Thursday, September 10, 2009

Littles in Church Part One: What and Why

Four years ago, our then-church was constructing its first building. Our pastor asked the ladies of the church for input concerning a church nursery. None of our temporary meeting places had allowed for such a room, and the Building Committee needed to know the best way to meet the needs of mothers in the church.


I recently re-read my response to his question. At the time, we had four children: a 4-yr. old, a 2-yr. old, and two 8-mos. olds. I sat with my husband every Sunday, my entire family attended the same church, and there were many other like-minded young families.


Today, almost four years later, much has changed. We now have a 7-yr. old, a 5-yr. old, two 4-yr. olds, a 2-yr. old, a 14-mos. old, and two newborns on the way. We worship 2000+ miles from any family members, the only other child in our church is 11, and I never sit with my husband during the service (he is usually occupied elsewhere – namely, the pulpit).


But my views on children in worship have not changed.


I think an important first step when trying to do anything is to determine WHAT you’re trying to do and WHY you’re trying to do it. For instance, I think it would be near impossible to stay committed to breastfeeding twins (TRUST ME!!) if you didn't know what you were doing (and trust me, there is a big WHAT with twins) and weren’t first convinced that it was the best and cheapest source of nourishment for them.


I’m not saying being armed with conviction makes it easy, just possible.


I feel the same way about worshiping with children. If we don’t really know WHAT we’re trying to do with the worship or WHY we’re trying to do it, we might as well just give up.


These were my comments four years ago. I still feel the same way. There are differences now in HOW we practice worship with children, but these things are still the same:


In response to your question about nursery, here are my thoughts:


I personally don't like the idea of a "nursery worker" (even if it is on a rotating schedule) as I have seen too often how this morphs into a full-fledged nursery. As a covenant family, we rejoice in having our children participate in worship; and we rejoice to see other children participating as well. Sometimes the "participation" is inappropriate and distracting and calls for removal and/or discipline, but I don't think it calls for removing them totally from one of the means of grace (the preaching of the Word) for an extended amount of time, multiple Sundays on end.


Sundays are not my day for a "break" from my children, welcome though that may be. They are a day for me to worship God with the covenant community. My children are part of that community. I want them to learn how blessed is this time. I want them to learn to look forward to it. I want them to see that we want them in there worshiping, that we are doing something too important to be missed. Even my 8-mos. olds can pick up on this excitement; and who knows how the Holy Spirit will apply God's Word to their small lives?


I am not denying that it is hard WORK to listen to the sermon while listening to one child ask to go to the bathroom, pulling the dress down on another, retrieving my watch which has been flung by a third, and catching the wrinkled nose of my husband at the suspicious smell of a fourth. But this is part of my part of teaching my children about glorifying and enjoying God. I want them to view the preaching of God's Word as a necessary and enjoyable part of Christian life. I want their first songs to be songs of the faith. I want them to recognize the people in our congregation, so that when we say we are praying for so-and-so, that will mean something to them.


An even stronger argument for us in our family has been that this seems to be the biblical precedent. In both the Old and New Testaments, children are part of the worship service.


For me, I think it is much more helpful to have someone who is willing to help me keep my children IN the service -- sitting with those who are staying while I take others out for correction or a diaper change, or walking a restless baby in the back or foyer area.


The question: "But what about visitors?" is always brought up in these discussions, and I don't think it's a huge question. Most of the visitors we have had seem to want their children with them, anyway. And with the very few who have asked about a nursery -- I can remember three instances that I was aware of -- their needs were taken care of either by mothers who were already in the “nursery” or by someone in the service who noticed them struggling. It's not like we don't know when we have visitors! But personally, the most offensive thing for me to hear when I am visiting a church is, "We have a nursery down the hall if you'd like to drop your children off there" as if they were a piece of outerwear and NOT a valid part of the covenant community. As a Reformed congregation, I think the most consistent attitude with our doctrine (and the Bible)  is one of embracing children in the worship, even if this takes some discipline on the part of OTHER members of the congregation as well ("I will NOT be distracted by baby noise; I will work HARD at listening and worshiping").


My (turning out to be very lengthy, I guess) opinion is that it is good to have a place to nurse, change diapers, and play during Sunday School; but for the worship service, I prefer to have the children in the service.






(our six waiting for the start of worship a few months back --

this picture is much quieter than the real thing!)


Some articles that have been helpful to us:

Karl Hubenthal's "Children and Worship"

Paul and Judi English's "Teaching Children to Worship"




  1. There's now a nursery attendant at Bethel (or a "mommy's helper" which rotates weekly) - I turned down being part of it (emphatically, but not rudely), but it's still somewhat discouraging.

    However, it's wonderful to be able to read your thoughts on it - I still remember last year in the first month up here, a girl who 'tried out' Covenant didn't like that all the children were in the church during the worship service, and although I tried to explain to her, I didn't do it well (and she wasn't inclined to listen anyway)...and there's not really any more point to this, so I guess I'm done :P

  2. *NOT* that I've arrived (not that anyone was speculating towards that...), but I think there is a learning curve here. It is especially hard to try to explain this to someone who has no concept of how God works through the covenant, or why it is any special thing to be part of the covenant, or why it matters whether children are in the service "when it's boring to them anyway."

    It would be WONDERFUL to find a step-by-step, simplistic explanation of the covenant and how this leads to each member of the covenant being a part of worship -- something simple to hand to someone who says, "Where's your children's church?" (ummm...right here with us!). I love Karl Hubenthal's article. I feel it's so right on.

    For now, my insufficient answer is, "It is a joy to worship with this covenant community. We believe one of the means of grace is the preaching of the Word (which the world considers to be foolishness), and I would never want to deprive my children of that. And to speak plainly and practically, the sooner we start to expect them to stay in worship, the sooner they are behaving themselves and engaging in conversation about the service afterward."

    I was taught early on by the good examples of other faithful parents. Take heart! Your friend may be influenced likewise.

  3. Wow, Rachel, I'm impressed! We just began reformation journey in the area of family worship about a year and a half ago, frankly causing quite an upset and some division at church. Once again, we Schempps are always so "holier than thou", what with the blatent home schooling and dress wearing and all, but this, forcing the children to sit through a sermon, why, it's just weird! Ahh, the joys of the "reformed and always reforming", that sounds like a title for some freaky soap-opera. Anyway, we also see that the clear pattern in scripture is for all the children of God (even if they are in fact, children) to come together in worship. And the reformed doctrines on covenant theology simply pull the rug out from under the opposing arguments. But we've pretty much been corrected, and entreated to return the children to Sunday school and childrens church, and since we won't, the vibe I'm getting is that our supremely tolerant congregation has resolved to pray for and pity us.


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