Children in Church (part 1)

Chad HarmsBlog, Church, Popular20 Comments

children's ministry, church, kids in service, children in church, creekside bible church, wilsonville

Last September our church changed the location of its Sunday gathering. Our new facility, the Old Church in Wilsonville, is a beautiful combination of traditional and modern. Plus, the location met all of the criteria we were looking for in a location (time flexibility, in Wilsonville, and in our price range). However, one issue emerged: There was/is no room for us to do children’s ministry during the service.

At that time we begin to think through the concept of having children in the service. The first thing we wanted to know was if there was any biblical support for or against this idea. At that time we discovered that what we had already thought was true, the Bible doesn’t speak clearly about children being in a church service as right or wrong. However, three facts emerged that were of interest.

First, it appears in the Old Testament that children gathered with their parents in sacred assemblies (gatherings in the presence of God). A simple search of the word “children” in the Old Testament in preparation for this post revealed several passages of Scripture that show this, at least on certain occasions, to be true. The most poignant is Deuteronomy 31:9-13 which is worth quoting here. [bra_blockquote align=”]it appears in the Old Testament that children gathered with their parents in sacred assemblies[/bra_blockquote]It says, “So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”1 Other passages that point to the inclusion of children in the Jewish assemblies are Joshua 8:34-35, Ezra 10:1, and Nehemiah 12:43. Through these passages we learn that children were present, at least sometimes, in the midst of the Israelites religious gatherings.

The second fact of interest was that in Ephesians 6:1-3 Paul addresses children specifically. This is only important when one remembers the book of Ephesians was probably read aloud when the church in Ephesus gathered together for worship and was subsequently passed along to other churches to be read aloud when they gathered for worship. William Hendrickson, in his commentary on Ephesians, says, “The apostle assumes that among those who will be listening when this letter is read to the various congregations the children will not be lacking…Were Paul to be present with us today he would be shocked at the spectacle of children attending the Sunday School and then going home just before the regular worship service. He has a word addressed directly and specifically to the children.”2 I don’t quote Hendrickson here to discredit Sunday School or even to argue that children should be kept in the church service. [bra_blockquote align=’right’]the presence of children in a worship gathering was taken for granted by Paul in his writing to early churches.[/bra_blockquote]Instead, I quote him because his words show in a vivid way that the presence of children in a worship gathering was taken for granted by Paul in his writing to early churches.

The third fact of importance was that the Bible does reference one (potential) child being present in the church gathering. In Acts 20:7-12 we read the following story: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. here were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” When reading this story it is important to recognize that it takes place in an early church “service.” The early church met often, but seemingly held their primary gatherings on the first day of the week to remember Jesus resurrection (which happened on the first day of the week). Also, the breaking of bread, can be a reference to the Lord’s Supper and Luke probably has something in mind like what is described in 1 Corinthians 11. The Lord’s Supper, or Communion, was the central focus and act of the early church’s gatherings. Thus, this story seems to be about a gathering of local church. Another important thing to note is that while Eutychus is described as a “young man,” the word translated as such in verse 12 is pais. This Greek word means, “a child, male or female, a boy or girl, a child in legal relation…”3 If this is the understood meaning then Eutychus would have been a boy between the ages of 9 and 14. To be open and fair, pais can mean “slave”4 and the word translated “young man” in verse 9, neanias, means, “a youth, a young man; especially a youth in character, either as brave or active, wilful or headstrong…”5 Thus, the age of Eutychus is open for discussion, but the passage does present us with a could be example of a child being present in the midst of a church gathering.

At this point the reader may think that it is my intent to argue that children should stay in the church service with adults. This is not the case. Honestly, I lean towards this view based on my current understanding of Scripture and church history. However, I do not, at all, feel dogmatic about this issue and I bring forth the above Scripture passages in order to begin an exploration and conversation. I see issues and difficulties with children staying in the church service – it makes it difficult for parents to focus on worshiping, children don’t understand the sermon, many visiting parents won’t return, kids can be distracting for others in the congregation, some topics are not appropriate for children, etc. At this point, I most definitely don’t have the answers, just a handful of thoughts and a bunch of questions.

You might wonder why I am writing this post if it isn’t to prove that children should stay in the service. When our church made a decision to keep children in the service it was relatively easy. We wanted a new location and had only a handful of kids. Currently our church is growing and babies are coming fast. So, we have begun the process of further examining the importance (or lack there of) of having children stay in the service. We want to be obedient to God and we want to do the absolute best thing for the children of our church; we are trying to figure out what that best thing is in regards to our Sunday gathering. [bra_highlight style=’highlight1′]I have presented the above passages partly in hopes that you will comment below with other passages, thoughts, and ideas.[/bra_highlight] In my next blog post I will begin to present what I have so far found regarding a history of children’s ministry – hopefully this will continue the discussion.

[bra_border_divider top=’20’ bottom=’20’]

1. All Scripture NIV

2. William Hendricksen, Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) pg. 258

3. www.GreatTreasures.org

4. Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) pg. 607

5. www. GreatTreasures.org

20 Comments on “Children in Church (part 1)”

  1. It seems like a good idea to have the children present during church service, so that they may also benefit by having the holy spirit come upon them, when we are all gathered as a group. It can teach them what church services are like at an early age. It can serve to help in family bonding, because you are doing something very special and sacred, together as a family. I do see bible study as being important for children also, so they can be related to in their own age group, and taught the stories of the bible in a way they will understand. Perhaps there can be a separate night of the week specifically for children’s bible study. Then again, it can be distracting for parents, who want to listen to the sermon, but have to tend to their children instead, as children are very needy and need to be monitored at all times. A parent can do their best to try and appear engaged in the sermon, but the reality is, they are awaiting their child’s next move or need and ready to act on a whim, to cater to their child’s every need. At least, that is how I think. I don’t know. These are just thoughts. I hadn’t thought about it that much yet. If I think of anything else, I will post it. Thanks for sharing. We are lucky to have a pastor who is continually doing research, so thanks for putting in the work on this topic. It is nice and interesting having a knowledgeable pastor around, who seemingly enjoys discussions and scholarly debates regarding the bible and how to do church.

    1. Chad Harms

      Jessica, thank you for your thoughts! I can sense in them the same tension that I feel. It is an important and difficult issue.

      I agree fully that children need to be taught in an age appropriate way. For me, the question is not whether we teach them in a way they understand, but rather if it is best or not to do this during the weekly gathering. At Creekside we have TeamKID which includes Bible stories, Scripture memory, life application, and missions. This is ministry is great for kids to learn in an age appropriate way.

      I also agree that having children in the service can create difficulties for parents. The question, I guess, is two fold: 1) What would God want a church to do? 2) Do the benefits of having children in a service out weight the negatives? These are difficult questions that I think churches need to take more seriously. It seems the prevailing idea is just to do what “works.” Churches need to be focused on doing what is most in line with God’s will and what is best for the discipleship process of children. I believe these two things are the same as God talks about his care and love for children over and over throughout the Bible.

      Thank you for the compliments. I want our church to do things in a way that is obedient to God and reflects His desire for church. So, I’ll research on!

      1. What does God want churches to do regarding children? And if the answer is to keep them in the weekly gathering, won’t He be pleased by our obedience and make it work, despite the seemingly obvious difficulties it presents? 😀 Just some food for thought.

        1. Chad Harms

          Jessica, that question is the one we are asking at our church. I agree that if God wants us to keep children in the service than he will bless our doing so. Scripture makes undeniable the fact that God wants the best for children! However, the Bible does not give us an explicit statement on what to do with kids during a church service. Above I have provided the best evidence I can find, but the issue remains gray – definitely not black and white. This is why my next post (maybe next two) will be focused on a history of children in church. Since the Bible doesn’t give us a clear statement on the issue, I think it is important to understand what the history of the church points towards regarding this issue. Its my hope that through my writing about this, the question that you pose will actually be asked. Churches need to stop asking what they think will work and start asking what God wants them to do (about children in church and everything else).

          1. I can’t wait to read your next blog post! Thanks for all of your time spent in research and the magnitude of effort you put forth to do your very best to do church the way God intended. It shows!

    2. Think about it why would God want the children to be separate from him?? He would not want this separation. Separation comes from the enemy and man not God.. Sure It’s difficult for me to understand the service when I am pre-occupied taking care of my 13 month old, making sure he is not disruptive to others. But I talk him out for a few minutes and come back to the service. God always wants his people together, In Acts the people went around to the church families homes to fellowship… their were children present as well. God would not be happy for pastors to separate families… Why even think to do this?

      1. Chad Harms

        Hi Jessica. Thank you for reading and commenting on the post. I think you ask a good rhetorical question. Jesus would never want children to be separated from him – he makes that very clear! I think (know) Jessica’s thoughts don’t represent a desire to separate children from Jesus. Instead, they represent a different belief on how to best lead people (specifically children) to Jesus – by offering an opportunity for them to learn about him at their own level. While I think that this viewpoint (which is the most common in our country) places a bit too much emphasis on educations and not enough on experience, I never like to doubt the motives of people, especially pastors. While you and I seem to agree that it is good for kids to be in the service, I think it is important to remember that churches who put kids in their own classroom are probably doing it with the very best intent. I talk about the importance of this being a gray area in Scripture throughout the series and hope you will continue reading if you haven’t. Again, thanks for reading and interacting!

  2. This is an important discussion as the decisions we make in our churches today impact the church today and future generations of Christians…

    It hurts my heart that in a typical North American church families are separated during worship. It seems God’s original design was worship should begin in the home within the context of family. The Sabbath was a day to stay home, rest and reflect on God. Parents were to be the primary source of spiritual instruction and discipleship.

    It would be hard to imagine during the first centuries of the church as the body of Christ assembled in homes, shared meals (and most likely did all the teaching during the meal time) that the Children were separated and went off to “Sunday School.” I am sad that I have contributed to the separation of families during worship as a church leader.

    Maybe the question should not be “how can we keep the kids in the worship service without disturbing adults?” and should be “how can we make worship and instruction beneficial for kids?” In Romans 14 and 15 Paul exhorts the strong to put aside their personal preferences for the sake of the weak.

    There are no easy answers here – but it is an important discussion!

    Chad – you are my favorite Pastor!!

    1. Chad Harms

      Greg, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I want to reply two things you said.

      “This is an important discussion as the decisions we make in our churches today impact the church today and future generations of Christians…” which connects with a question I have long had: Has the large scale decision in churches to remove kids from the service played a significant role in the low percentage of kids staying in church once they graduate from high school? This is not a question I have an answer to, but something I plan to explore further.

      “Maybe the question should not be “how can we keep the kids in the worship service without disturbing adults?” and should be “how can we make worship and instruction beneficial for kids?” I think this point is terrific. I think you got the first question from a comment I made on Facebook and your words here are humbling in that I sense, even in myself, too much emphasis on keeping kids quiet and not enough emphasis on genuinely engaging them. Thank you for pointing this out by flipping the question on its head. In order to redeem myself and because its pertinent, I want to finish with another part of that same comment on Facebook, “I believe that if kids are going to stay in a church service then the church must not go on as if they aren’t there.”

  3. I admit I was a bit skeptical when it was announced we would be having the small children as part of services. In hindsight, it really hasn’t been too much of a distraction as I thought it may be.

    I think there is tons of upside much that has been mentioned already. The kids are part of their family and part of the church family…I think it’s great to have them with us. It is great that we don’t “shoo” them away. Maybe sitting through Chad’s long drawn out sermons (j/k) will help them get used to going to church and give them a taste for it as they grow and also give them an attention span greater than the 5 – 10 minutes between commercials.

    People expect there will be “junior church” or “nursery” because that is tradition. I don’t see biblical support. In fact there is better support that the common practice when Jesus preached was to have children present. No problem doing what Jesus did rather than following tradition!

    1. Chad Harms

      Victor, thank you for your honesty. The change was definitely big for our church, but I agree the distractions have been minimal. I’m also surprised that kids seem, more often than not, to enjoy (or at least tolerate) the service.

      You said, “…will help them get used to going to church and give them a taste for it as they grow…” As I mentioned in my reply to Greg, this is something that I plan to explore. I’m not sure if there is a correlation between the rise of children’s ministry during a church service and the rise in percentage of kids leaving church once they graduate, but I want to know. If anyone has stats on this, please send me the link!

      I also agree that we need to focus on doing what Jesus wants and not what modern tradition (I hope this oxymoron makes sense) dictates. However, since the Scriptural evidence is fairly minimal, I think that examining the practices of church history as a whole is important. Does this make sense? To this end I will turn my attention in my next post.

    1. Chad Harms

      Pam, I have been hoping that somebody who feels differently than the rest who have commented (here or on Facebook) would leave a comment. We have talked in person a bit about this, but I would love to hear the basis for your feelings. As I’ve said, this post (and those to follow) are exploratory in nature. I have thoughts, feelings, and questions, but I do not have a dogmatic stance on the issue. I greatly value further discussion!

  4. Thanks for the thoughts. We began integrating children in our worship services 6 years ago. Our congregation has gone from my children being the only ones in the congregation to there being a dozen-plus families with children worshiping together, including families w/ younger foster children who weren’t raised from babies in this environment. It has been a blessing for us as the children grow up familiar with the way of the Church in worship together. I know it’s not always easy…with me preaching and my wife on piano, it was a real discipline to raise four little ones this way. But, as I told a father who was apologizing for his little girl’s noisiness that morning, “when our babies throw food at the supper table we don’t put them in another room so they won’t disrupt our meal. We lovingly teach them so they will integrate in the social act of the family – the meal.” I preached at a generationally-segregated Church over the holidays, and was unnerved by the lack of little ones! We all get used to what we’re used to! Also, never assume they don’t “get it.” From an early age, we’ve heard many accounts from parents who tell us their children repeat back what’s been said in a service – when it seemed the children weren’t paying attention. Just my two cents from our experience…thanks again for the post, and the Lord’s blessings upon you no matter where your congregation ends up on this issue!

    1. Chad Harms

      Michael, thank you for commenting. It is encouraging to hear of your experiences. Oftentimes the hesitancy to the idea of having children in the service seems to be that it “won’t work.” Your church’s story shows that God can/does bring new families into churches that have integrated gatherings. Thank you for sharing it.

      I have talked to another pastor who said that his church has become so accustom to children in the service that their nursery hasn’t been used in two years. You said it well, “We all get used to what we’re used to!” Despite it still being new to us, our church has been exceptional in their attitude towards the children in church. This makes it possible.

      I agree, children pick up much more than we give them credit for. When we factor in the presence of God in church, I think the possibilities for children’s learning and growth goes beyond what we might expect in other places (i.e. a classroom setting). Church history has provided a great quote that alludes to this, but I’m going to save it for my next blog post (which I hope to write later today).

      Thanks again for commenting Michael. Your words are uplifting.

  5. Pingback: Children in Church (part 2) - Creekside Bible Church

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