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
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