle of comparison and concern. Social media tools such as Facebook status updates, Instagram pictures, and Twitter feeds provide a 24 hour reminder of how much better, more advanced, and creative other children are than your own struggling bunch. Parents endlessly worry about their children bothering other people, whether in restaurants, at the park, or in preschool. Unfortunately, nothing will elicit sweat drops on the foreheads of anxious parents more than sitting down in a church pew on Sunday morning with a 2 year old. Parents need the comfort and assurance of knowing their church family will welcome, embrace, and bless the children in a worship service, just like Jesus did. Parents need to look forward, even long for the arrival of Sunday morning when they can rest easy for one hour, knowing their crying, struggling child is surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ who are not only tolerant of their presence, but overwhelmingly thankful for it.
2. Children Need To See Their Parents Model Worship.
One of the most special, biblical, and fundamental aspects of worship is for children of all ages to see their parents model genuine, joyful worship. Among the many things we are raising our children to become, nothing is more important than raising fervent, devout, contagious worshipers. This makes necessary not only parents bringing children into the worship service with them, but also for the child to see energy and joy in their parents as they worship.
3. Children Need To Sit Under Preaching.
Yes, I know, they won’t understand most of it. Yes, I know, they will think it’s boring. Yes, I know, they will want to draw, sleep, or eat candy. But that’s all OK. The unseen, profound ways God will shape children through the preaching of the Word cannot be overstated. It’s alright to give them something to draw on. It’s alright to have them a bit bored for half an hour. It’s alright to remind them a few times to quiet down. Children are getting more than you think, and what they are getting in those little doses is the most important part of their lives.
4. The Sacraments Proclaim The Gospel To Children.
If children are not in worship, they are missing the Sacraments. If they are missing the Sacraments, they are missing one of the most powerful proclamations of the gospel. Some of the most beautiful and encouraging questions go something like this: “Why can’t I eat the cracker? I want some grape juice, why can’t I have a drink? Why is she wearing a robe? Why did Pastor Philip put her in the water? Can I go in the water?” Participating in the Sacraments, according to Paul, is one means by which we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” All those questions we might occasionally find annoying are the piece by piece method God is using to draw His children to himself.
5. Keeping Children In Worship Communicates Their Worth.
Although babies and younger children are not yet part of the body of Christ in the sense of their union with Christ and the Church, that happens upon conversion, they most certainly are the presence of God’s endless goodness and amazing grace; He has been faithful to His Church by showing all generations that these children are a “heritage from the Lord.” When we bring children into the worship service with us, we communicate something special to both them and the congregation. We say, “hey, something just isn’t quite right, something is just a bit off if you are not in here with me.”
6. Worship Is Not A Parent’s Time Away From Their Kids.
I have heard some parents suggest that they need their child to be somewhere else during worship so they can have a break from the kids. This kind of reasoning must be repented of and changed. They need to find another time. Get a babysitter. Remove something from the weekly schedule and carve time for themselves. But never, under any circumstances, should parents let their heart and mind believe that the worship hour is their opportunity for “me” time. This is when children most desperately need us.
These points are not to suggest that nursery and children’s church are ministries of the devil. On the contrary, I believe there are some great benefits from these ministries. My church, Graefenburg Baptist Church, has childcare during worship up through second grade and I both fully support those ministries and use them. There are times and seasons when this might be the best option for families for various reasons. All of the Meade children have participated and benefited in nursery and Children’s Church. We fully transitioned Callie Grace when she was 4 years old and Justus, who is currently 4, is now with us about half the time. Eli, who is a little handful, is still hanging out in the toddler room. I am so thankful for the faithful, dedicated, tireless volunteer work happening in our children’s department and when parents choose to utilize those ministries, that is fantastic. Each family must prayerfully discern the right timing to transition, and even then it can be a slow, gradual process. The point is for both the congregation and the parents to know that the church fully supports and loves to see (and hear) children in worship.
The best way to make the transition is to start young and parents should keep their eyes on opportunities to take their children in worship with them. Church leadership should think through the process for children’s church; at Graefenburg we keep our older children in the service with us until the offeratory. This at least allows them to experience and worship with the congregation for a period of time. However, just like we do not want to judge parents who bring a struggling child into worship with them, we most certainly do not want to judge parents who decide to keep their child in Children’s Church.
I have heard it said that a quiet church is a dying church. There is some truth in that. So smile when you see those children struggling to get through the hour. Let’s help parents see that the one place a week where they will not be judged for those amazingly loud and at times annoying children is right smack dab in the middle of the worship service.
And we will make Jesus smile.