As a military family, we've tried more than our fair share of churches. We have to choose a new church "home" every time we move to a new location. From small churches with congregations of under a hundred to those that could be classified as mega-churches, you can imagine the varied styles of worship we've seen. Surprisingly though, most of the churches have had one thing in common---the expectation that children would leave the "adult services" and head off to "children's church" at some point during the service.
I've seen signs posted right next to the sanctuary doorways declaring that we should "try the excellent childcare services" (at the other end of the building) and even been discouraged by ushers when I began to walk in and settle down in a pew with our children ("Ma'am, we're taping. Don't you want to take the kids to the Children's Building? It's a lot of fun.") I am sure they were all trying to be helpful, but when you want to keep your kids with you, for whatever reason, you can start to feel a bit unwanted and distressed at how obvious it is that many churches today just don't know what to do with children, other than send them away.
Like our public school systems, churches have become places of segregation and separation, pulling families apart instead of bringing them closer together and I think that is sad. Jesus wanted the little children to come to him, not be sent out because they might be a little bit fidgety.
As you can probably tell, I did not need Curt and Sandra Lovelace's book Children in Church to convince me that having our children with us in services (for the entire service) is the right thing to do for our family (though I did enjoy reading the book). Hubby and I currently keep all of the children, ages 3-14, with us each Sunday during the entire worship service (unless there is a special circumstance). We were not always of this opinion.
There were years when Hubby was out to sea most of the time that I will admit that I looked forward to those two hours of Sunday School and church as a brief respite from the responsibility of parenting full-time. I felt that the kids were with people who cared for them and wanted to teach them about Jesus, so I enjoyed the quiet and a few moments to myself. I also admit that I felt unqualified to teach my own children about Jesus. At that point, I thought I needed an "expert" to do the job for me instead of realizing that God equips us for whatever He calls us to do.
Then about five years ago, Hubby and I came to the realization that we were being called to have our kids stay with us during church services. The reasons are many; many are similar to some shared in the Lovelaces' book, and they are personal to us. It all came down to a decision that once we moved to Virginia, we knew we wanted to find a church that was accepting of the "families worship together" ideal. What we didn't know was how difficult that would be to find.
I don't know exactly how many churches we tried, but while fairly universally most congregations were complimentary (and astounded) by our children's good behavior during services, they were also mostly uncomfortable with the idea of children being present during the sermon. Some were more concerned with the kids being bored and pointed out how much fun their children's program would be for them, and others were, to be honest, worried that the kids would disrupt their worship experience. In fact, one church we visited sent all the kids out BEFORE even one worship song was played. How's that for separating kids and adults?
We eventually found a nearby fellowship of believers who are all supportive and accepting of our decision to keep our kids with us during services. They are not actively trying to develop a family-integrated model, but they believe every family needs to decide what works best for their family. We appreciate that and hope our example might encourage others to keep their children with them as well (not that we want to put the Children's Church workers out of a job, but I am sure the volunteers wouldn't mind getting to attend services).
A while back, we found a church with an actual family-integrated service, but it is an hour and a half away and impractical to go to regularly. However, we visit from time to time and it is amazing to see all the families, the children, the parents, their neighbors, and their friends of all ages worshiping together, and to see that the idea really does work well when put into practice (and it does take lots of practice and patience).
It's not easy when you start out. Especially when you are going into it with very young children or with older kids who are used to going out for "children's church" and will miss it. When we made the decision to change our perception of kids and church, Tex was about the age where we normally started keeping our kids with us anyway...third grade. Ladybug was little and Cowboy was littler, so I started working with her first, while still dropping off Cowboy at the nursery. Ladybug's an easy goer, so it only took a few services to gain her cooperation, and Tex was already old enough to understand and be attentive with little prompting. Cowboy was a little tougher and it took about six months to get him to adjust. I really had no idea what I was doing as nobody in the church we attended at the time felt the same way we did. I wish I'd had the Lovelace's book to help give me advice in making the transition, but there was nothing like that out at the time that I knew of.
By instinct, I packed activity bags ("church bags") and found that to be a great help. A notepad, some crayons, a favorite book, a quiet toy...those things helped, though sometimes the rattling of the paper and the noises for the toys were distractions of their own (there's a learning curve as you figure out which items work best for your kids).
Then we started listening to one sermon a week during homeschool time and we practiced with the kids there. I would make them sit to listen to Charles Stanley (they still love listening to him today) and I expected the same behavior as I did in church. The benefit of practicing was that I could stop the cd to discipline them and teach them how to respond to what they were hearing, then carry on afterwards.There were a few times I had to take Cowboy out of services to discipline him, but mostly, after the initial work was done, he made the transition and has been good in services ever since. Firefly has been in regular services since the beginning---she's another easy goer. She hardly knows Children's Church exists. Boo, on the other hand, is a handful, and I have taken him out from time to time just to get a break. I am not a legalist...I just think staying together is best.
We do send the kids out for Children's Church around Christmas and Easter so they can participate in the cantatas and plays that are inevitably practiced for during that time. We like the teachers...it's just that like the book points out: we feel it is our responsibility to be discipling our children, not someone else's. We feel they will learn best by seeing us worship and worshiping alongside us, not by attending classes or services tailored to children in another part of a building. I often tell my kids that they are practicing to be adults some day, so they should try to act like adults (in other words, not emulate toddlers or babies). I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with those services for children, I just find more value to the family-integrated corporate worship experience, and we prefer to choose the best, not just the good, as God calls us to it for our family.
Kids are smart. They pick up more than you think. I feel we sell our kids short if we believe they can't get anything out of a "normal" sermon. I loved the Lovelace's chapter about "Drawing the Word." Each of our children has a notebook (one of the primary composition ones with space for drawing a picture and lines to write on) in their church bag and some weeks we write the sermon topic at the top of the page and ask them to draw a picture of it as they listen. Other weeks we ask them to write a few important words they hear, or to copy a verse, and others we let them draw whatever it is that is on their minds as they listen (not meaning rocket ships or horses, but how the message applies to them). You'd be amazed at the insight in those notebooks.
You'd also be surprised by the conversations in the car after services on the way home. Instead of "Oh, I dunno. David and Goliath?" in response to the question of what they did in church that day, they are contributing to serious discussions about how we are to apply the Word individually and as a family. They are really taking it to heart and making it their own. Isn't that why we take them with us to church in the first place?
I will not be one to judge anyone who has their kids in Children's Church, and I don't think this book is one to judge either. It will share scriptures you may not have thought of in reference to the issue of whether separating families when worshiping is Biblical. It will offer ideas and possibilities if you feel you might want to try keeping your kids with you in church. And it will support you with stories and encouragement as you walk down a narrower road, leading your children toward the blessings God has for you at the end of that harder road.
Sharing a Biblical basis for bringing our children into worship, but more than that – practical help to make it not only survivable, but to help us teach our children to engage in the service and worship the Lord, too.
I recommend the Lovelace's book, Children in Church, for anyone who has ever considered whether they should be sending their kids to Children's Church, and also for anyone who has not even thought about it. Maybe you should. Maybe you clicked on that link and read this review because God wants you to consider the blessings that might be waiting for you if you take this sometimes difficult, sometimes inconvenient, but inevitably rewarding step. I also recommend it for anyone who is already keeping their kids with them in church because the ideas and support within its covers are an easy read, and may provide you with some new ideas or encouragement, for either yourself or someone you may be called to talk to about the topic.
The book is only $12.00, and is worth every penny. I wish I'd had it five years ago when we made the transition. I wouldn't have felt as overwhelmed or lonely on the journey I sometimes had to make alone (Hubby was gone for a year while we were transitioning, which was very difficult for me since church services were my only break each week). It would have been helpful to have had the book from which to glean advice when facing challenges, especially with Cowboy, and it would have been helpful to have had the scriptural foundation all laid out for me so that when I had to answer questions (which I often did), I would have been able to give a better answer for our position than, "We feel called to keep the kids with us." While that's not bad, I'd rather be able to specifically support our choices, and this book will enable you to do so without having to do tons of research on your own (though nothing is wrong with that method, either...but this book is a great jump start).
If you or someone you know might benefit from some friendly, scriptural wisdom concerning children in church, I encourage you to buy a copy of Children in Church and add it to next month's reading list. I think you will be glad you did.
Here's a head's up on what each chapter contains. You can read more about the book on the Children in Church website.
1-Bringing Them In
2-Understanding the Elements
3-Counting the Cost
4-Laying the Foundation
6-Packing the Bag
7-Drawing the Word
8-Preparing a Plan
9-Facing the Challenges
10-Growing as Disciples
Bonus: a final chapter for leaders of the church
If you'd like to see what others on the Crew had to say about this book, read the basic review at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog, then go to the Linky page. Look for the headings under the individual photos which include the words "Children" or "Church." This will take you to other bloggers who read this book. You will also find links to reviews about other books available from Great Waters Press, the publishers of Real Men.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book Children in Church for the purposes of writing this review. All opinions here are my own. I received no other compensation.