The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches
A radical idea has been embraced by some modern churches: “No kids allowed in the adult worship service.”
Having children in the adult worship service is too distracting for the parents, it is said, and it’s too boring for the kids. Leaders have concluded that children learn better with Bible stories tailored to their level and delivered via the youth group or Sunday school while their parents worship in peace.
As with all areas of life, we need to ask if this attitude is what God wants the Church’s attitude to be? Or, is this consistent with the Bible?
One pastor, when asked what the purpose of Sunday school was, replied, “To keep the children out of our hair so we can worship.”
This idea was taken to an extreme level at one church (to remain anonymous), when a man was asked to remove his children from the adult church service. When he chose to remain together as a family, he was handed the church’s written policy, which stated:
Policy regarding children in church
We are happy you and your children have chosen to worship with us. Small children have short attention spans, so in order to maintain a worshipful atmosphere for all, please do not be offended if an usher asks you to step outside for a few moments should your child begin to disturb others around you. For your convenience, we also provide excellent childcare for all ages. If you would like to use this service, an usher will gladly assist you. Thank you.
Has the American churchgoer turned into one who worships a worshipful atmosphere? Do we care more about our own space than we do about the personal discipleship of our children? In our attempt to create the “perfect” church, have we drifted to where we model our sanctuaries more after the peace and focus of a yoga club and inspiration of a rock concert than the atmospheres we see in Scripture when believers gathered? Do we narcissistically love our comforts more than we desire to embrace the difficult task of training up a mighty army of saints who would be willing to go to their death for their Savior? Have we so divorced our worship of God from the warp and woof of our daily lives that we feel we can only “worship” without distraction from our children?
This “children-are-a-disruption” attitude is not new. It was around even in Jesus’ day.
Mark 10:13-16 records this:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
Some people think these verses supports the idea of separating children and adults. Perry Noble, a pastor in South Carolina, used this Bible passage back in 2005 saying:
I once had a father yell at me over the telephone, “Jesus said bring the little children unto me.” I completed the verse for him and said, “and do not hinder them.” It is my belief that by taking a child and placing them in an environment where they are not engaged in a way that they can understand that they are being hindered. That is why we refuse to hinder kid’s spiritual development by asking them to surrender an hour of their life to boredom.
However the Scriptures directly contradict this. Jesus Himself did not separate the children from the adults but incorporated them into His own teaching to the adults. It turns out that this model of having the children walking with or learning along side the adults is the pattern that you see all over the Bible (Deut. 6:6-9, 11:18-21, 12:7, 12, 18, 16:11, 29:10-11, 31:12, 32:46; 2 Chr. 20:13; Ezra 10:1; Neh. 8:3, 10:28; Joel 2:16; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
Could it be that the American church has less of the spirit of Jesus in this matter and has more of the spirit of the American culture that is bent on age segregation? Regretfully, I believe our churches have been deeply affected by the anti-child culture of our postmodern world instead of standing against this trend in our culture and, like Jesus, gathering the children with us.
There are many negative effects to having children in the worship service – they distract the adults and they don’t get much out of the service. It appears that it’s a lose-lose situation.
But here is the tragic reality. To agree that Perry Noble is correct requires that you assume it is normal and okay for kids to be bored in the main worship service. Children with this attitude would have likely responded to Jesus in Mark 10 when “He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” by rolling their eyes and being bored then as well.
What has actually happened, in many cases, is that parents have removed their hands more and more off of the rudder of their children’s lives; and churches are responding to this by accommodating this failure of parenting instead of confronting it. According to the Bible, parents are to drive folly from their children (Prov. 22:15) and to train their children’s affections for heavenly things (Prov. 22:6; Gen. 18:19). They should teach them about the fruits of the Spirit – one of which is self-control, which would translate into sitting still in church and paying attention. They should require of their children to be in the adult service to walk with the wise (Prov. 13:20), to learn what they can from the service both from the preacher and from the way faithful Christian parents respond to the preaching, and to communicate what they learned back to their parents later.
One particular duty of parents is to walk along side their children, to teach them the commandments of the Lord, and to train them to walk in His ways (Deut. 6:6-9) – this includes at church, where the children can observe and ask questions of their parents (Ex. 13:14). Christians must renew their minds (Rom. 12:2), and the church must observe Jesus and say, “Yes,” to His ways. His example and command contradict the modern church. He says, “Let the little children come to Me.”
Many parents all around the country are doing this and have received great blessing from God.
To find such a church or list your own church, see http://ncfic.org/church-network. The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) is an organization that has a list of churches where children are welcome in the services.