This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Kids in worship: The other problem

“[My daughter] doesn’t sit still and read a book. She is tired, squirmy, talks loudly, wanders. . . . I once took [her] out the service to correct disobedience five different times. . . . My husband and I have refereed fights. We’ve followed crawling babies around the sanctuary.”

That’s part of how Melissa Florer-Bixler described the experience of having her children sit with her in worship. She describes why it’s important to her that even her youngest children sit in worship instead of being in their own room somewhere else in the building:

If my kids see that other activities trump going to church, or if they never see what adults do in worship, then chances are good that they are going to look the same way in 20 years. If we want children to learn the language of faith, they actually need to see us worshipping, praying, singing and receiving bread and cup.

I fail to see why it has to be one or the other — my kids go to children’s church sometimes and attend worship other times. But she’s absolutely right in her reasoning. Children learn pretty much everything by doing. Just as riding a bike takes a lot of falls and bruised knees, learning to worship takes a lot of squeals and embarrassed parents.

I, too, am totally on board with having children in worship. But my issues with my children being in church have been less about squeals and embarrassment, and a bit more, well, theological. Having my curious and thoughtful children in worship has produced all kinds of interesting issues.

I am a pastor. My son is 7 and my daughter is 4. My son has heard a lot about baptism through children’s messages, Sunday School, etc., and he wants to do it too. Most parents who have had a child contemplating baptism have asked, “How do I know when he/she is ready?” I got through the early years of my ministry giving other parents some pithy response. Now it’s our turn, and there is no formula.

On top of it, because I keep a clear distinction that I am my son’s father, not his pastor, we’re requiring him to first have a discussion with the other pastor before making any such decision. He’s nervous about, causing him to put it off.

Then, just recently, my son was paying attention when an “altar call” was issued and he heard the pastor ask anyone who wants to be baptized to “come forward.” He was on his way out of the pew before my wife caught him. Now, I know I just caused my more evangelical friends a heart attack (“What?! You stopped him?! Get that kid saved!”). But it’s important to us that he tell us first, talk to the pastor about it, and go to the same discipleship class that other kids do.

But there’s plenty of second guessing. Are we discouraging? Is he too young? What if he loses interest from here on out?

Both my kids also want to take communion. The traditional rule in Baptist life is that you should not take communion until after you have made your own confession of faith and been baptized. But I’ve never been comfortable with the message a communion denial can send: “No, you can’t have your bread and juice, this is only for the real Christians.” Usually, it doesn’t seem worth the bad taste it could leave in child’s mouth as they grow older.

If Jesus can share the bread and cup with someone he knows is going to betray him, then I have to think he would let an unbaptized child partake. Yet, perhaps holding off can help a child understand how special and important communion is. Are we doing the right thing? What about some of these passages from the Bible? Traditional views of Scripture, especially in my denomination, have caused us to operate from the unspoken assumption that if it’s in the Bible, it’s appropriate or beneficial for children. The Bible is “the good book,” right?

Consequently, there are some parents who keep their kids away from Harry Potter and other precarious fiction but turn them loose on the Bible, a book complete with stories of rape, war and genocide.

At my church, we’re currently preaching through the book of Amos. Just last Sunday, with our whole crop of children still in the room, I stood up to read a passage that included a reference to “ripping open pregnant women.” I didn’t know what to do. I sheepishly sped through that part. The ancient Jewish people were wiser. They didn’t let young people read certain books until a certain age.

If only it was all as easy as keeping a little tike quiet during worship (wait, that’s not even easy). All through our lives as parents, as we try to teach our children to follow Jesus, the simple and unfiltered questions of children have the power to reduce us to babble. The uncertainties of parenting follow us into the church where they combine with the uncertainties of God and seem to multiply. When? Where? Why? How?

However, it’s beautiful. It’s good. It’s a rocky but worthwhile journey with these young people who still have many things we’ve lost (like wonder) and still remember how to do things we’ve forgotten (like be themselves).

Remember, Jesus didn’t just welcome children into the company of adults. That alone was subversive in his culture, but he went a step further, saying we must become like them in order to enter the kingdom.

Maybe I’ve had it backwards. Maybe I should be the one asking my kids the questions.

Corey Fields is an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. This post is provided thanks to a partnership with Practicing Families.

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