This is how Susanna “sits” in church. See how still and calm she is?
Parenthood brings out the soul-searcher in everyone. Over the last year, we have done a lot of praying, reading and thinking about what God wants for families and how he uses them to accomplish his purposes. We’ve discovered that families are probably the most important vessel for carrying God’s word to the lost. To that end, we want our family to look as much like Christ as possible, and how we worship God as a family is a key part of that. Below, I’ve outlined 5 reasons we keep our kids in church with us, as opposed to sending them to their own class during the worship service. It’s counter-cultural, but we believe it’s the right thing for our family and what God has called us to do. I want to make very clear that I appreciate people who serve children in children’s church a great deal and we don’t want to offend anyone. In different circumstances, we might have made different choices. We are often guests in churches where we are speaking as we raise support, and at our home church, Susanna and Austin are usually the only kids their age. Those aren’t reasons to keep our kids with us, but they do make it easier.
1. There is no other Biblical model. From Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 31:12-13) to Ephesians, God’s people have always gathered to worship Him with children present. Jesus invited the little children (some say the word in Matthew 19:13-15 can be translated infants) to come to him. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included instructions specifically for the children he knew would be in attendance when the letter was read before the assembly (see Ephesians 6:1-4).
2. We want our children to know that they are to be tailored for the Church; church is not tailored for them. As Susanna and Austin grow up, I want them to be as aware as possible how they can serve God’s people in church. I want them to belong to a church in order to best serve their community, not to hear messages that make them feel good or fit their season of life. In order to see the needs of the church, my children need to be in church, where some needs are shared and prayed for, where money is collected to be used to serve others, and where needy people gather. When we send them to children’s church, we’re sending the message that we’ve created church for them. I think this will be detrimental later. At worst, they’ll walk away from “irrevelant” church. At best, they’ll seek a church full of people their own age and miss out on the multi-generational community God designed church to be.
3. The Bible teaches that the primary role of parents is to disciple their children. Teaching my children to worship God is the most important element of discipling my children. Although I know that our children’s church teachers love my kids and want to see them grow up to know and love Jesus (and they do teach them to that end), I have to take full responsibility for this part of discipleship through hands-on training in the main service. It’s going to take a long, long time, with many years where the children might not learn a single thing except that Mama and Daddy get really mad when they make too much noise. But my prayer is that as they see us, as well as older folks, worshiping, tithing, praying, learning and taking communion, and over the years it will come naturally to them to do the same.
4. It’s sanctifying for us too. It isn’t easy to keep little ones in the service. It would be much easier to drop them off and enjoy the time to ourselves. But is church supposed to be “time to myself?” Every week, I have to practice self-control and model appropriate church behavior for my kids. This means I don’t look at my phone (I do try to bring my book Bible, but the Bible app is an exception to this rule), I don’t forget to tithe, I take notes, I sing a joyful song to the Lord, I greet others “with a holy kiss” (I take this to mean with genuine care and concern, since we’re on kiss-free turf in America), and, later in the week, I apply the word I receive from God to my life. That’s where the rubber meets the road on number 3 as well: my kids hear the same message I do and then they watch me obey (or disobey) God on a daily basis.
5. It takes the pressure off. This reason is sort of a hodge podge of a bunch of different reasons we like family-integrated church (where the kids stay in the main service). There’s no pressure for others to teach my kids about Jesus during a specific time slot. The teaching just happens as my kids interact with people who have a gift. I never want anyone to think we don’t appreciate the work children’s leaders do or the gifts they have for working with kids. I want to create a space where that happens organically, out of relationships we have with people from all stages of life.
Less pressure for the church to provide childcare; not to mention all the logistics that come with that: background checks, schedules, appropriate rooms, allergen-free snacks, diaper changers (or ways to communicate the need for a diaper change), curriculum, communication with parents, etc.
Less pressure on visitors to send their kids to strange places with strange people. For a Christian, it might be strange NOT to send one’s child to children’s church during the main service. But my concern regarding visitors is mainly how a non-Christian might feel, and I imagine it feels better to know that kids are welcome in the main service.
Less pressure on kids to do anything to be acceptable to God. They are welcome to worship with everyone in the body of Christ. This means we have to accept the way they worship, but I think this is valuable to the church, much like including our disabled brothers and sisters.
Resources on family-integrated ministry that have influenced our thinking: