Craig Valley Baptist, offers a “children’s church” option for kids between 3–5 years old, though often we have 7 and 8 year olds there as well. However, my wife and I have the conviction that our children would do better by worshiping with us the entire service. This seems a bit odd for some, especially the pastor’s kids. Why would the pastor not send his kids down to the very ministry that is for his kids? Let me admit that I do feel this tension. But let me also explain why my wife and I have chosen to keep our kids in the corporate worship service along with us.
Before I give my reasons, let me preface with a couple of assumptions that I maintain. First of all, children are far more perceptive than we often give them credit. We may think that sermons, songs, or sacraments are over their heads. And perhaps the majority of the time that may be true. But they are also absorbing foundational concepts, ideas, and doctrines that will undergird their worldview for the remainder of their lives. The trick is to help them connect with the basic concepts that they will hear. And that brings me to my second assumption. Training children to sit through a church service is as much a learned technique for the kids as it is for the parents. Most parents aren’t trained how to maintain their children in the worship service. After all, how wonderful is it that the church has provided an hour of free babysitting! Nevertheless, there are many effective tools that parents can implement to help and improve the children’s interaction and behavior in the worship service (see the linked article below). Parents need to be trained just as the children.
So why do I keep my kids in the worship service and encourage others to do likewise?
First, I think it is important that children see what corporate worship looks like. Parents are the first model of God and godly worship for their children. The kids inevitably mimic our attitude towards Christ. If we show indifference either during corporate worship or outside of the church walls, then we should not be surprised if our children drop out of church when the time comes for them to make the decision as adults. But if they see our delight in the Lord, our desire to praise our King, then that becomes an attitude that they will better understand and likely mimic. And further, kids watch so much of what we do. We miss out on excellent teaching moments when the kids don’t observe us singing to God, taking sermon notes, partaking the Lord’s Supper, and etc.
Second, and I confess my bias as a preaching pastor, I want our kids to know how to listen to preaching. It is a sad commentary on the modern US church that the people in the pews are conditioned to only take in no more than a 30 minute sermon. Or worse, they have little to no interest in the preached Word nor the learned ability to listen to a sermon, unless it is filled with jokes, stories, and illustrations. If I don’t want this to be the state of my children when they get older, then wouldn’t I want to train them now to listen to preaching? There are helpful techniques that parents can implement to increase the interaction of their children with the sermon (again, see below). And certainly if we believe that children are perceptive, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they will soak in more than we even realize.
Third, I want my children to participate, fellowship, socialize, and interact with other worshipers. I don’t want them to think of church as something a bunch of people attend and do. I want them to think of church as a family that people come together and be. I want them to relate with others in their church family beyond a handshake and chit chat. But that is tricky, nay even impossible, when they are removed from the family to go sit at the kids table.
Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, I want my kids to understand that the regular worship service, and following Jesus in general, is not just for adults. Do you realize that we say so much to our children without even uttering a word? When parents prioritize their children’s sporting events over church, the message is loud and clear: your fun comes before Jesus. This is a form of idolatry, by the way. And when we remove them from the service for crafts, games, activities, and so on; they hear us tell them that they are not meant to be with them, that corporate worship is not for them. That saddens me terribly. I want my children to feel welcomed and involved in the worship service. I want them growing up knowing how to worship, observing their parents and others worshiping, and feeling part of that worship too.
There is a sad epidemic among many teenagers-becoming-adults in evangelicalism that leave the church when they get into or graduate out of college. A study done back in 2002 said, “The Southern Baptist Council on Family Life reported that 88% of children reared in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return”!!! There are 2 sides to that story. It is a sad result, to which I largely blame the parents for not including children in the regular church worship. If kids were removed at a young age, aren’t they already taught that this is something for their parents but not them? And if this is the case, then the reality is, these teenagers-becoming-adults aren’t really leaving the church. They were never a part of it! And that is what I take issue with most.
I will admit, I have been greatly influenced by an article written by of one of my favorite preachers and theologians and his wife, John and Noel Piper. Their insights and ideas are tremendously helpful for parents who want to train their children to worship with other believers in the regular worship service. I would highly encourage you to read their views, try out some of the ideas, and give it a chance. You just might have better Sunday morning experience as a result.