Friday, September 27, 2013

Small Children and The Church

I read an article this week by Anne Bogel about the difficulties of being part of the church, in her case attending church, when you have small children. I was a little turned off by her post for many reasons, but I think many parents, especially young moms out there are resonating with her on a level that concerns me. Before I go any further let me point out the obvious: I am a father of two young boys that currently lives in S. Asia where there is no such thing as nursery, childcare, or children's church. My point, I know the difficulties that Bogel refers to here and believe that it is more difficult on some level for foreign families overseas to be a part of the church than those in America.

The nature of her article starts out by talking about going to church, almost in a selfish sense (not that children ever reveal that in us), instead of looking at being part of the body of Christ. Bogel is looking for more what she can get out of the church than how she can give and serve the church. This particular morning the devil himself is coming in the form of her naked three year old, which has become the number one reason for no longer being part of the body of Christ. 

In her real life example, she lost to her three year old son as she remained on the "wrong side of the door" of the church. She goes on to say, Since our very first Sunday as a family of three, my own family has utterly failed to merge with the family of God. 

The above statement by Bogel is sad and breaks my heart as it is an implication of something else. She is either a). part of a church that does not make room or prioritize children as we see in the New Testament or b). she is part of a church that caters to her every need in regards to her children, but she still selfishly chooses to allow them to be her excuse for not fully participating in the body of Christ.

The church is described as a family and if you think about your own family then you typically take care of one another and care for the needs of each other. The church as our spiritual family is to be the same way. I think many parents, Bogel included, find themselves not viewing the church the way that is should be viewed or part of a church that isn't operating as a church was meant to function.

In regards to Bogel herself, having this struggle is not the problem because at different stages we all experience this with our children, but what she fails to do in her post is turn to the all-sufficient grace found in Jesus. "But the [the Lord] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9). 

In the book Give Them Grace, Elyse M. Fitzpatrick says, "The power of Christ flows through parents who boast in and embrace their personal weakness, not on those who think they don't need it." Bogel obviously needs it, we all need it, and on some level she recognizes that, but she has a faulty view of how the church with children looks and fails to fully rely on Christ and his bride in her struggle. 

If you are a parent of small children and part of a church, how do you do it? How does your church do it? Please share in the comment section below. 

5 comments:

  1. I am a mom to 8 children. Our church is small, and we don't have a nursery because we believe children need and should be in church from the start so our children are very visible. Sometimes I am discouraged with trying to keep wiggly little bodies still and quiet. More times than I care to count I've left the service in full view of everyone with a toddler and infant in tow. What I've come to understand/believe is that it is more important for my children to be in church with me than it is for everyone to be totally comfortable. Part of being a family is dealing with the noise inherent to children. For the most part our church family has been understanding. I think it bothers me more than anyone. By the time my children are two, the times we have to leave start to diminish and by the time they are three they can more or less sit quietly. They do have their own Bible by then and sometimes we bring paper and pencil. Church should feel like home. We don't shut our children in a room until they don't bother our home life - neither should we do this in church. My children all look forward to going to church even though they know they have to sit quietly so I guess we're doing something right. Sorry this is so long, but this is a subject I feel passionately about. Bring your children even if they're noisy. Jesus said to let the children come to Him and it doesn't say that they had to be quiet.

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  2. Jennifer I am encouraged that you have your children fully participating and part of the entire body from such a young age. From my experience traveling abroad that seems to be the norm and believe it was in the early church. I am not against the idea of some form of children's church, but do see the value in integrating them into the life of the body of the church as early as possible. Thanks for the response!

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  3. As a fairly new "director" of a very tiny church nursery, I'm definitely struggling to figure out how to meet the needs. Nursery is such an expected part of the American church and our church service is anything but child/young family-friendly. However, there is a lack of willingness to serve in the nursery and some people can't serve because of other conflicting areas of service or health problems. We've lost a lot of our members in the past few years (not because of nursery, other issues). One elder suggested to me the possibility of completely eliminating the nursery or only offering it if someone specifically asks for it, but there's definitely fear in my heart that "no nursery" would turn young families away. As a young mom of a toddler under 2 and another one on the way, I know what a tremendous blessing nursery can be for a tired mother. :) I personally like to have my daughter with me for parts of the service, but not every parent feels that way.

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  4. I don't know about the church you attend. I know the churches that I have been in in your part of the world were small. That is, if 25 or 30 people fit inside, latecomers will sit on mats outside the door. Because of this, the pastor preaches from the door so that people can hear him inside and out. I don't recall small children being a problem although it is crowded inside.

    For larger gatherings in every 3rd world country I've been in, whether inside or outside, an amplification system is used, and generally turned up about as far as it will go. It hard to be a distraction competing against raw decibels. At one conference our team did in the country where you are officials came to investigate the legality of the proceedings and shut it down if possible. The speaker and translator kept plugging while the officials spoke to the church leaders on the dais. They made the argument that the event had already begun and offered the officials their seats. It was hard to compete with the volume. They stayed for a while and left as the event carried on without missing a beat.

    I'm not saying that we need to turn up the volume in Western churches, but it does seem that the issue differs from place to place and from culture to culture. I have been in Western churches that valued somber reverence above else all for worship. Any whimper out of any kid is strongly looked down upon. I've often heard complaints in those environments that kids need to be taken to the nursery.

    As for myself, I've thought that kids typically need to be in the service with their parents. Some churches do "Children's Church" and that's okay. But I think it's far better for kids to see their parents model participation in corporate worship and learn to pay attention to the Bible reading, praying, songs and preaching from as young an age as possible. When the congregation agrees to stand alongside parents as they raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, that means welcoming wiggly butts in worship as they mature, hopefully into brothers and sisters in Christ.

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  5. Our church has a nursery and children's church available, but we want our children to participate in worship with us along with the rest of the body. Jim's last paragraph is a great summary of how we feel and why we keep our kids with us, hoping they see how much we value worshipping with the community of believers.

    Regarding the inconvenience and lack of accommodation that was refrenced in the original article, we've sometimes encountered programs or schedules that aren't a great fit for our family. So in response, we've started our own small group at a time that typically better suits young families, and in this way we're intentionally participating in community along with our kids and other families with very active little ones.

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