Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Question for the Parents

To all parents of young children, I ask you this question:

What is of greater importance to you? That you teach your children to be in church every Sunday, or that you teach your children to love God?

I'm not saying that those two priorities can't coexist. Certainly both are important. But, it is very easy to give church attendance the greater priority and end up with a grown child who neither attends church nor loves God.

Too often at Nags Head Church, I observe parents who refuse to allow their young children to either be cared for by our brilliant nursery staff or be taught by our awesome Kids Zone staff...instead, these parents bring their kids into the worship center with the adults, and, nine times out of ten, neither the children nor the parents (nor any of the others around them) get much of anything out of the worship gathering.

Let's be real...how many kids under the age of 12 do you know who are engaged by 30+ minutes of adult teaching on a Sunday morning? How many parents of those same kids do you know who can sit with their kids in an adult worship setting and stay focused on the message? How many people do you know who enjoy sitting in a worship gathering with a crying child nearby?

I don't know about you, but when I was ten, I couldn't behave myself in an adult worship gathering for more than about fifteen minutes. As a parent of a highly energetic 2.5 year old, there's no way I'd be focused on anything but keeping her entertained and quiet. As an adult, I simply cannot focus on worship when another person's child is unable to contain his/her energy.

Please, understand that I'm not bashing on kids...kids are kids, and even the most well behaved, well trained children simply cannot engage in a meaningful way with much of what takes place in a Sunday morning, adult worship gathering. And, that's OK. What's not OK is parents who don't seem to understand how selfish it is to force their children into that situation.

From what I've observed, the vast majority of parents would do better for themselves and their kids (and the others attending church) if they would just stay at home and lead their family in their own little worship time than to bring their kids to church and not take advantage of the nursery and kids church that has been provided to them. Seriously...it just doesn't make any sense to me.

My point is this...if your going to take the time to get up on a Sunday morning, get everyone fed and dressed and into the car and onto church, why not actually make it mean something more than a religious ritual? If you're going to make it a priority to teach your children the importance of attending church, why not allow them to attend a worship gathering that is geared for their age group?

If you can't trust other adults to care for and teach your kids for a short period of time, please, stay home this Sunday.
If you can't bear the thought of leaving your child in a nursery or class room for an hour on Sunday morning, please, stay at home this Sunday.
If you think that your young kids are better behaved than that and won't cause a distraction, please, stay at home this Sunday.
If you've convinced yourself that others in church really won't mind if your kids run around the back of the worship center during the sermon, please, stay at home this Sunday.

I love attending my church, and I want my child to love attending my church with me...even more, I want her participation in my church to be something that motivates her to love God. That isn't going to happen if I try and force her to "sit still and be quiet" in "big church" with me.

I want my daughter to be cared for and have fun in the nursery, learning to play with other kids her age. When she's a few years older, I want her to be engaged in authentic worship and taught by adults who have been given the tools and training to help her understand and love God more. And, when she's ready, I want her to join me in an adult setting so that we can worship God together on Sunday morning.

Because, if, at the end of Sunday morning all you can say is, "We attended church", you've truly accomplished nothing more than that.

25 comments:

CFHusband said...

Let me also add that I do realize it's not always the fault of the parents. I know too many church who don't choose to provide a safe, clean and quality nursery/kids church.

Let me also add that I do believe that there are certainly times when families can and should worship together. But, if you choose to make Sunday morning that time for your family, what are you doing with the rest of the week?

Bugtheteacher said...

Very Well said I grew up having to sit through long "meetings" I learned to look as though I was paying attention but really phasing out. I could even pick up a point or two to report about later if asked. Now it is very hard to make myself not phase out. I love the church service for my son where we go I am so glad he gets something geared for him and I can get something geared for me.

Elizabeth said...

I am the mother of 4 children (6 yrs, 5 yrs, 2 yrs, and 8 weeks). I am also a Director of Christian Education. My children have attended the worship service every week of their lives (except for handful of occasions one has been sick or I've been giving birth). We have daily family and personal devotional times. Service to our God, our family's spiritual development, and corporate worship services are priorities for us.

Worship is a time of praising God. It is not the time for us to keep up on our personal devotions,and most definitely not a time for us. It is a time set aside for God.

That being said, our children most effectively participate in the worship service every week. My 6 year old served as the reader today (the passages were Galatians 5:1, 13-25 and Luke 9:51-62- not easy passages). All three of the older children served as worship leaders by singing in their choir. They participate in the prayers, listen to the sermon while coloring quietly (and yes, we have family discussions during the week based on the Bible readings and the sermon, in which the children participate heavily),receive communion, and occasionally have a fussy moment. At that time, we remove them breifly, help them get themselves under control, and return to the worship service. If someone is distracted by that, it is their own fault. Distractions happen and it is our own personal reaction to them that matters. You cannot blame others for your reactions and behaviors.

A family must commit to preparing their children for the service. We receive the bulletin early, prepare by reading the Bible passages, pack bags for each child that included age-appropriate activities, and have a good breakfast before leaving for church. If you do not prepare, you will not have success. It is easy to write children off, to say that they cannot participate, that it is not age-appropriate.

I assure you that no child is more wiggly and seemingly inattentive than my 5 year old (who also has a hearing impairment). He continually relates every day events to what has happened in church. (He decided that Jesus must have had a 'communion rat' that he placed outside of the temple when he kicked out the merchants and money lenders because he saw the 'union rat' in front of a construction site that didn't use union labor.)

If we do not teach children to participate in corporate worship, personal devotions, Bible study,and prayer, the chances of the child learning to do these things are minimal.

Additionally, nowhere in the Bible does it state that worship services are for adults only, that children are incapable to participating. It is purely a convention of our society, a by-product of our parental proclivity to let other do the hard work for us.

ViolinMama said...

We too go to church as a family. Our church as a nursery, and if my children were (or ever, we have a 6 week old now too) seemed to be too distracting, we would turn to that nursery - but until then, we prefer to go to church as a family. It is not our only family time (as the last sentence of your comment says) but is one of the most sacred of family times. Being together in the Lord's House together for a service is a beautiful statement of family - at least to me.

We're lucky our church is kid friendly (and you can't always say that about every church) and a very kid friendly pastor. The 9am service has a special Children's Liturgy where the kids leave for their own music and worship service during the more adult times of service, and then return to sit with us for communion, etc. We attend that service (with my husband a musician in the contemporary music group).

I think the old verse of Jesus: "Let the Children come to Me" is taken very seriously at our church. While we DO need to be courteous of other worshipers and make sure our children are not upset, loud, or upsetting others - if our children seem to be able to handle worshiping with us, and seem to enjoy it (mine honestly do! It may not always be that way, so we'll take it Sunday by Sunday, age by age) so why not let them come.

One of our favorite churches to visit (Harvest) (it is not our denomination, but we love the Christ followers there and their worship) does services much like you describe at Nags Head - GREAT kid programs during church service, GREAT nursery, and it was nice to have some time without our two elder girls (6 and 2) - we found we missed celebrating Jesus together. They had fun at their programs, but our eldest kept asking what she missed too while we were in the service. It was just different for us - a GOOD different, just not the same as what we like doing and works, for now, for our family.

(I'll post more - running out of space...)

ViolinMama said...

continued from above...

As a family, we are a faith centered home, so we talk about faith and church all week, and service together (Mass) is something we do together that works for us. I have to say, hearing someone in leadership say that kids are not always welcome just because these amazing programs exist (and Thank God they do) makes me think of the looks I get boarding a plane with my little ones - I feel unwelcome and have to look hard for Christ in my brother and sisters, just because I bring my kids into the service. I think that is wrong. I don't think that is what we are called to be. Especially before our kids our even making a fuss - people assume. I'm not sure I could attend that church. But, then maybe that is my pride, and I need to be as accepting as others should be of my family.

I think each family needs to decide what works for them, and yes, they need to be respectful of their surrounding worshipers as well - everyone needs to worship with less distractions. But, if a family seems to be managing well, and those around them can pray and worship well then their family's experience and choices are between them and God.

If you think and feel your family can't worship together and needs the programs more than others might, then yes, use them....what a blessing to have these programs!! I can tell your family is VERY blessed by them, and that is WONDERFUL. I just think it is just each family's decision what they should do as a family. I just don't want church to become a plane...with looks and judgment on families who want to come together to God's House.

And, I really wonder what Jesus would say about it too. I'm sure his sermons had the sounds of crying or children once in a while - they were not blessed then to have such amazing kid programs today.

Nags Head sounds WONDERFUL and thank you for doing such a great job for families and providing care and programing. Blessings!!!

(Thanks for blogging this too...it is good for perspective, and good reminder for me to keep making sure my kids are being as respectful as they can and mindful of those worshiping around me).

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. It drives me crazy and distracts me so to see wiggly kids in mass. Especially when there is a nursery available!!!

The Beaver Bunch said...

Our church sets it up so that preschoolers have childcare available for all 3 service times (930, 1050 and 1200) but that school aged children ONLY have a Sunday School class. Therefore, if you have a school aged child, they go to SS during YOUR SS time and then come to "big church" with you.

Over the last 3 weeks our twin 4 year olds, as well as our (almost) 6 year old have joined us in big church. Yes, the 4 yr olds COULD still be in the preschool area. However, we think that it's time for them to begin to see what it looks like to have corporate worship.

Yes, they see us reading our Bibles and studying God's word outside of church. Yet, we feel it's just as important to share with them in corporate worship. This morning, I watched as our 6 year old stood & worshiped in song. It wasn't a song she could READ on the screen, yet it was one she knew b/c she's been going to corporate worship with us since she was 4 years old. She had stored those words up in her heart and was singing to God authentically. It was awesome to watch!

But, our church knows that since it asks for kids to be brought into service that there will be times when kids will speak loudly or be shuffling around, or be sitting on the floor and resting their coloring books on the seat. It's EXPECTED. I think that's the difference. Our pastor reminds people that our services are open to kids as well and so the folks who are in there know that kids are going to be doing the things kids do. If the kids are too loud or come to a point where they cannot control themselves, we leave, regroup and go back in. Training them to be respectful of others and their desire to hear the Word is important to us.

And, truthfully, yes, the last 3 weeks I've gotten less out of the message than I normally would have. That's why it's imperative to not rely on Sundays to be my ONLY time to receive a message from the Lord. In my own readings, through Podcasts and small group study I also receive what I need to grow.

Whew. This is getting long but I will say that I like the discussion and I can see what you are saying. That's why we DO NOT bring our two 2 year olds into worship. THAT would be a disaster! They are much better off in the preschool area! And today, for the 1st time, I left our 3 month old in the nursery. It was nice! I haven't left the 3 month old before now b/c she is nursing & just began taking a bottle consistently.

Good talks Nate!

Anonymous said...

I think there needs to be a better transition time for the older kids who are ready to attend a regular service. I know many teens who are just bored and get up and walk around, goofing off, because they were never taught how to actively participate in a service. From the time I was young I took my own bible, took notes and listened. Just because a younger child is in a service that might be "over their head" doesn't mean that they will get nothing from the sermon. It's a great way to learn about baptism, communion, etc... I think very young children should be in a class (or nursery)that is on their level, but even my 5 year old sits with us for singing, offering, announcements and prayer and any special events we think would be a good experience for him. I am more concerned with teenagers who are unable to sit through an hour service when the sermon is only about 30 minutes long. We, as adult Christians, have done those teens a disservice when they do not know how to engage themselves in a sermon.

JaymieG said...

Nate,

I would just like add/ point out that the church we attended did not provide any care to special needs children. We had no choice but to attend services all together or not at all.

As a former Children's Minister I truly understand what your point is. We worked hard to provided an energetic, engaging, God-based worship experience for children. However, once I left to care for my child the staff chose to exclude special needs children from their services.

I would say, your 'insights', are well-based. However, make sure that your church is meeting the needs of ALL children.

Rick Lawrenson said...

In the community I talk with so many who grew up in church, forced to attend and having to sit through services that never connected with them. As adults they rarely ever go to church other than for funerals or weddings because they are of the belief that church is irrelevent.

When I watch parents either wrestle with fidgety kids, crying babies or just as bad be apparently oblivious to them and uncaring for those seated around them I, too, wonder why they bother coming to church.

If a child is distracting to me during a worship gathering it is not my fault. I don't come to church to hear children talk, jabber or run around. I go to church to fellowship with God and other believers and to worship Him. For me and most others that is greatly enhanced by being free of distractions.

I'm thankful that our church provides quality worship opportunities for young children and a safe, loving nursery for babies. If parents can't be separated from them for an hour or so on Sunday morning, then I agree with you: worship with your family at home or at a church that endures the distractions.

There's nothing biblical, by the way, about children being with or separated from their kids for corporate worship in a church setting. It's a practical preference one way or the other.

Andy Lawrenson said...

I have a hard time focusing anyways. So when there is child who is distracting I have actually got up and moved. I have done the same when the guy in front of me kept clicking his pen. It was either move or grab his pen and I thought moving would be less agressive.

As a youth pastor I believe most teens who are bored in a worship service on Sunday AM are bored because it really is boring. Our students love Sunday mornings because the messages are relevant to them and the music is rockin.

My 5 year old son experiences corporate worship every Sunday morning with other 5 years olds. He love his Sunday worship time and it's the highlight of his week.

We have twin 17 month olds and their is no way I could focus on worship while trying to manage them in the worship time.

Then there was the time the child in front of me had the "quiet" toy. It was far from quiet! He got nothing out of the worship and everyone around him including his family was distracted.

I think if your church has the "family friendly" atmosphere that welcomes everyone from the screaming 6 day old and up then enjoy your church's worship. That's your church's "flavor". More power to you.

I as a father and a pastor, want my children to worship on their level. I'll have time when they are older to teach them about worshipping in "big church".

I love the fact that my babies are well cared for in the nursery and even come home with multiple stickers on their back, "I've been changed", "your baby was prayed for today."

What puzzles me are the parents who seem to be oblivious to the fact that their child is distracting others. If my kid breathes, I hear it.

Andy Lawrenson said...

PS. When I was a wee lad I layed down on the pew and slept through the sermons. People drove from all over to hear Jerry Falwell preach and I napped and got absolutely zero out of the worship gathering other than a few extra winks

Kristen said...

I remember sitting in a pew and looking at a hymnal (sp?) and making up games and going though the children's bulletin...and as a teen missing out on church as much as my folks would allowed...
AS a parent- I LOVE dropping my speical needs 5 yr old at the "preschool" nursey, knowing shes well cared for and happily entertained. While I attend my own sunday school and church. My sunday school teacher (whos my hubby's uncle) says kids are welcome in class (if newborn or they are sick and cant go to their classes, etc) but we havent done that and probably wont. We ask Kiv what she learned about- simple and usually the same answer each week, but its enough- about God/Jesus. I can take bible studies during the week, because my chuch offers FREE child care- sure sometimes its just "babysitting" her, sometimes there are lessons- either way- she sees we go to church, its fun for her; and we talk about learning about God and how important it is to have a relationship with Him (mostly at her stage- to love Him). I tell the people who make decisions- I'm here cause you have a safe place for her- thank you and keep up the good work!
I know that newborns are allowed in classes, and serivce but once they really start to get fussy, many find their way to the nursey- I'm pregnant now and curious to see how the "baby" side works- I've only done 18 months and up...but even if my kid as CF like Kiv does, I know the child will be well cared for and I can go grow in my walk and set a good example to my kids.
Currently due to sensory issues, Kiv CANT stand being in service or the sanutary with us- so the "preschool" nursey is really the best place for her and I wouldnt have it any other way...

Anonymous said...

Sounds more like 'a lecture for the parents'. I say live and let live, especially in church.

CFHusband said...

"I say live and let live, especially in church."

I say that kind of thinking is part of what is killing our society and our churches.

Please understand that we're not talking legalism...our purpose at NHC is to reach all people to discover life in Christ.

Because of that, our desire is to create a space where human distractions are limited, even if that means asking some people to step out of their comfort zones and lay aside their expectations.

We are in a unique situation in that, for much of the year, our guests outnumber our regular attenders, so anything that might be "expected" is thrown out the window.

Anonymous said...

Well, you've made me feel even more grateful for my local welcoming, friendly, accommodating church, which doesn't ask me to stay home rather than bringing in my daughter, so that's good I suppose.

(NB the previous word verification contained the word 'brat', this one contains the word 'wails'. Some subliminal messaging going on??)

CFHusband said...

BTW, kudos to those parents who have taught their kids how to behave in public settings.

Nicole said...

"'I say live and let live, especially in church.'

I say that kind of thinking is part of what is killing our society and our churches."

More than that, I'd say that telling people to "stay home" in the event they make choices that don't agree with your own sensibilities (this isn't even an issue of sin, but of personal preference of how you do church as a family!) is what is "killing" the church. People are staying home, indeed, and often it's because they are made to feel unwelcome.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

At our church we have both, and; most weeks there is Sunday School, and provision for younger children, too. The children start off in the main service, and return if there is communion, but for most of it they are engaged in their own activities.

One week a month, however, we have what is known as "All Age Worship", when the whole Church family worships together. It is not - and I speak from experience - easy to pitch the service "just right" so that everybody gains something from it, but it can be done. It is not difficult to provide colouring pictures or something related to the main theme of the worship so that children have something to do if they get bored, and it is not difficult to involve them in part of the worship. It works well on a monthly basis, but we do also need our times of separate learning and worship.

Laura Anne said...

I both agree and disagree with you on this.

It makes me sad that church services would be completely children free. Did Jesus not say 'let the little children come to me', that we should be childlike in our faith? We actually have a lot to learn from children, and I believe that we need to give opportunity for that. I'm thankful that the church I'm part of provides that sort of opportunity (and I speak as a single woman who has no children of her own).

However.

Should a child have a complete meltdown during the service, then absolutely a parent should take them outside deal with that in however they would normally, and then they can return to the service.

I know that in churches I've been part of we've had family services where we've done lots of fun things all together, and that most of the time we'll worship together as a church family and then children (and sometime the younger teens) will head off part way through (before the sermon) to different age-appropriate activities.

I think it is important that we have children in at least PART of the 'big' services so that they

1) Never feel like they're just being 'shipped off' or that they have a lesser role to play in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.

2) They learn how to worship in the adult service but still get to go off and burn off some steam and all the rest while learning about Jesus.

I also know of churches that don't have the facilities for activities, and have done things like have activity sheets to fill in relating to the sermon. So sometimes it's NOT a matter of churches 'choosing' - they simply do not have the resources to do this in the way that your church maybe does.

I also thought it was great that in my last church they had a room at the back with a speaker and window where mothers could feed their babies if they were breastfeeding or change nappies (diapers) or whatever but still see and hear the service.

I am friends with many families with children, and I know that they choose to make Sunday a day for family, to worship together and lunch together afterward - other days are filled with work, school, ballet lessons, football practice and the rest. Does that mean they don't pray together or speak about what God is doing (or has done) around the dinner table or when they tuck their kids into bed at night? Absolutely not.

MommyScott said...

I think everyone is trying to explain why their way of seeing things is the only way things should be and that's just not so.

Sure there are stories of kids growing up in churches and their totally board being in the "adult" service & leave the church when they grow up, but there are stories of people growing up attending "adult" services and they got a lot from it and continue to follow in Christ's footsteps.

I think there are times when it's appropriate to have our children with us in the service and again there are times when it's appropriate to put our children into the care of others (either for our own sakes, their sake or for the sake of others). Both points of view can be supported biblically and each individual family needs to seek the Lord constantly on what they should do that is right for their family and their children. What is right one Sunday may not be appropriate the next Sunday and only the Lord really knows for sure.

I am a mother of 6 children ages 8 and under and there have been times where we felt it was really important for our children to be in the service with us and we worked diligently on making sure our children would be well behaved in those situations, but also allowing for the fact that they ARE children and we can only expect so much. Also, we would only bring our littlest (read:noisiest) children with us for the "louder" worship part or not at all - taking them to be in the care of the childrens ministry.

Our church highly encourages parents to make use of the childrens ministries so we tried to keep that in mind when making our decisions and I think each parent needs to do the same - what is the goal of your church and how can my actions help or hinder that goal? If your family goals don't fit well with that church, maybe seeking out a different church is in order. OR possibly, your family goals need tweaking. It comes back to seeking the Lord continually in what our actions should be. Even in the seemingly insignificant areas such as "Should our children come with us in the service this Sunday?"

Blessings to you and your families!

Michelle said...

When my daughter woke up this morning, she asked to go to church tonight. She is 3. She attends a class/service for her age every time we are at church-Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening. She loves it. I love it. I love that she loves it. She learns about God and His love for her. She is able to tell us Bible verses and stories that she learned during her worship time. She sings the choruses they sing. However, the most important thing to me is that she loves church and asks to go all the time. I am certain if I had her sit with us in "big church" she would not be asking to go all the time.

Every parent has to make decisions that work best for them and their children. There have been times I've been distracted by children during the service, but I am try to ignore and concentrate on what is going on. Or move seats. Our church welcomes children in the service. We have activities offered for every age of children during service time. Once a month, the elementary children are in service with their families. It provides a time for them to experience "big church" and to be with their family (and probably makes them appreciate their service a lot more). We have incredible staff at our church who provide great services for our children. We are a church that puts high value on our children and raising them in the church.

At the end of the day, the fact that my 3-year old loves church and wants to go every day, that is the most important to me. We are praying her love of being with a body of believers remains faithful throughout her life.

CFHusband said...

Instead of trying to respond to everything here, I wrote another post, further explaining our strategy for addressing distractions. Thanks!

Michelle Jamie said...

I agree about the distracting children in church. Our eldership has even addressed it with our group (RAGS - Raising A Godly Seed). He has said that he would strongly advise that children from around 3-6 months up to 3 years of age go to the nursery and then the 4 - 7 years old go to children’s church during the morning service. If you do not feel that you trust our staff then you need to sit in the fellowship hall where there is a speaker and a visual monitor. Our main pastor teacher's wife makes sure there is always someone there to keep the chatter amongst the mothers to a minimal and their attention on the message because they don't have to worry about the noise levels.

He also gave us a long list of helpful tips to keeping our children quiet when they do have to integrate into the evening service from age 4. He does believe that obedience training begins at home not during the service, although discipline should be exercised discreetly outside of the main auditorium during the service if they are disobeying by being distracting.

I can’t say that I agree with the statement of families staying at home and doing their own devotions. It goes against many scriptures like Hebrews 10:25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching It also takes away the aspect of accountability, mutual edification of the body of Christ, the leadership then has limited contact with the sheep. Not to say that the eldership could not visit but usually when a person forsakes the gathering together of the saints it’s a good indication that something is not right spiritually.

Rashidajones said...

I think its a great idea!! I would definately get involved in something like that! You could actually put up a flyer at the school your daughter goes to. A lot of mothers would like the interaction for themselves as well as the other kids.

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