Maybe it is the area I live in or the denomination I attend (PCA), but it seems the prevailing view these days is that children should be separated from their families during corporate worship on Sundays either for the whole service or dismissed sometime during the middle, usually before the sermon begins.
However, the Bible clearly gives numerous examples of either children worshiping God together with their families within a congregation or reasons to lead us to believe that children were included and are to be included in corporate worship (Deut. 31:12-13; 1 Kings 8:22; 2 Chronicles 20:13; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:16; Ephesians 1:1, 6:1-3; Mark 10:14).
Nowhere in the Bible is there an example of, or support for, age segregated worship.
When I give an answer as to why our kids worship with us or ask others what they do, many times I hear the same reasons given as to why they would rather send them to Sunday school. Among the excuses for not including children in corporate worship, here are the top 5 that I have heard matched with some given solutions as to how these can be overcome.
Five Excuses For Excluding Children in Corporate Worship
1. They need to be taught on their level
I hear this more often than others and can understand the reasoning. Young children may have a hard time following the pastor’s sermon and many words or concepts are over their head. Therefore, lets send them out and let someone teach them on their level. Many parents desire for their children to be taught the Bible and it is appealing to have others do this in a setting with children of like ages.
Let me suggest two things: First, begin a devotion time at home. Take 10 to 15 minutes each evening to read a Bible text, explain it on their level, and pray about it. You can throw in a song, a game, etc., but make this time the primary means of learning about God on their level. Family worship is a beautiful, joyous, God-exalting privilege. Most importantly it is the duty of parents (Deut. 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4). Second, make it a habit as your children get older to discuss the sermon on the way home from church. Ask them what they heard, what they observed, answer their questions and help them understand what the message was about. Throw in an incentive for being able to tell you something about the sermon (the amount or quality depending on age) to encourage them to listen. Also, make a list of songs that you sing regularly at church and teach them to your children at home.
2. They will disrupt other people’s worship
There are many who believe Sunday worship is a private time where they can “meet with the Lord” and that there should not be anyone around to hinder them or “disturb” their worship. This is the product of western individualism and not Biblical Christianity. Lord’s Day worship is corporate worship. It is about coming together as a body of believers to worship God, not for each person to have their own undisturbed, personal move of the Spirit. It is ultimately not about the worshiper but the One worshiped.
Of course, a crying baby or a loud child should be taken out and any disruptive behavior that disturbs the service should be addressed. However, we are the body of Christ and should worship as a church, not an isolated group of individuals.
We are fallen creatures trying to raise more fallen creatures and grace should be given to those parents around us. Try to find joy in seeing children around you, seeing other families worship. Show compassion to parents with small children and encourage them in their endeavors. Be encouraged in the baby cooing behind you.
3. They will disrupt my worship
It seems children always pick the highlight of the sermon or the best hymn/song to start acting up and have to be taken out. Of course it is easier to send the kids out for someone else to watch them so you can sing, have your “time” with the Lord, follow the sermon, take notes, pray, etc. and having your children with you in worship will many times keep you from these things.
But let me be frank…..this is what you are called to as a parent! Your child will choose to inform you that they have to use the restroom when you are strapping them in their car seat. They will get sick and vomit on your car interior. They demand your attention and challenge your comfort zone elsewhere, why should you not expect it in church. There will be a number of Sundays where you will not be able to worship as fully as you wished but that is the sacrifice of having children. Learn to enjoy it. Aim to get better each week.
4. They are not able to sit still
This goes back to regular family devotions at home. Make your home a “little church” as you do devotions and use this time to practice sitting still. It will take time. There will be numerous Sundays where you have to take your child out. But, eventually they will be used to attending service and sitting for a larger chunk of time.
I have seen some parents give a notepad and a pen or a little book to look at when the young child starts squirming, though personally I would discourage this. Practice at home and soon your child will be able to sit for longer periods of time. Also, make sure the child knows your expectations each time before church and, depending on your method, lay out the consequences for certain actions. Remind him/her of how you worship at home and that you expect the same, if not better, here. Most importantly, the goal is for them to learn to give their best worship to God and for this to be their motivation, not conforming to a set of rules.
5. “Adult” Church is boring for them
This is the plight of our modern churches. We have turned it into an entertainment center, in part to try to “attract” more people and grow our churches, leaving the important time of Sunday worship a bore. We advertise or churches as “friendly,” “fun,” and “casual.” We present serious stories such as David and Bathsheba via animated vegetables, we give children candy for bringing their bibles, we play video games, color, etc., and then when parents ask the children to sit for the “adult” church, it presents a real problem.
What tends to happen is when the children outgrow the video games and outgrow the “fun,” we then attempt to get them to join us in the worship service, a setting that is completely foreign to them. As soon as they are able and older, they are out of there. Once they outgrow the Bible cartoons, they dismiss it as a children’s book and move on to more “intelligent” matters. Given our humanistic culture, and the opposition to Biblical Christianity today, “real life” comes knocking hard at our children.
Lord’s Day worship should be taken seriously, and should be anticipated and desired by the family. We should be teaching our children how to worship God with his church from infancy. They should sing with us, pray with us, and see firsthand this means of grace each week. It is only boring for them if an alternative for worship is offered alongside it.
Lastly, remember that it is a process and set your expectations high from the outset. Teach them how to worship God and let them grow alongside the people of God. Show them the joy you have in worship and encourage them along the way. Do not be discouraged by the bad days, they will come. Keep pressing on.